Is the Idea of 'Perfectionism' Hurting You?
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
What does it mean to be perfect? Sit back and really think about that one. Does it only exist when we compare ourselves to others? Would it exist if we didn’t care what others think about us – our parents, our friends, our partner, our boss, our clients? So far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s a trap.
I have struggled with the idea of perfectionism my entire life, quite honestly without even realizing that was the case. The definition of “Perfectionism” is as follows – “A personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations.” When you put it like that, it actually sounds quite awful to me. To live in a perpetual land of flawlessness followed by critical evaluations of self & others, no thanks. No wonder we tend to live in a ceaseless state of restlessness, especially in regards to comparing ourselves to others.
Growing up, I was the baby of 5. All of my older siblings were and are exceptionally book smart. Every single one of them made the honour roll in high school, paving the way for Kat Black to enter the “high performance standard” set before me. Well, let me tell you a little bit about Kat Black - She wasn’t and has never been book smart. I never once made the honour roll in high school, never really got past a grade of 70 in any subject. And I was miserable. I constantly compared myself to my good friends, who were all getting 80 +, and to my siblings. The teachers at my high school were of no comfort either. When graded tests were placed on my desk, a look of bewilderment, pity & disappointment remained on their face as the paper floated aimlessly down to my desk top.
In my eyes, my siblings were ‘perfect’ in school. Although they weren’t receiving 100’s on every exam, they were receiving straight A’s to my straight C’s. Imagine what that does to a developing teenage mind. Constantly feeling as though you are, well, stupid. Did they think they were perfect? I bet not. I bet they were striving for even higher standards, to which I couldn’t even fathom. I have come to realize within that particular instance, that I am not ‘stupid’. I may not have been the best student in high school, but I have become a pretty good student at life.
Look at my struggles with my alcohol dependency. Do you think that I just quit one day – easy peasy? That I didn’t compare myself to others who I thought had been able kick that dependency so quickly and without struggle? Found the ‘perfect’ way to release my need for it? No, I didn’t. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I seem to release its hold on me? I struggled for months to finally find my freedom within it. And for me, there wasn’t just one ‘perfect’ way to do it. I had to create and develop my own tools & resources. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t, but ultimately I won my battle and continue to do so. Struggles and all.
There are so many other ways we seek out perfectionism. Especially when comparing ourselves to others. Social media is a great example – So many people we see are living seemingly ‘perfect’ lives. This is one of my most realistic examples – An old acquaintance I used to work with in the bar industry got married and had a few kids. I hadn’t seen them in years however I felt as though I still ‘knew’ them because of their instagram posts, mostly about their kids. I watched them grow in their ‘perfect’ house, with their ‘perfect’ bday parties, ‘perfect’ vacations. At least that’s the story I told myself. It was all beginning to be a little too much. Then, one day a few years ago, I saw them (in real life) and their family at the park. The kids were running a mess, throwing rocks at cars, yelling, crying, both parents threatening to leave if they didn’t calm down. And I shamefully had a smug look on my face with what I saw in that moment. “AHAH!” I knew it. But looking back now, my heart softens and I realize how hard it must have been for them in that moment – to be a mother, to have 3 young kids, and how tired she must be to have to keep up appearances. And I'm sure we all know people in a similar situation. I have a major appreciation for those parents who tell me how much of little shits their kids are some times. Yes, of course they still love them, but there’s that truthful side to it all as well. Honesty, truth – not perfection.
How about relationships? I struggled, and actually still do, with laying out on the line who I really am, especially at the beginning of a relationship. Fear creeps its way in that if I’m not this ‘perfect’ entity, that what, jaw gapping, eyes wide open, he’ll slowly back away from me, hands up in the air as though I have the plague? Yup, that’s the thought. He’s most likely thinking the same thing too, that he has to exude this ‘perfect’ persona, and so in our striving to put on a façade of being that ‘perfect’ person for the other, we end up cancelling each other out.
On the flip side - I can't go around behaving poorly, or intentionally set out to hurt someone I care about and say "Well, you know, I'm not perfect" instead of taking responsibility for my actions. I mean I can, I can do whatever I want, but it's a pretty shitty thing to do. Stepping up, taking ownership and striving to just be a better version of myself, that's the sweet spot, that's where it's at.
So I'll leave you with my final thought - If the others we are constantly comparing ourselves to don’t believe they are ‘perfect’ and believe that others are constantly judging them as well, then does perfectionism actually even exist? How can it if the people we believe are 'perfect' don’t believe that in themselves? This may not make any sense to you, but it does in my beautifully imperfect mind.
This is obviously still a work in progress for myself. I realize major life learning’s everyday, doesn’t mean they are quick to stick. But I think, for me, this an awesomely major step in the right direction of shedding and not giving a shit about what other people think of me. What a relief to know that I don’t have to be ‘perfect’, and allow myself the opportunity to be the person I know I am to be when no one is watching. To be a human being, we have to expect to make mistakes and not be perfect – or how else would we learn and grow?
KAT’S NOTE: Typically I pick apart my blog posts, and review and edit them like 50 times, but today, in honour of this post, I only did it four times! Haha. Progress People. - xo K