Perfectionism

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.

Ever feel you're not good enough? Overcoming perfectionism - ABC Everyday

Enneagram Personality Tests

I’ve always loved taking personality tests and reading my horoscope. I’ve never really believed that they were scientific or fully accurate, but like tarot cards, I still think they have value because they reveal to you the way in which you view yourself. This is reflected back to us by what parts we agree with or identify with and which parts we don’t. Besides, everyone likes to learn more about themselves right?

After hearing about the enneagram test on a podcast, I decided to take a free one and see what it had to say and what I may be able to learn about myself from it. This test groups everyone into 9 different personality types. I actually ended up getting identical scores for both types 5 and 1 on one test, with five coming out slightly ahead of 1 on another site’s test. After reading the breakdown of these types, I definitely identify most with the type five description. Now, whether you believe in these types of tests or not, I want to break down my results to explain how regardless of if it’s true, it has allowed me to learn more about myself.

The gist of type 5s are that they love to obtain more and more knowledge. They have a tendency to obsess and isolate because of this. They really prefer to have a large knowledge base before publicly commenting on any topic. Their quest for knowledge stems from a sense that they are lacking something and not as capable as those around them. Their hope is that if they learn enough, they will someday find that missing piece keeping them from integrating with the rest of the world. Their biggest challenge is balancing their personal pursuits and interests with maintaining relationships with other people.

This description fits me pretty perfectly. I believe even in an old post where I listed my values, knowledge was near the top. My intelligence and collection of facts and information is one of the few aspects of myself that I truly take pride in. One of my coworkers has been making a lot of jokes and comments about how smart I am lately and he has no idea how much that really means to me. Despite valuing my intelligence and diligently working to always expand it, I still fear that I am not as smart as I hope I am. Receiving that validation from others is very comforting to me. It is also true that I have a hard time not always putting my private goals and pursuits ahead of spending time with other people and building meaningful relationships.

Reading the description of type 1s actually made me really sad. Basically it says that type 1s are perfectionists. They are unreasonable and often unrealistic standards for everyone in their lives, especially themselves. They have a very strong sense of right and wrong, with little room for any grey areas. They are often irritated, annoyed, and unhappy when the world is not able to live up to their standards of the way things should be. They can be important contributors to change in the world as they are willing to make huge personal sacrifices in the service of what they believe is morally right. While they feel very deeply and are passionate people, they do not express this side of themselves to the world. For this reason, others can perceive them to be cold and unfeeling.

While I do agree that this type fits me like a glove as well, I don’t think it bodes well for me in the grand scheme of things. My one disagreement would be about having unreasonable, unrealistic standards for other people. While I suppose I do expect a lot from people at times, I never really think anyone will be able to meet those expectations, and I don’t hold it against them. However, the same cannot be said for my expectations of myself. I do tend to think that no matter how much I do or how much I improve, it is never enough. Yet, it’s hard for me to even admit that a lot of the standards I set for myself are too high. It feels much more natural to believe that I’m simply not good enough, and that’s the real problem. It feels weird to think of myself as a perfectionist, although other people have told me I am. I just imagine a perfectionist to be someone who is pretty close to perfect in most of what they do. To me, I am so far away from where I want to be, it sounds ridiculous to call myself a perfectionist. I do have a strong (mostly black and white) sense of right and wrong, but I don’t really see myself as a particularly “moral” person. I think I do a lot of very awful things in my own self-interest all the time. I just beat myself up for them later more than someone else might.

With the insight from these two different personality descriptions, I am able to integrate key points to form a clearer image of my strengths and weaknesses as a person and how I might improve my life and relationships. At the very least, it helps me get an idea of the way others perceive me. Granted, a lot of these things I already know about myself, but still it can be helpful to see them reiterated from a third party. As a younger person, or someone who hasn’t done a lot of self-reflection though, this information could be a valuable first step towards understanding yourself.

A few of the things I’ve learned from the enneagram test are firstly, that I am doing enough. I am good enough. I know enough. I shouldn’t be deterred by my high standards and expectations. There’s not anything inherently wrong with having them, as long as I remember that I don’t need to meet them to feel worthy or accepted. If I can overcome my fear of failure and insufficiency, I will be capable of making a truly significant impact on the issues that matter to me. I’ve also learned that it’s important for me to practice stepping out of my mind more regularly and being in the present moment instead of lost in my own inner world.

I encourage you to take a free test yourself here. While this website has a free test, it does not allow you access to as much information about you type results. Once you know your type, I suggest you go to this site to read about your type in more detail. (They have a test, but it isn’t free.) If you decide to take the test, let me know what your type is and whether or not you think it’s an accurate description of your personality. What do you think of these tests overall? Are they accurate and reliable? Yes? No? Does it matter? Would love to hear some feedback. Regardless, I hope you have fun and gain at least a little insight into who you are.

The Enneagram Personality Test: Exploring Your Mind – The Horizon Sun

Vulnerability

How showing vulnerability helps build a stronger team |

Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.

Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.

I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.

One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.

The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.

So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.

I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.

I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.

I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:

No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.

