Perfection, or Who's the Purest of Them All?


8365_1213225978717602_2921151023910765268_nWhen one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.

People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere. 

The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.  It is surely not the divine will in man that he should be something which he is not, for when one looks into nature, one sees that it is most definitely the divine will that everything should be what it is.”   ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 569.

“What?” you say?  “You mean I have to accept the bad parts of myself?  No Way!  You must be crazy.  I’m not giving in to laziness, lust, selfishness, fear, or greed.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be perfect.  Now you say I have to stop?  Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48)? Well, that’s all I’m trying to be:  perfect!”

In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word perfect meant completed, or whole, not always good or spotlessly pure.  Here’s the paradox Jung was addressing and we find so difficult to accept:  to complete ourselves we have to be honest with ourselves, and this means acknowledging those things in us we think of as bad as well as the ones we consider good. We can’t be complete by accepting only half our nature. For example, by identifying solely with reason and logic, we cut off our capacity for passion, intuition, instinct, and the tender feelings of empathy and compassion. Then we start finger-pointing, name-calling, wall-building, and war mongering.

Accepting our flaws is not for the faint-hearted.  Like Christine, the innocent young singer who, in the classic Gaston Leroux novel, earnestly persuaded the Phantom of the Opera to take off his mask, we may be painfully convinced of our puny audacity in challenging the archetypal masters and mistresses of our unconscious, and we may faint at our first sight of the ugliness.  But it is only when the ugliness has been unmasked and we can see it for what it truly is that it loses its negative power over us and we can begin to learn from it.

The Phantom was certainly a dark and frightening creature, but behind that hideous face was a pure musical soul with the voice of an angel.  If Christine had refused to grant her negative animus its rightful place in her life, she would not have achieved her destiny.  Fortunately for her, instead of rejecting the Phantom she came to love him, and in the final act of lifting the mask a second time and kissing his grotesque face, her ego grew up and she developed an honest relationship with her unique Self.

Snow White had the same problem.  She was tormented again and again by her wicked stepmother, a dark, vain, and passionate feminine antagonist—psychologically the opposite, shadow side of her own conscious personality—who did everything she could to destroy the sweet passive child who knew nothing of evil.  Snow White’s trials were long and painful, but by patiently enduring them she was brought to the point where she could awaken to her masculine strengths (represented by the kiss of the prince), conquer her own evil tendencies (represented by the evil Queen), gain enough balance and maturity to stand on her own two feet, and marry her prince (the Sacred Marriage, or hieros gamos).

In the masculine hero myth, the hero kills his dragons, or inner and outer enemies, thereby earning his way to salvation.  It is true that a kind of death always precedes transformation and rebirth. However, the feminine way, which we must incorporate into our psyche as well if we wish to continue to evolve, is not to fight perceived imperfections in order to destroy them.

Rather it is a peaceful way of withdrawing, descending into our own depths, seeing, reflecting, grieving, accepting and integrating.  This happens slowly, gradually and naturally, through a diligent desire to let our immature egos die a natural death to make way for the new, the way flowers fade and wilt after they have produced seeds from which new growth will arise in the spring.

No matter how hard we may try, we’ll never be perfected in the traditional sense of the word.  But it is possible to become more aware and individuated, and thus less vulnerable to our hellish inner demons. By owning them as parts of ourselves, we’ll be less apt to project them onto others.  This is our only hope of moving ourselves and the world a little closer to our enduring ideals of peace and salvation.

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

Quote and Image Credits:  My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing this quote and these images on Facebook. 

