I have been living with mental illness and other chronic illnesses for almost 3 decades. It’s okay though. I education thankfully gives me some extra insight into my issues. I’m very self-aware.
But I struggle and I struggle h a r d. And I’ve accepted that I will for the rest of my life. One of my hardest obstacles to overcome is perfectionism. I’m not sure which illness or disorder blessed me with this toxic symptom but I live with it and it debilitates me everyday.
Now, perfectionism is pretty often portrayed as a positive trait. It might even be your back-handed answer for the question at every job interview: “what’s your biggest weakness?” I used to use it all the time. Every interview. I thought it implied that when I attempted to start a project, I would put my all into it and do the best that I could. But that’s not really perfectionism; that’s just trying your best. That’s the healthy way to do things.
Psychology Todaysays this about it:
“Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness… What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. They expect others’ love to be conditional on a flawless performance.”
It takes a toll on self-worth. In my perfectionist brain, self-worth comes from accomplishments and being accepted. But (for some unknown reason) the perfectionist brain feels there is an extremely high–maybe impossible–standard to meet. This triggers the fear of failure and rejection (for not being “good enough,” duh) and efforts to avoid feeling failure and rejection. I’m sure everyone has experience rejection or fear of it at least once in their life. It can debilitate you. Even if the perceived rejection isn’t even real.
The go to method for avoiding? Procrastinating. Isolating. I know I can’t be the only one. I procrastinate if I have a project I need to finish and I isolate from people when I feel like I’m not worth being around… which is often because my self-esteem is shot.
It really takes a toll on the self-esteem. Perfectionistic brain is very judgemental. Now, to be clear, I am a very compassionate and empathetic person towards most people. My ultimate goal is to become a therapist so I can give back and help my community. I don’t believe judging other people serves me a purpose so I try not to. I’m not perfect though, I fuck up sometimes. But for the most part, I’m at least a decent human. Perfectionistic brain is only judgmental towards me. I don’t expect anyone else to be perfect; I only hold myself up to these wildly unrealistic standards.
Some days, I can’t clean my room because it won’t be clean enough so what’s the point? Other days I feel like I’m so flawed or ugly I can’t possibly be lovable. I almost gave up on this blog 4x before even thinking of writing anything (there’s that fear of failure!). I unconsciously measure my worth based on how well I’ve done something (if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough). It’s a constant state of feeling like a complete failure. So duh, I’m depressed.
But I’m working on it. Everyday, I’m working on it.
I love Brene, check out her website
I’m now trying to adjust my thinking from being a perfectionist to a good-enoughist, as Brené says. The skills I use the most (or try to) when struggling with perfectionism are
Best friend Technique
In my perfectionist brain, my inner critic is always very judgey and mean. It’s never satisfied with anything I do. As I’m writing this, it’s saying “what the fuck who CARES? You have nothing to offer.” Now, logically I know that’s not true but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. If I make a mistake, my instant reaction used to be to belittle myself. I sometimes still do it but I’m working on it, like everything else. But I have some tips to practice nonjudgmentalness that help from my binder full of DBT therapy work that I have done myself. Honestly.
Lets say, for example, I’m having a bad day and I drop a cup and just say “Jeez I’m so useless.”
Start trying to notice the judgmental thought. When you notice it, label it as a judgmental thought. “Okay, bitch you being hella judgey right now”
Check the facts. “I dropped a cup by accident. A mistake that everyone has made. I am not useless. I offer friendships and have meaningful relationships, I am performing well at work. Signs point to NOT useless.”
I find that often works for me. It is surprisingly effective most times. Of course, when I’m in a depressive episode it’s very hard to fight with the inner critic. If you struggle with being judgemental and you wanna work through that, I have a worksheet for Practicing Nonjudgementalness. It’s from a DBT workbook, HERE. Remember though, this is a skill. And like any skill, it has to be practiced.
Best Friend Technique
The best friend technique is super easy and offers perspective. Ask yourself “What would I say to a friend if s/he came to me with this problem?” Inner critic is clearly not a friend. Imagine:
You have a project to do and your afraid of failure so you do the ONLY thing that makes sense—procrastinate instead of work. Inner voice comes along and says “I’m a failure anyway so who cares if I don’t finish it?” Now imagine your best friend texting you this message.
I don’t know about you but if my bestie texts me that, I am quick to remind her of all her accomplishments and proof she’s not a failure. I would show her compassion and offer empathy and ask if there was anything I could do to make her feel better. I would encourage her to finish. Isn’t that what most people would do? So why is it so hard to do that for yourself?
Honestly, it’s so simple when you think about it but so hard to put into practice. It’s a very difficult one for me too. However, when I do remember to do it, it is so effective for me. So if you haven’t tried it, I recommend giving it ago. Be patient though because it is a skill and needs to be practiced (cannot stress enough).
So, I’m burdened by the fact that I’m not perfect and never will be. But it’s fine lol. I know that no one ever in the history of people has ever been perfect. And more importantly, I’m not the only one that struggles with this and that’s kinda comforting.
Beyonce falls down stairs at every concert. Voldemort accidentally made Harry a horcrux. Serena has lost tennis matches.