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Struggling with perfectionism (essay and video)

Author’s note: Struggling with Perfectionism is about the beginning of my journey to overcome perfectionism. It’s a peek into my self-talk and introspection process – a reflection of how I saw perfection embodied in myself and those around me – as I came to confront myself and admit the truth behind the moments of perfection that defined me every day of my life. Here, I share the uncomfortable acknowledgements I had to make to set aside the constant drive for perfection. By unearthing what was truly at the root of my perfectionism, I gained the opportunity to take back control, live authentically, and find peace outside of perfection.

As a recovering perfectionist,

I feel it’s important to identify perfectionism rooted in unmet emotional need. Socially revered, perfectionism is complicated to identify as detrimental to mental health due to it’s productivity value. You often wish you didn’t have to give into it, because you don’t necessarily like minding the minute details of everyday life, but it leaves you feeling like you have no choice. This addiction is about performance and it offers a pang of feel good chemicals if you comply with it and a tormenting pang of discomfort if you do not. Discomfort that I can only describe as a nagging sense of worry, guilt, unease or disappointment often accompanied by physical signs of distress.

The thing about perfectionism is, it’s hard to admit you’re a perfectionist,

because you’ve commanded perfection of yourself for so long you don’t remember what it’s like not to be defined by it’s drive for control. You don’t remember what it’s like to feel unbothered by your mistakes or self-perceived flaws. You tell yourself that you’re just productive, focused, dedicated, or efficient and that it’s necessary to work, schedule, clean or organize yourself away to meet the demand of the innumerable bits and pieces that are essential to your life. Be it your family, friends, co-workers, your daily commute, your outfit, television schedule, work agenda, school project, athletic or workout routine – you seek for things, people, and/or situations to be in order, timely, and to go the way you planned for them in your head. Otherwise you register a pang of discomfort that negatively taints that moment in time. Of course, it’s highly likely you won’t admit you’re a perfectionist no matter how accurately this describes you. That’s the thing about perfectionism, you can’t acknowledge it, because it’s what you hide behind to keep you from giving up control to experience all the things you don’t want to feel and explore what lies beneath.

Perfectionism isn’t about all the things you do impeccably,

but about the expectations you feel you have to meet to feel good. The same expectations you project out for things, people or situations to live up to for your own comfort. You may ruminate about the imperfections of the past and even those that you worry might somehow materialize in the future. When you do this, the imperfections define you, which, ironically, is what often worries you. Perfectionism isn’t about productivity, strategizing, organization, timekeeping, planning or cleanliness. It’s about exercising enough control over things, people, or situations in your life to avoid feeling the pang of discomfort that sets in when something, someone, or some situation is not as you’ve been taught it should be.

Perfectionism is an attempt to keep you from feeling all the ways you’re afraid you are disappointing.

The message that crosses your mind when you feel you’re doing something perfectly is that it’s right, and you have been taught that right is good. The message that crosses your mind when you feel you’re doing something imperfectly is that it’s different from what you feel it should be and you have been taught that different is flawed, and flaws are bad, and bad is wrong. Perfectionism is about controlling things, people, or situations as a means of avoiding feeling the discomfort that accompanies doing something you perceive as bad, because if you do something wrong or bad, you associate that you in turn are wrong or bad and register the feelings that accompany wrong or bad as a result. Flaws have been socially constructed to carry negative connotations. Flaws are perceived as negative, because they are conceptualized to represent the things that don’t fit in, that are unacceptable or invalid because they do not conform with familial, social, or cultural standards. Perfectionism is about avoiding flaws, because if you, something about you, or someone or something you feel responsible for is flawed, you unconsciously feel the discomfort associated with being subpar, non-conforming, unacceptable, and invalid.

Perfectionism is an attempt to obtain certainty and predictability,

where uncertainty and unpredictability brought fear, shame, and anxiety in the past. If you plan and strategize you’ll know what’s coming and can be prepared for anything, so you’re less likely to have to worry about thinking on your feet and saying or doing something wrong. If you organize enough you’ll know where everything is all the time and you’re less likely to misplace things and feel upset for doing so. If you’re always early or on time you won’t miss a beat or feel out of the loop. If things are always clean then they’re always presentable. You exert control by strategizing, organizing, planning, cleaning, timekeeping, to lower your chances of making mistakes and feeling the discomfort associated with getting caught off guard, spending time finding things, missing out on events, or feeling judged for aesthetics. Mistakes, like flaws, are associated with negative messages, and perfectionism is about avoiding the negative feelings that accompany those messages.