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

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0 Responses

  1. Hi Jeanie, Thank you so much for sharing your thought-provoking, and deeply fascinating (for the shadow always captivates doesn’t it!) thoughts, and reflections on perfection. I always enjoy your story-telling, and enjoy further unravelling of many a myth and fairy tale. I absolutely love the inclusion of the cartoon (anima(tion) ‘anima mating’). As I got to the end I wanted to shout out ‘that’s perfect!’
    Before I continue two wonderful book titles are coming to mind that I’d like to share with others … if they haven’t already come across them. One is on the theme of the ‘shadow,’ and the other is all about, ‘perfection.’ The books are, Marion Woodman’s impressive ‘Addiction to Perfection’ and John Monbourquette’s brilliant ‘How to Befriend Your Shadow.’ Individually, and together they are impressive Jungian texts, which I highly recommend.
    Monbourquette believes that by over identification with either persona or shadow, a person is doomed to become either a slave to their passions, and desires (shadow) or in its opposite tension, a person will experience huge anxieties (persona) and will therefore be sadly unable to fullfil their legitimate aspirations … perfectionists fit well into this category. This nugget alone, from all his work on the subject, has helped me hugely over the years.
    Monbourquette concludes that Jung suggests that we neither give the shadow free reign nor try to suppress it. He says ‘we need to simply recognise that these movements are within us and are part of our internal dynamics – he advises us to accept them, without trying to cure them, recommending that cultivating a sense of paradox is best.’ What a wonderful reply I thought. You’re such an inspiring teacher Jeanie! Blessings, Deborah.

    1. Thanks for those book recs, Deborah. Woodman’s was an early and edifying read for me. I haven’t read Monbourquette’s book but I really like what you’ve told me about it.
      I’ve known for some time that my perfectionism is tied to my persona. I think it began when my father gave me that talk about how I should treat the little girl watching us play in the motel swimming pool. My perfectionism does, indeed, give rise to anxieties, (and to self-criticism too), but somehow I’ve managed to forge ahead in my work despite them. Being aware of them and how they influence my behavior is a huge help. And yes, cultivating that sense of paradox is, indeed, best.
      Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful insights here. They couldn’t have been more appropriate to this post. Blessings, Jeanie

  2. This is a fabulous post! Yes, striving for perfection definitely creates trouble. Learning to accept ourselves flaws and all can be hard, but a worthy trip to make. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Gwynn. You’re very welcome. It is, indeed, hard, even crippling sometimes. Especially when you’re an idealist who’s been conditioned from an early age to strive for perfection. I just have to keep reminding myself I’m human and forgiving myself for that. You might want to read Deborah’s comment above. It’s very insightful. 🙂

  3. This is wonderful, Jeanie. Thank you. Like Deborah, I’m grateful for Marion Woodman’s ‘Addiction to Perfection’ and her constant teachings about this issue.
    I feel the push and pull of my judgment during my brother’s ongoing health crisis. I want to suggest helpful ways to deal with his situation, but instead I have another talk with the judge in me and tell him I am not the decision maker or the one who knows the right way to live or die. My job is to support, assist, and hold a quiet inner space. Everyone is doing the best they can. It’s damned hard to hold the advice, so I write down my “wise” opinions but don’t send them.
    My struggle for perfection (or letting it go) is often centered on my body where my mother focused her need to perfect me. But my mother is long gone and the complex is all mine now. I can turn my desire for perfection to writing, too. That approach doesn’t impress the muse.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. It takes a special person to be self-aware enough of her perfectionist judge and the situation at hand to know the appropriate thing to do. I congratulate you for being able to hold that tension. What a great idea to write down the advice without giving it. You’ve found a creative way to deal with this issue that will serve you well in the future: fodder for another book, perhaps?
      You’re also wise to see and own your perfectionism when it comes to your body and your writing. Once when I told a highly-acclaimed writer I’d just met at a reception that I’d found writing to be enormously therapeutic, he gave me a rather scornful look and dismissed me with a few disapproving words before walking away. I read into that that he thought I was somehow weak, soft, emotional, frivolous, and self-absorbed. Or just plain nuts! Of course, that was my projection and I knew it. But I always wondered why he responded that way. I now think he must have been in deep denial about his own shadow because I read a few years later that he’d committed suicide. Funny, I’d forgotten that until just now and I’m not sure what it has to do with the topic of perfectionism….. I guess just that writing can help us grow more conscious of our shadows, including our perfectionism and emotional wounding, if we use it to help us understand ourselves.
      Many thanks for writing, and warm blessings to you, your brother, and his family.

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