When Craig and Karin Waters purchased the ramshackle ninety-four room Château de Gudanes in the South of France, they bought a lifetime labor of love. The château was so rundown, trees were growing inside the structure. Now, five years later, they’ve learned one important thing: “For our family personally, one of the biggest lessons we’ve had to learn is that we need to learn to slowly adapt ourselves to the Château, rather than forcibly demand her to adapt to us.”
In other words, they’re healing and recovering the château slowly and imperfectly. Photographs of the renovation show new tufted upholstered beds rubbing shoulders with the chipped paint of ancient walls. Somehow, it works. Works better than so-called “perfection.”
Scrolling through pictures of the renovation, suddenly I realized that I didn’t want to see a “perfect” Château de Gudanes devoid of any history, any character, any personality, any visible bones, bruises and batterings. Structurally sound and fixed up, yes. Perfect, no.
The same goes for people recovering from narcissistic abuse. Being perfectionists all, we feel this is yet another task we must complete perfectly. That at the end of a set amount of time, we just emerge the person we would have been, had the abuse never happened.
No, no, no, no, no, no!
First of all, it’s impossible.
Secondly, your slip, I mean, your narcissistic abuse mindset is showing. Perfectionism. Failure is not an option. All or nothing. Black-and-white.
Thirdly, do you really want to be that so-called “perfect” person? Should we really lose all signs, all scars, all souvenirs from our past? Should we scrape, spackle and repaint so obsessively as to remove all our la patine des ages… cracked paint, peeling wallpaper and exposed beans. Château de Gudanes says no! It gives us character and our unique persona.
But that’s our American culture, isn’t it. Everything has to be perfect — blank, white, smooth sheetrock-perfect. Like the PBS show Lost Twin Cities. It showed beautiful old classical buildings full of history and character being imploded and razed to make way for the modern, the shiny, the glitzy. When we lose all signs of our crumbly, mossy past, we lose a little of our souls too, just like Minneapolis and St. Paul lost some soul when they destroyed their own history to make way for what? “Perfection”!?! I don’t think so.
In other cultures, imperfection is just a way of life. When you watch Eat, Pray, Love do you really want Julia Roberts to stay in a glitzy, perfect Hilton in Italy. No! You want her to rent a room with will-they-won’t-they tumble down beams and 2″ of water in the bathtub because, as her hostess says, “Everything that’s important gets cleaned.”
Other parts of the world embrace flaws, faults and imperfections as normal. We Americans will leave our perfect McMansion to travel halfway around the world just to gape at an ancient ruin. Then we come home. realize that perfection is boring and hire a trompe l’oeil artist to paint faux masonry peeking through a faux “crack” in our living room wall like the beautiful old buildings of Europe, like Château de Gudanes.
Why? Because it’s charming. It’s quirky. It’s much more interesting than a perfect piece of sheetrock.
And so it is with people. Did you ever meet a “perfect” person? I did. Once.
You could be the most zen person in the world…and she would’ve made you come out in hives just from stress. She was organized. She was in control. She was beyond reproach. She was perfectly made up, perfectly dressed and perfectly intense at all times. What she wasn’t was fun. Or relaxed. Or particularly happy.
Isn’t it better to be shabby chic? To let a little of our broken masonry peek through, now and then. Perfect recovery isn’t possible. You wouldn’t want it. Our past gives us the empathy, the sympathy, the kindness and gentleness we wouldn’t otherwise have if life had been perfect. If we recover “perfectly” as if the abuse had never happened, would we still have those good qualities?
Château de Gudanes is exquisite in its imperfection. It should not be restored to the perfection of its glory days. That would be incongruous. No, the walls must tell the story of its past — a glorious past full of fights, fables and feasts. Of skirmishes, sorrow and suffering. That’s what makes it beautiful.
Like us. We’re beautiful, warts and all.