Federico Garcia Lorca
Vulnerability: The Key to Better Relationships

Spill

My head is full of floating thoughts
that expand and break apart 
they cloud my heart and contract my lungs
endlessly vibrating in and out of awareness

My head is full, but more flows in
a constant stream of stressful flurries 
piling up inside my mind 
getting denser and heavier each day

It feels as though I will surely crack open
and spill this jumbled mess upon the pavement
or perhaps be flattened under the weight
of everything I've left undone

It's hard to focus while restitching seams in my skull
trying to keep it all together as I'm pulled forward
into a future waiting to pour even more
liquid lists through my shaking fingers

It's all too much, too fast, too busy
the urgency of each moment
tugging at me from all sides
knowing it cannot all be done

Impossible to decide the next step
I want my heart to open like a faucet
and release all this pressure inside 
to spill and spill until I am empty

Until I can hold that blissful space
and replace my lists with trust
a trust without form, just feeling
a brave surrender of the spirit
How Prayer Can Help Mend A Broken Marriage - Valerie Murray

Being a Vegan Emissary

Vegan and Plant-Based Diets Worsen Brain Health - Neuroscience News

Yesterday our new intern pulled me aside to ask me about going vegan. She seemed interested and eager to learn more since finding out that I was vegan a few months ago. She loves my vegan oat milk coffee creamer and told me she’s even started using it at home because she likes it so much. I was so happy that she felt she could come to me with questions, but at the same time I was immediately tense and anxious about how to respond.

This is not the first time that I’ve been in this uncomfortable situation. Many people have come to me for help when beginning their vegan/vegetarian journey. I thought I would get better at offering that help as I became more comfortable and confident in my own veganism, but it seems like it’s actually the reverse. I am so far removed from the normal meat-eater’s lifestyle that I no longer understand their questions half the time, let alone know what the most beneficial response would be. When people ask me things like: what do you eat? I can’t help but stare back dumbfounded for a few moments. What do you eat, I want to ask. I eat fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. You know… food. The bulk of what any reasonable diet should already consist of.

There is such chaos and turmoil inside of me when I find myself having to give vegan advice. Part of me is overjoyed, part of me is annoyed, part of me is panicked. Overjoyed because my veganism has influenced someone to try to live a more compassionate life. Annoyed because their questions remind me just how far the majority of society is from doing that. And panicked because of the pressure I feel to offer the perfect answers to their questions. I want to make veganism sound easy and appealing to them. I’m afraid my response could potentially prevent more animals from suffering but that I will fail those same animals if my response instead causes the person to turn away.

My mind starts racing, trying to decide what parts of the encyclopedia of information I have inside my head is the most important, useful, or impactful. I have so much knowledge to offer. To break it down into the most relevant and easily digestible pieces seems like an impossible task. After these random encounters, I always feel disappointed in myself. I kick myself thinking I should have done better somehow, even though I’m never sure exactly what “better” would have looked like. At this point it’s impossible for me to remember what would have been most helpful to me when I first became vegan.

I wanted to write this post today to address people on both sides of the aisle. To the aspiring vegan: Don’t expect the vegans in your life to take you by the hand and make this transition seamless and easy for you or expect them to have all the answers. To the vegan being asked for advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no perfect response that you can give to make someone else change their behavior. All you can do is try your best, be friendly, and be open.

With that said, here is what I would like to say to anyone interested in going vegan: It’s going to be a hard transition. Being vegan isn’t hard at all, but changing is. Especially when you are changing something so integral to your culture and day to day life. There is no amount of information you can gather or questions you can ask preemptively that will make this transition easy. If you’re waiting for it to be easy, you’re going to be waiting forever. Change is never easy. Learning how to live a new lifestyle is never easy. One way you can make it easier though is being gentle with yourself while you’re still learning. I think a lot of people either avoid or give up veganism because it’s too daunting to imagine never eating meat or dairy again. That’s a scary concept in the beginning. You find yourself thinking, what about all the traditional holiday foods I’ve enjoyed with my family my entire life? I can’t have turkey on Thanksgiving? I can’t have a Christmas ham? I can’t eat cake for birthdays? It seems like a huge sacrifice. And some militant vegans will say it’s something you’ve just got to accept and white-knuckle your way through. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with identifying as a vegan or vegetarian and still making exceptions for yourself in the beginning. I also think it’s okay to essentially go vegan without adopting the label if that lets you feel less restricted. What matters is doing our best to cause as little harm to other beings as possible. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even vegans can’t help but avoid doing harm entirely. It’s just about trying. So if the only thing holding you back from veganism is Thanksgiving dinner, let yourself not be vegan on the holidays. If you’re having a really hard day and you can’t resist one of your favorite comfort foods or don’t have time to cook and don’t have the time, energy, or accessibility to find a vegan alternative, you don’t have to cast the vegan lifestyle aside because you caved and ate meat. Just try again tomorrow.

You can also start slow. Try making a vegan dinner once a week. Make one meal a day a vegan meal. Test out some vegan menu options the next time you go out to eat. These small steps matter. They still have an impact. And if this is the best way for you to make the transition and feel confident and comfortable enough to stick with it, I think it’s an excellent way to do it. There is no one way to live a vegan lifestyle. It is going to take some time and experimentation to discover what works best for you. Your body and mind are going to need time to adjust. There are going to be days when you “screw up” and can’t live up to your own expectations and that’s perfectly okay. I still have those days over 10 years later. The important part is that you’re trying. That alone is a beautiful gift to the animals, your body, and the Earth. That alone is something to take pride in. And for that alone, I for one, thank you.

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