I don’t know why I’ve always been so hard on myself. It’s like I don’t expect others to be perfect so why the fuck do I expect this of myself? It’s exhausting and makes no sense.
I think that’s the point though. By definition, perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by someone striving for flawlessness —someone who sets high-performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluation and deep concern regarding others people’s judgment.
My perfectionism told me that if I disagreed with someone, they would hate me and get everyone against me. Maybe that happened one time in high school but that’s not my everyday. It seems as if there has been this tiny voice in the back of my head, my entire life spewing self-hatred for making one meaningless mistake. And when I get online, it just makes me feel that much worse.
When other people let things go, I stay stuck.
I replay everything that was said over and over again, condemning myself with each negative thought. I fear being rejected and letting others down or at least, I used too. Recently, I had this revelation that I don’t need to be perfect all the time. In fact, I don’t need to be perfect at all.
I learned that it’s okay to disagree with others and if they walk out of my life then I’m better off without them. I’m content with myself and I even enjoy some alone time. I’m definitely not all there yet, but I relish at the fact that if I want to say no, I can and truly understand that I’m not being selfish. The thing is, it didn’t happen overnight.
I think it started in childhood. I’m from a pretty wealthy town in South Jersey and it seemed if I wasn’t perfect, then I was a complete failure to myself and my family’s reputation. I think I used to compare myself to others —especially my sister and I never measured up. I sometimes forgot that I never will because we aren’t the same person.
We are two different people with two separate ways of living and thinking —except it seemed my sister’s way was better or at least that’s how it felt. Since I would never be her, I always failed. And so, the pattern of self-hatred began.
Elenore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy and I couldn’t agree more.
I say that because you will never find inner peace by wishing you were someone else. You may not know this but you’re pretty awesome just how you stand right now. But I get that it takes time. I mean I used to think the person I was wasn’t good enough. And so, I’d wear a mask.
I’d put on a brave face maybe crack a smile and pretend everything was okay. When in reality, I was locking myself in my bedroom so no one would see me scream. Sometimes I had a reason to be upset while others, something simply didn’t go as planned.
Unfortunately, in this game we call life, the one thing you can count on is that most things won’t. But the thing about perfectionism is that you’ll struggle at the slightest hint of change.
For me, I’d get angry if my routine was interrupted.
I’d get nervous when things around me were messy. I was exhausted all the time yet I was never fully able to relax. Not that I’m blaming anything on my family because I take full responsibility, but the truth is, most of us are still affected in some way by the actions of our mom, dad, and childhood as a whole.
I bet your mom and dad are the way they are because of their mom and dad (the cycle goes on). But today, I call it like I see it since I own my flaws.
After doing some research, it appears I’m not alone, although most of the time, it feels like I’m the only one suffering, which is another lie of perfectionism. According to CBS News, millennials (me), today strive for perfection more than previous generations.
Researchers looked at college students, ages 18-25 in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. A majority showed signs of perfectionism driven by unrealistically high exceptions, which may account for our record-setting levels of mental health issues —including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. The study partly blames social media as young people feel pressure to measure up to their peers.
In this new market-based society, young people are evaluated by a host of completely new channels that never existed before. Social media, school, and college exams, as well as job performance, means young people can be sifted, sorted and ranked by peers, teachers, and employers alike.
If we rank poorly or we don’t get enough likes on Instagram, the logic of this market-based society dictates that we feel less deserving —that our inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw.
And it makes sense because. We are comparing our real life to someone else’s highlight reel, which is like comparing me to my sister —it’s the same as comparing apples to oranges. We are seemingly internalizing a pre-eminent contemporary myth that things, including ourselves, should be perfect, which is not true. It’s really hard to break yourself out of this self-destructive pattern but it’s not impossible.
Like I said, I still struggle but I’m slowly learning it’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to have less than 500 followers on Facebook and I certainly don’t need Snapchat views to feel good about myself. I want you to learn that too.
I think for me, the energy behind my perfectionism comes largely from a desire to avoid failure, which was installed in me at a young age. This is why I sometimes put off projects. If I don’t start then I can’t fail. But that’s the thing, you can’t win if you don’t play.
Let me give you an example. If I didn’t ace that quiz or disagreed with a peer, I felt like life was coming to an end (literally). I remember telling my mom, one time in high school that we need to move away and that I’m never going back. I had just fought with my best friend and feared, she’d get the whole class to hate me. But today, I stand my ground.
I know that I’m part of a generation that has been conditioned to seek out metrics. We crave grades, and we long to know how well we’re performing compared to others because this is how we grew up.
When Facebook first launched, it was available only to college students —students being the perfect customer because we were desperate for the validation it offered. We grew up conflating our sense of self-worth with our sense of achievement.