Perfectionism takes a toll in that it stops you from enjoying the present

without exerting control over the moment or other people to some extent, using something like the guise of responsibility to justify taking control. You forget you once enjoyed yourself without the nagging need to nitpick or improve on something. You forget that perfection isn’t possible, and that to strive for perfection isn’t about the thing, person, or situation you’re trying to perfect at all, but about you and all the ways you cannot yet accept yourself. It’s as if noting the flaws and fixing the imperfections around you, will help you forget all the flaws you feel in yourself. It’s as if striving for perfection keeps at bay all the thoughts that sneak in to point out all the things you feel you haven’t done, all the ways you feel you’re not enough. As if controlling the things around you will help you feel a little more in control of those parts of yourself that you don’t want to think about, the ones that irk you because they make you feel something like shame, wrongdoing, or guilt. You don’t like those feelings. You also haven’t learned to manage those feelings or what’s behind them. So instead, you focus on things that don’t make you feel that way even if that means practicing control over people, things, or situations that have nothing to do with the things about yourself that cause you discomfort to begin with.

A long time ago you learned to exert control to distract yourself

from those parts of you as much as is feasibly possible, and in time it became your norm. Maybe that means you sacrifice time to yourself to help manage other’s problems. Maybe that means you sacrifice time with loved ones to attend to the minutia of everyday projects and responsibilities. You reason that these sacrifices are no big deal and that you’ll make up for it later. Or maybe it means you’re consistently distracting yourself with games, social media, or other activities so as not to have to sit and think and feel anything about yourself. So time and again, you choose to sacrifice any joy the present moment has to offer, because you’re so caught up focused on the little things. Only to reach an idle sense of satisfaction that lasts a fraction of the time that it takes you to reach any desired goal. And even after an endless string of projects perfected, people impressed or achievements accomplished, your thirst for perfection is never fully satisfied. It keeps renewing and you keep giving into it, because you have yet to realize that perfectionism controls you and not the other way around.

Perfectionism is a lot of work,

but you exert the effort to practice perfection consistently for the sense of safety it brings you. The presence of flaws or mistakes no matter how small in size or number carry with them a potent and enduring message of disappointment. This message carries with it a feeling that is hard to shake off. Mistakes and flaws are unacceptable because they make you feel unacceptable. Mistakes and flaws feel like personal reflections of you and cause you to recall feelings and thoughts that have made you feel small, unacceptable, disappointing, invalid, and rejected in the past. You strive to stay productive, to avoid mistakes or prevent flaws, because you believe that doing so will suffice to keep you safe from feeling like any of these things apply to you.

Now there’s nothing wrong with planning, being productive, strategic, organized, timely, or clean.

The thing is that perfectionism relies on these to the point of deception. They falsely come to form a part of your identity and sense of self-worth. You are worthy of feeling accepted, safe, and valid solely for existing, but perfection hinges on the insecurity created when your worth is conditioned on your ability to perform these. Perfection as a character trait prescribes a good feeling if you fulfill it and a feeling that hurts if you lack it. In doing so, anything falling outside of the realm of what is deemed perfect remains unsafe and unexplored due to the negative connotations and feelings it unconsciously elicits.

Perfectionism seeks emotional safety through intolerance

and hinders the nurturing of unique capacities and differences, teaching us that different is deficient and that we must fear different and mask it through escapisms. Perfectionism sacrifices your genuine expressions, feelings, wants, needs, and aspirations to avoid feeling the discomfort of being yourself in a world that disallows mistakes and frowns on differences. Nothing is ever good enough so you’re never in the moment, but always reaching for a standard of what you and/or others should be. Your ability to see others and enjoy them as they are is limited, because you can hardly fathom fully enjoying yourself for being yourself. So you see in other things, people, and situations what you’re afraid to see in you – imperfection. As a result you may hold others to the same expectations and inadvertently make them feel unacceptable, invalid and wrong simply for being themselves.

The thing about perfectionism is,

it often keeps you from growing and more importantly, it keeps you from living. Perfectionism preys on your feelings and disallows your true identity from shining. Perfectionism relies on making you feel that different brings with it the risk of looking or feeling silly, of finding flaws, of wasting time or making mistakes and these feel emotionally unsafe. Being silly, individual uniquenesses, experiencing time with no agenda, and making mistakes, are exactly where growth, freedom and fulfillment live. The reality is that there is no perfect. There is only wholeness, and knowing wholeness lies in nurturing your own uniqueness. Perfection stifles uniqueness. Imperfections are possible only when you try to achieve someone else’s standards instead of your own, or when you hold others to your standards instead of encouraging them to feel whole. You are whole because you are unique. But feeling whole requires you to wholly accept, acknowledge, validate and tend to all of the parts of you that make you unique.


I am not a medical or mental health professional. The information on jaestruthserum.com is not professional advice. It does not take into account your personal circumstances, physical wellbeing, mental health status, or mental health requirements. 

Do not use this information to treat or diagnose yourself or another person’s medical or mental health condition and never ignore professional advice or delay seeking it because of something on jaestruthserum.com. Any medical or mental health questions should be referred to a qualified professional. If in doubt, please always seek professional advice.


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