Extreme perfectionism is self-hatred in disguise and only serves to make us feel bad about ourselves.
I am a perfectionist. There, I said it, and trust me it is not that easy for me to acknowledge because I know my perfectionism is a big reason for me being depressed, getting anxiety- and panic attacks and feeling stressed. I have always been a perfectionist, and it has always been tearing me down, I just didn’t know it. The first time I started to realize that I am a perfectionist was back in October where I went to a workshop organized by an organization that helps university students deal with mental issues. When I attended this workshop everything just clicked, and a lot of things started to make sense. But I didn’t really think anything of it, until three weeks ago when I got a reminder that this group therapy program, I had signed up for would have the first meeting the week after.
This group therapy program is organized by two psychiatrists from the same organization I mentioned before, there are 8 other university students in this group and in total we will meet 8 Mondays. So far, I have been to two sessions, and let me tell you something, I have never been this terrified and felt this vulnerable! But I have a feeling that these group therapy sessions are going to make a huge difference for me and maybe/hopefully change my life.
There is a good reason I think these therapy sessions are going to change my life is:
Firstly, I am becoming aware of how horrible and unreasonable I am actually being towards myself! This part is what hurts the most right now, because now that I am aware of it, I notice how often I am actually setting unreasonably high goals and demands for myself. And how horrible I am treating myself. To make it worse, I can now see one consistent pattern in my life, and that is that I have always been very perfectionistic, and I have always been VERY critical of myself, as far back as I can remember this have been an issue for me. Maybe I will write a blog post about growing up and being overly perfectionistic and how it has affected me.
I do realize that it is a huge step forward that I am able to admit that this is a big problem for me, as well as starting to become more aware of it in my daily life, but right now it sucks. Because, before I started to be aware of how critical I am towards myself, I would “just” think horrible things about myself, become very mad and upset with myself if I didn’t manage to get the top grade in an exam or if I didn’t manage to check everything of on y to do list. But now, oh boy, I still get the same feeling as before, but now there is just a new layer to it, because I become even more upset and angry with myself because I get upset and angry with myself. And that is a vicious circle. I know that this is going to be a long process, and I will probably never get completely rid of my perfectionism, but it is just frustrating, and I am actually upset with myself because I think the way I do.
The other part which I am really enjoying is that I am feeling less alone in it. Because I am in a group with 8 other university students who feel more less the same. There is nothing more liberating than sitting and actually talking about it, without feeling everyone else is judging me.
Me being a perfectionist is actually very big issue for me, and it has more or less been dictating my life my entire life. At this point in my life it has grown to affect every aspect of my life, and I realize that it is actually holding me back in a way. In the last year or two it has affected me a lot more than I care to admit, both in regard to my studies, my social life and my personal life.
When it comes to school, I have always been very perfectionistic, but the way it mainly affects me now is through my unreasonably high expectations to myself. In my mind I have created this imagine of what kind of person I should be. The points are that I should be an active student in class, I should always have read everything for each class, as well as take notes to everything, I should also go above and beyond with every type of school work, and I should get very good grades. But this imagine is not a tangible goal for, because every time I get one step closer the goal moves two steps further away from me, and then I can never reach the goal. I always have these thoughts that I should be doing more, and what I am doing is far from being good enough.
I have one exam that especially stands out for me, and that was on my fourth semester, I had an oral exam, and this exam was very difficult and there was a lot of things which needed to be prepared. I spent a lot of time preparing for this exam, reading everything, creating all of the presentations I needed to make, and I was feeling anxious and stressed in a couple of weeks before the exam (in these weeks I also had 3 other exam which I needed to think about, but this exam was very difficult for me). I was absolutely sure that I was going to fail this exam, I called my mom and cried because I was sure that I was going to fail. I felt sick during the entire exam, and I felt like a failure during the entire exam. I did something right in the exam, I got the grade 12 in this exam (in the Danish grading system 12 is the highest grade), but I still felt like I could have done more, said more in the exam. I know it is completely unreasonable and quite frankly stupid of me to think like that, because I literally couldn’t have done a better job, but the feeling is still there. And it is like that with everything I do, and every time I get the grade 12, I still don’t think it is good enough.
Before starting the group therapy, I didn’t realize that my perfectionism also affects my social life. I have always thought of myself as being kinda shy and slightly awkward, and to some extend I still think I am. However, I can now see that my biggest problem is that I am afraid of showing people the real me instead of this “perfect” person I have somehow created. I don’t like letting people in, I don’t like showing my insecurities and my ugly sides. But the truth is that I feel so insecure every time I am in a social situation because I am afraid of what the other person will think of what I am saying. I keep replying conversations I have had in the past and think of things I should have said instead of what I actually said. Right now, it is at a point where I feel so anxious when I am in a social situation that I try to avoid them.
Because I rarely let people get to know the real me (and because I have had some bad experiences with letting people get to know the real me), I am terrified of people not accepting who I really am and only liking the good parts I choose to show them. Because I have some bad experiences with opening up to people, I now think that everyone that is a part of my life only have one goal, and that is to hurt me.
But where have being afraid of showing people the real me gotten me? the answer is pretty simple, it has gotten me nowhere… I have a handful of people who I have actually dared to let in and see the real me. I have “friends” I have been friends with for 3-4 years, but they don’t really no anything about me, and that is not a life I want anymore. I want to be able to let people get to know the real me, to be able to make these powerful connections with people, and to have people get so close to me that it would actually break my heart if they disappeared from my life. The only problem is that I just don’t know how to do it.
I want to become less perfectionistic and less critical of myself, I just don’t know how, right now I am just feeling shitty about it, and I feel like I have been letting myself down, and that I still am letting myself down. The worst feeling I have right now is that I am so disappointed in myself, and a part of me actually hate myself for firstly being so perfectionistic, and secondly I hate myself because I feel shitty about it, and because I am disappointed in myself and because I hate myself. See, the vicious circle is back again.
Anne Wilson Schaef
Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.
While writing this blog, I am really trying to push my perfectionism aside and just write. It is difficult, and I have started on so many blog posts, and not finished them because I didn’t think they were worth posting, either because I think it was poorly written or because it didn’t live up to the expectations I have in my head. But for now, one of my goals is to just post something, even though it might not be perfect.
I know it is important for me to address my perfectionism in order to become a better version of myself and heal, and even though it sucks, I am still so proud of the fact that I am now able to say it out loud, I am still embarrassed when I say it, but at least I can say it now, and I guess that is an important first step.