Perfectionism

 

Perfectionism.

Those who don’t understand it think we are just obnoxious, cocky or full of ourselves. Or they think that to be a perfectionist you have to actually always be perfect – always be actually reaching those unattainable goals that you set for yourself.

But these things are not true.

To my knowledge there are two types of perfectionism – a type that is positive and makes you strive for more, without neglecting your mental health and the more harmful type. The “bad” perfectionist, as I shall term it, sets unattainable goals, never feels good enough. Often suffers from anxiety and is at risk of burning out and developing chronic illnesses.

We are put of from starting or continuing things because we feel as though we are not good enough and so they are not worth it. We set unattainable goals and have to be the best.

A first isn’t good enough. You need marks in the 80s and 90s just because other people can. Doing your job well isn’t enough. You always feel inadequate and have to be perfect.

It’s actually soul destroying, mentally and physically damaging.

As a perfectionist it is very difficult to switch off, take time out. To not reply to that email instantly. It’s difficult to not feel like you must be constantly working – to the extent that even the most basic forms of self care get neglected.

An important thing to note here is that perfectionism doesn’t manifest the same way. It’s not necessarily being perfectly neat and tidy, valedictorian, involved in 1001 projects. People can be perfectionists in different aspects of life or it may just manifest differently in different aspects of a persons life.

It’s also fair to say that perfectionism is prevalent more so in some professions than others. It’s fair to say many barristers are perfectionists, many surgeons, many professional ballet dancers.

And, awareness needs to be raised. It can be a huge problem for some. It needs to be seen as such and the warning signs need to be identified.

Feeling like a failure

We all know a lot of people with eating disorders are also perfectionists and I am not one of the exceptions. The problem is I see most people in the recovery community meeting the overly high expectations they set for themselves. Which, don’t get me wrong is great for them, but it doesn’t help much when your sat hating yourself because you didn’t get those grades. You didn’t get the straight A*’s you were predicted, you didn’t even get the A*AA you needed for your dream university. You actually didn’t get the grades required for your insurance. And they let you in anyway, but that’s not the problem. The problem is you didn’t do well enough. You didn’t do well enough to meet those expectations you’d set for yourself. So you hate yourself and you feel ashamed of yourself although deep down you know you couldn’t have tried any harder and whatever happened happened.

You find yourself comparing your failed results with others, others who did get those 3A*’s you we’re supposed to get, maybe even 4 with that A or A* in EPQ to top it off and it fills you with hatred. Even more so when the other brags on facebook about her daughter who for these straight A’s and had a part time job and trained for sport multiple times a week. You did none of that. You had no responsibilities but you still didn’t get good enough grades.  It fills you with hatred because your jealous and you hate yourself. It fills you with hatred because you have to be the best. You were the best. And now you’re just mediocre. This is why comparing yourself to others is so harmful yet I find it so irresistible at the same time. It’s a hard habit to break really but one I know I need to break if I’m ever going to have any friends and ever come to accept myself. 3B’s and all. Just typing that. 3B’s. It makes me feel ashamed of myself. To me, 3B’s isn’t good. But if anyone else had got that I would congratulate them. If my best friend had got 3B’s I would be pleased for them. So why isn’t it good enough for me?

This is the perfectionism trait that gets to most of us wth eating disorders and it can make or break us. The positive of the perfectionism trait is that it can lead us to achieve amazing things. On the other hand, it can lead to you not doing that essay or exam because you know you won’t achieve well enough. You know you’ll never be good enough. It can also lead to burn out. And lead to your whole world tumbling around you when you tried so so hard but still didn’t achieve those perfect grades.

You try to tell yourself it doesn’t matter but it still does. You try to tell yourself it doesn’t define your worth but it does. Nothing can change how much of a failure you feel like you are. Even when other people seem proud of you. And this is why  I feel like the education system can be so dangerous and harmful to people, especially perfectionists.

In both high school and college I’ve been told everyone can et straight A*’s if they work hard enough. And I’ve been told it by plenty of teachers. IIt really is quite a dangerous thing to say I believe because it ensues the belief in perfectionists even more so that if they don’t get the top grades there somehow failures and it somehow means they didn’t try hard enough. When really that is not true, especially in perfectionists who do try hard enough. it’s because some people aren’t clever enough to get straight A*’s. Some people may have undiagnosed learning difficulties, gone unnoticed because they were getting good grades all their lives. (I honestly think  I have some mild form of dyslexia and it’s only become more apparent since starting my A-levels, and especially during A2 year.The only reason  I haven’t got myself tested is because I’ve heard it costs £400.) They may have just had a bad day, week or year for any number of reasons. Or they may have been to a college with a very bad quality of teaching and no one got straight A*’s. (Again me)

The point is there are countless numbers of reasons as to why these self-set expectations may not have been met but the perfectionist will still beat him/herself up about it because the fact hasn’t changed. In the mind of the perfectionist they have still failed and failure is such a scary thing.

I’m not going to type here about how it’s all okay if you haven’t met your grades or everything happens for a reason because I know it changes nothing. But what I am going to say is that we all need to learn to accept ourselves, go easier on ourselves. We can’t always be perfect or the best. Self-acceptance isn’t easy but it’s what needs to happen so we can be okay when things don’t go to plan.