Given the subject matter of this post, it’s not surprising that’s taken me 2+ weeks to actually finish writing and publish it. In fact, that is and will continue to be the case with the majority of my posts.
I am a perfectionist. I want everything to be just-so, and I want to do well in everything. I am obsessed with perfection.
Throughout my life, my desire for everything to be ‘perfect’ (or what I perceived as perfect at the time) has created a lot of emotional distress and anxiety. And I do mean everything: when I was young I needed my hair and shoes to be tied tightly, my underwear to be very tight fitting (I guess I was worried that they would fall off?) and sandwiches to be composed in a certain manner and could not fall apart, otherwise I would cry. Now I get upset if dinner isn’t right or if I’ve prepared something wrongly, I stopped learning cello after 6 months because I was struggling and you know learning; I get stressed when I’m not good enough at games; and most of all I strive for academic excellence. In academic terms I’m a high achiever and writing is very difficult for me because I struggle to allow myself to think and write – because what I write initially isn’t ‘perfect’, it’s not good enough.
I began to examine my self as a perfectionist recently because of the distress created by my self-imposed, impossibly high academic standards. I received my Honours results, (objectively) I did extremely well: my thesis was awarded 86 and my overall Honours mark is 87.* My initial reaction was disappointment, I was still not good enough.
And so we come to the problems caused by having such high expectations and holding yourself to an impossible standard. An obvious and very harmful issue is that you are never happy and always disappointed with yourself. This leads to an inability to enjoy or savour any achievements, because they don’t feel like achievements at all: it’s still not good enough. Another, more minor problem, is that other people don’t understand what’s wrong. To them you’ve done a wonderful job and you’re either being modest or somehow ungrateful if you’re not happy with your results. I also have an ‘all or nothing’ idea – if it can’t be perfect, why bother? This thought pattern is extremely damaging, it stops me from doing a lot of things including, at times, even basic housework.
The biggest problem is that I don’t even know what I mean by ‘perfect.’ I don’t know what ‘perfect’ would look like, I don’t know what I would have to do to achieve or become ‘perfect’. It’s literally an impossible ideal. Every time I think if I just achieve x then I will feel/be y, I’m setting myself up to fail, because life doesn’t work like that. My thought patterns are so ingrained that I don’t know how to think otherwise. It’s something I’m working on with my therapist, but as we all know changing the way you think is very difficult. I want to be a high achiever, I want to do well, I want to succeed, but I need to learn the difference between success and being perfect.
*For those unfamiliar, 80+ is classified as First Class, 90 and above may be awarded First Class with University Medal.