Room for Imperfection
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2016
We live imperfect lives, slipping below the ideals we hold. We can either make room for the imperfections or distort our vision of reality.
I sit down to write a new essay on healthy living, while scarfing down the last piece of chocolate cake. But somehow, the paradox doesn’t register, I still perceive myself as healthy. Our actions often conflict with the ideals we carry—we act beneath our lofty self-perceptions—creating a dissonance between reality and perception; a divide begging for resolution. The contradictions sap precious energy, igniting discontent. Our non-conforming actions must be addressed or ignored. When our internal landscapes consist of fractured and conflicting elements, we stall; the conflict must be resolved to soothe the internal strife.
The fill the gap between the reality of action and the ideals of self-perception in a variety of ways: we can accept we are essentially flawed; we can abandon the conflicting behaviors; or we can justify errant behaviors as acceptable. These paths of resolution are not mutually exclusive; we adopt mixtures and variations of all three. Each chosen resolution has costs and benefits. Protective unconsciousness cloaks many internal conflicts, complicating constructive efforts to change. The discomfort of conflict motivates some form of action—not because we recognize the dissonance but to soothe irritation. There is a subtle but important difference. With many irritations, the body naturally unconsciously reacts to resolve what doesn’t feel right. We justify, deny and blame not for the defined reason of settling a conflict but because we are inclined to do so. In fact, we often don’t notice the internal contradictions, bewildered by the frustrations and discomfort, we react. Frustrated from unresolved issues, we lash out, or hide.
Our self-perceptions never accurately define reality (or the genuine self). The genuine self is new age term—a label difficult to define, not a magical understanding of self. Who is the genuine self? Our lives are dynamic and complex, constantly in flux. Any solid definition of self will fail to meet the fluid change of an organism in a complex environment. However, a gap between ideas of self and reality still exist. An idealistic vision of self is a desire never fully satisfied, constantly demanding more success, more security, and more joy. Reality can’t satisfy these idealistic hopes. Personal characteristics will always lack. Obtaining ideals isn’t the answer to resolve the disrupted life.
Reaching towards ideals, while enjoying the present, is part of the answer. We must find avenues of enjoyment within the limitations of imperfection. We add to survival by including moments of enjoyment, lost in hobbies, close friendships, and achievements.
Our actions will occasionally drift from ideals, as with the morning enjoyment of the fattening piece of chocolate cake. Everyone has moments of greatness and smallness. We screw up by acting wrongly and expose our humanness; we shouldn’t joyfully accept faults, but also not shamefully deny them. Errant behaviors remind us of our humanness, stumblings to be accepted and then conscientiously addressed—the best we can. Flaws don’t signal terribleness but normalcy. Our welcoming of awareness of blunders, without self-condemnations, invites constructive responses.
An idealistic vision of self is a desire never fully satisfied, constantly demanding more success, more security, and more joy. Reality can’t satisfy these idealistic hopes.
Imperfection in Relationships
Close relationships include being irritated and being irritating. Two people, especially those we depend on, occasionally strike nerves. Ideally, annoyances wouldn’t exist in intimacy—but real relationships aren’t ideal. Couple must address normal provocations without judging the relationship as flawed. If we believe a healthy relationship should never ruffle nerves, and irritations are unacceptable, then the inevitable conflicts will ignite anxiety that something is seriously wrong—with our partner. When all marital discomforts signals emergency, we are rebelling against reality, measuring the normal against unobtainable dreams. Our irascible temperament hurts the relationship. We attempt to fix non-existent problems, leading to more frustration, anger, and contempt. This self-righteous and unwarranted path vilifies partners for being human—perfectly imperfect. We need room for their imperfections.
Our impossible demands and following disappointments spread, leading to misattribution of causes, assigning critical character flaws to the humanness that further biases interpretations; neutral acts morph, being seen from a new negative context. We even may twist positive behaviors, distorting good into something more sinister. When positive is seen as negative, the relationship is dead—few relationships survive the harsh judgments of a critically biased mind; our dear sweet lover has become the enemy.
Imperfections will always exist. We must not fear their existence. By noticing the intrusion of defenses, we can skeptically examine the cognitive dissonance between faulty expectations of perfection and deviating action. We don’t need to justify the chocolate cake or deny our consumption; but can understand the unhealthy implications of heavy calories and refined carbohydrates on our diets. We don’t self-condemn but watch a little closer and adjust where needed.
Accepting imperfection explodes into all areas of our lives. When we publicly acknowledge humanness, the public often responds with understanding. A partner knowing you are tired and irritated (because you acknowledged it) is patient, understanding the tenseness is a deviation rather than a trait.
In relationships with ourselves and with others we must accept imperfection. Acceptance softens biases that cloud the lenses of perception. Triggered feelings that are accurately identified as a complex combination of behaviors are more easily processed. The clearer we identify unrealistic expectations, the more effective our response. With patience and compassion, the differences existing within ourselves and with our relationships with others can be accepted, addressed and improved.
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