One of the hardest things about perfectionism is determining whether or not you struggle with it. There are certainly people who describe themselves as perfectionists, but I think a vast majority don’t recognize themselves as such. I definitely identify with a lot of the characteristics of perfectionists, but have an extremely hard time describing myself as one. Only recently did I learn that this is quite common.
Even if everyone around you recognizes you as a perfectionist, you might not see it in yourself. For me, it doesn’t feel like an accurate description because I am so imperfect. It feels foolish to say I’m a perfectionist when I am so highly critical of myself and everything that I do. Yet that is simultaneously one of the aspects of perfectionism. I suppose the main issue, in my mind, is that a perfectionist is someone who is nearly perfect in all that they do. But I don’t think I would ever consider anything I’ve done or anything about me to be “perfect.” I wouldn’t even say that I strive for perfection, because I genuinely don’t believe myself to be capable of it. To me it feels like I am just trying to be adequate. My standards are just higher than what a lot of other people’s might be, or so I’m told.
A few of the qualities of perfectionists are: all-or-nothing thinking, being highly critical, fear motivated, having unrealistic standards, being hyper focused on results, sensitive to criticism, tendency towards procrastination, and low self-esteem. I identify with every single one of these characteristics and see how they would apply to a perfectionist, but still I feel too flawed to be one myself. And that’s part of the problem. I don’t believe myself to be a high-achiever or acknowledge in a practical sense that my standards and expectations for myself may be unrealistic. It is extremely hard for me to relax and let go.
From the outside, I would agree that perfectionists need to be less rigid and try to be more easy going, accepting that they are already doing more than enough, I don’t feel that same advice applies to myself. “Well I can’t relax,” I think, “If I stop pushing myself, I’ll devolve into an even worse person than I am right now!” This is where that sense of being pushed by fear rather than pulled by aspirations comes in. When I make a goal for myself, my mind focuses more on the anxiety of not achieving my goal instead of the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing it.
In fact, no matter what I accomplish, I never feel much satisfaction from it. If I finish 9 out of 10 things on my to-do list, I don’t pat myself on the back for the majority being finished. I fixate on the one that I wasn’t able to get to. And I feel like I could have done a better job on the other 9. I notice this a lot when I’m cleaning my house. Vacuuming and sweeping the floors feels pointless (even though I still do it every other week) because all I think about as I’m going through my house is all of the other things I don’t have time to clean and organize. I feel overwhelmed by the mountain of things I can’t find time to address rather than giving myself credit for what I am doing well.
It is this very desperation for perfection and control that led me down the road of disordered eating. My body is one of my main areas of distress. Despite all of the wonderful, attractive qualities I have, they mean nothing to me in the face of my perceived flaws. It feels impossible to change them or accept them. Instead I try to avoid and disassociate from my own body most of the time.
I don’t know where this toxic mindset began. Often it stems from having high expectations placed on you by family when you are young. Some children grow up believing that if they are not perfect then they will not be given the love and support that they need. Deep down, I do feel unworthy of the love and consideration I receive, but I don’t recall anyone besides myself ever making me feel that way. My parents were always very supportive and did not pressure my sister or I to perform at any particular level. I am harder on and more critical of myself by far than any other person I’ve encountered in life has been. It seems like everyone in my life has always been very impressed by me and what I’m capable of, except me, that is.
I’m still learning how to obtain that one most illusive love, my own. I hope I am finally able to find it in 2022. I feel closer than I ever have before at least. I just have to keep reminding myself that flaws and mistakes do not disqualify you from happiness and love. I don’t need to wait until I prove myself in order to give myself those things. I deserve them just as I am now. We all do.