It took many years of people telling me "you must read Marion Woodman's Addiction to Perfection!" before I actually read the book. Like any addict I dismissed these well meaning friends and the notion that I could have any such addiction. After all, I was well aware of how totally imperfect I was!
It is not that I didn't buy Marion Woodman's book. I bought it several times in fact, but somehow always ended up giving it away before I read it. Some twenty years after I first heard of it I sat down and read it, but its messages stayed swirling around on the surface of my psyche and really couldn't penetrate. The addiction was so deep and so unconscious; a true addiction.
Only in very recent times has it hit me what everyone was seeing in me that I could not. The word perfection had thrown me because it described a goal I was in total denial of aiming for. But one morning, after a night of strange dreams, I woke up and was struck by the stream of thoughts that were coming to me. One after another I watched them, horrified to see the persistence of so many reprimands. They were not new to me. On the contrary, I was used to the mind's barrage of reprimands. I had just never, consciously, experienced the fear that fuelled them. I had never, consciously, seen the simple message that every single reprimand held.... "You must do nothing wrong!"
As I lay there that morning, these words reverberated inside my body and all I could do was sob like a little child. And that, really, was exactly who was sobbing, the tiny, stalwart girl in me who my entire life had been terrified of doing something wrong. That is not to say I had gone out of my way to be good. On the contrary, I spent the first half of my life priding myself on being a rebel. It was the safest form of strength the little girl could find. But on that morning, the adult me was finally getting in touch with how powerfully this little girl's fears were still coloring her life.
And as I lay there watching and feeling more deeply I saw what was once a fearful vulnerable little girl in me begin to transform. Her little face became serious, her fists clenched, her mind became determined. And I watched her as she took one determined step after another. Sad but determined, she began to tread the Guessing Path.....
"What is Mummy really feeling?" "Why does Daddy talk that way?" "What can I do to make everyone feel better?" "What can I do to stop him?" "What can I do to stop her?" "How can I help?" "What have I done wrong? What am I doing wrong?!" "What is wrong with me?!"
And with everything inside her telling her that, "Everything wrong is my fault!" each step down the Guessing Path became more determined. And with every step, the conviction deepened, that I was fundamentally incapable of doing anything really right, useful, helpful, worthwhile or good.
As I lay there that morning, I saw the Guessing Path and my journey along it stretching out the length of my life. Every single step of the way I knew with less and less doubt that "There is something wrong with me!"
"What am I doing wrong?" "What have I done wrong?" "Would it be wrong to do this, wrong to say that?" "Oh my goodness, I should never have done that!" "It's my fault!" "It's all my fault!"
The further I travelled along the Guessing Path the more my doubts about myselfwere silenced. The Guessing Path was working its magic and I knew with more and more certainty "There is something fundamentally, irreparably so wrong with me!"
Lying there, watching this journey was the first time the adult me truly felt compassion for that little girl. She was tiny, maybe four or five years old when she took that first step. Such a lively, natural, radiant little girl, finally too overwhelmed by feelings of responsibility for the pain she saw around her. She just knew it was all up to her. It was her responsibility to mend everything broken that she saw around her. She was to blame, after all!
Somehow, as I finally began to understand what the addiction to perfection meant and how it had come about in me, the reprimands began to die down. They are still not fully gone. When the playful, wonderfully spontaneous little girl inside me is dismissed in any way, the little girl who grew up reprimanding herself takes over. The adult becomes beset with doubts; guessing, guessing, guessing. But now I notice the addiction more quickly. Gradually, step-by-step I feel closer to that little girl who preceded the Guessing Path.
Perhaps, the adult me is finally turning her back on the goal of perfection, tracing her way back along the Guessing Path. How many more steps? Will I ever be able to jump off? Or, perhaps, it is simply that when there is no need to become anything at all anymore the Guessing Path will disappear. Who knows? I try not to guess.