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The Secret Garden of A Perfectionism Survivor

With the Winter Solstice bearing down on us, there’s no better time to talk about springtime and gardens! Actually, I wrote this article last Spring but never published it so please take that into account. The verb tenses are a bit wonky for that reason. Enjoy!

“Spring came pushing until you felt shoved,” wrote Gene Stratton Porter in 1913. How true that still is! Every Spring feels like a delightful shove. Like so many of you, I’m elbows-deep in garden catalogs and day-dreams.

There’s only one itsy-bitsy problem with all that. My Addiction to Perfectionism is being sorely tempted. Funny. I write about this problem every year. And every year I don’t learn the lessons spelled out in my own articles! How pathetic is that!? 😀

Today, I found myself going back in time to read what I’d written about Perfectionism aka Always-Raising-the-Bar aka Better-Better-Best. It was actually helpful, but I’ve something to add this year. Something that came to me in a flash while I had my face buried in a gardening book.

Think back to when you were little. Do you remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett? Perhaps you saw the movie. It’s the story of an unloved orphan, Mary Lennox, who is sent to live with her uncle. On his estate, she discovers a walled-off, locked Secret Garden. Mary and her friends clandestinely rejuvenate, prune and coax the garden back to life. It’s a magical book with gorgeous illustrations by the very green-thumbed (and incredibly toxic, child-hating) pastoral artist, Tasha Tudor.

For perfectionists like us, addicted to raising the bar and always trying to be better, a Secret Garden may be just what we need. It’s exactly what I need. I need a place where nothing I do will be visible to others.

Why? Is it because I don’t want to be judged negatively?

Actually no!

I don’t want to be judged positively. For once in my life, I want to do something for the mere joy of doing it. Just because I want to do it not to impress anyone else…or even myself. Merely for the joy of creativity and beauty.

I’d be willing to bet that most of us ACONs (Adult Children of Narcissists) struggle with perfectionism. Of course we do! It’s the most natural thing in the world to try to win our parents’ unconditional love through greater and greater feats of achievement. If our failings are why they can’t love us, then perfection must be the answer.

Personally, by the time I was nine-years-old I was a die-hard perfectionist, addicted to soliciting praise through demanding nothing less than perfect grades of myself.

In  the article The Problem with Praising Kids Too Much, I wrote the following:

If you don’t realize your addiction to praise, you’ll go through life feeling like a failure, demanding praise, expecting praise, trying to wring it out of people who are not responsible for giving it. People who wonder why you’re so insecure and why you can’t stand on your own two emotional feet. Why you’re so high maintenance or exhausting to be around.

It takes time and deep introspection to uncover the addiction to praise that has long been your motivation. When you spend your life desperate to stimulate others to praise you, nothing is ever enough. The “high” is short-lived and oh! so fickle. Pretty soon, you need another “praise fix.”

Today, I’m sick to death of that dynamic, that addiction.

It seems like a little, “stupid” thing but my “Secret Garden” realization was what Piglet would call “a very thingy thing.” It was a picture of an English garden that triggered me. The garden was enclosed to the point of darkness. On one side, big gnarly trees provided protection. On the other side, was the protection of the house. In the middle, safe from prying eyes, was the garden. “That’s what I want, Michael,” said I. “A Secret Garden.”

“Fine with me,” he said around a mouthful of mint ice cream.

Basically, it’s going cold-turkey to break my addiction. I’m addicted to other people’s good opinions, so the therapy is to go undercover. To stop putting myself in a position that solicits opinions from others – good, bad, neutral or otherwise.

If you follow me on Facebook, this is why I avoid posting photographs of the things I do, places I go or food I cook. My friends are kind people who would undoubtedly click “Like” and post positive comments…and that would be the very worst thing for my addiction. Like any addiction, it needs starving, not feeding!

It’s also the reason I don’t post pictures of our home, our castle anywhere online. I need one stronghold where my mother’s gushing praise is banished. Sounds strange, but it’s true.

This is the challenge I’m setting for myself and for you: To do something, well or spectacularly badly, for no other reason than you want to do it. Do it secretly. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t show anyone. Do it for your own joy, your own creativity, your own comfort. Just enjoy the process. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Pinterest, no Twitter. Do it for you and only you.

Might be just the therapy we need to break our addiction to perfectionism!

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The Secret Garden of A Perfectionism Survivor

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2019). The Secret Garden of A Perfectionism Survivor. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Dec 2019
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