In the film, Black Swan, the ballet director challenged Nina, the featured dancer played by Natalie Portman, by stating, “I never see you lose your self.” He further explained, “Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience.”
One explanation for the need for perfection comes from Jungian author Marion Woodman. She stated that children become “superadjusted to reality.” This shows up as being the good girl or boy, being charming and perfecting their performances. As much as this coping mechanism fulfilled the needs of the parents (who were not able to emotionally support the child), the child paid a cost – parts of him or her self were lost or super controlled.
Another explanation for the need for perfection is offered in Erich Neumann’s book, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic. He suggested there exists an “old ethic,” originating from Judeo-Christian and other sources, which is based on the absolute value of good and is achieved by “the elimination of those qualities which are incompatible with this perfection.”
Both explanations result in a denial of negative aspects of the self. This is accomplished by either conscious suppression, as in self-discipline and sacrifice, or by unconscious repression. Regardless, a splitting of the psyche exists. Ego is deemed as absolute good or perfect and shadow as bad or imperfect. A personal wounding occurs in which genuine feelings and attributes of our self are disowned and thus, we are left incomplete.
Being perfect, having control, being dutiful and the constant checking of our self takes energy. Eventually, usually during mid-life, the soul becomes weary of this performance. This weariness appears as a lack of energy or libido, sadness and anger, and through the introduction of chaos into one’s life. After decades of willpower, control and striving for perfection the compensatory nature of the psyche brings the opposite.
The task now becomes the “new ethic” – acknowledging, welcoming and integrating the once deemed ‘bad’ qualities into one’s consciousness. As previously discussed, this integration of shadow material is part of the individuation process which purpose, as Jung explained, “is not perfection but completeness, and even that is well beyond the reach of most mortals.”
Jung further stated that, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of the integration of our darkness. We are both good and evil, both heaven and hell, and both godly and satan-like.
A helpful mindset to hold as you wrestle with your imperfections is Jung’s though that, “Imperfectum carries within it the seeds of its own improvement.” When we become aware and take ownership of our imperfections we can enter into a more compassionate relationship with our self and others.
Although having caught the only perfect game in World Series history, baseball catcher Yogi Berra wisely acknowledged, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” Perhaps its time in your life to give up the need for the perfect game and accept some errors, wild pitches and runners-on-base.