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The Peril That Is Perfectionism

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By A.J, Legends Report Writer

‘If you’re a perfectionist, you have very high levels of orderliness, and very high levels of neuroticism and those two things chase each other around like mad’ - Jordan B. Peterson

Throughout my life, I always had high expectations (and I would go as far to say ‘Requirements’) set for me, from my supposed high functioning ability from a young age, to my motivation to become the best version of myself each and every day, it is undeniable to say that these taught attitudes have helped me to be consistent as a whole. But, what happens when I miss these expectations, when I eventually fail or am unable to keep up with those expectations? Am I still respected for all of my previous achievements, or am I now a product of my one mistake. This attribute is on the surface, one that is desirable in a parent, but in reality, needs to be combined with unconditional love, above achievement in all regards. 

Role Models

My mother is a tremendously inspirational individual in my life and I love her dearly despite the challenges we face. However, there have been dangerous ideas that have been planted, and over time grown on me especially from when I was a child. From as early as I can remember, my parent’s evenings and report cards were always good but never perfect, and this was always the point of discussion from when we would leave school. Understandably, from a parents perspective, you would want your child to succeed and work through this criticism constructively. However, I would always be lectured on the negatives with my successes being undermined as a result, what image do you think this would plant in a child’s brain? That they aren’t good enough because perfection hasn’t been achieved? - or at least that's how I felt; after reading an article on Narcissism from a guest writer, the idea from Dr Susan Forward expresses this as:

‘Damage through omission [rather than] commission’.

It is quite evident that the root of many people's problems begins from the same place, the parents. Without being taught self-respect early on, it is infinitely more likely that those children will grow to base their happiness on other people’s opinions of them because they were never given the chance to form their own opinion on themselves.

For myself, this comes in the form of reliance on my mother's opinion of me. I often feel our relationship is undermined by the necessity of work, and how she spends her free time either doing housework or relaxing on her own accord. The inner conflict results from this omission with the righteousness of her behaviour. Events can get in the way, but persistent exclusion combined with fluctuating self-esteem has been extremely damaging to my own development. 

My father, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Although he is physically present, he isn’t emotionally present and in general, his importance to me is about that of a chauffeur. He has never really attempted to make time for me, whilst I have attempted to, and shares other narcissistic qualities affecting my entire social life with my direct family. My whole outlook on him, which is even supported by his sisters, is to ignore his presence and as a result I'm sure you can imagine why my emotional dependency had been so reliant on my mum for the longest time in my life. I’m aware it's an unhealthy paradigm to have, and despite all my mother's great qualities, this perfectionism, which I'm highly aware that has been ‘passed onto me’ is something that I'm desperately trying not to emulate.

Surroundings, Personality And Resulting Expectations

Throughout my childhood, I've had to learn to accept the hardships of a rough area. People don’t think win-win, as you may expect when crime rates, drug use and a general sense of apathy are things that the area is known for. You see, when you’re able to see the effect and conditions people live in, it is easy to make the association between that and failure and all the more give you reason to have to succeed and it is this concept of ‘having to succeed’ that is so dangerous. When so much pressure is forced on such a fragile part of development in your life, it impacts the way that you think severely, and for me it made me into a perfectionist. 

Furthermore, when blessed with intelligence (at least in terms of education),  it is something that is almost impossible to notice growing and becoming deep-rooted within your personality. If you continually succeed, or fail in areas which aren’t deemed as socially necessary, then when that failure does come around, the shock of the failure almost overrides the ability to have a rational emotional response. The paradigm of failure also becomes blurred, and a good example of this could be seen from the Simpsons below. Lisa’s self-imposed standard gets exponentially higher and so even falling short by a tiny margin becomes exaggerated.

Overcoming Perfectionism 

“A person does not grow from the ground like a vine or a tree, one is not part of a plot of land. Mankind has legs so it can wander.” - Roman Payne

Although I have stated throughout this article that the ‘roots’ that I come from haven’t been the most pleasant, I’m aware that I can make a change to my life situation. Throughout this article, I am reasoning what has made me into a perfectionist, but this isn’t an excuse for me to carry on living through a destructive paradigm of self. And so, even if this comes at the cost of cutting individuals out of my life like Jordan B. Peterson expresses in this video.

Being constricted by my physical situation should never be an excuse because if properly maintained, my mental willpower should mostly be able to overcome those constraints. My learnt perfectionism came as a result of my upbringing, experiences, and dependency that has been put upon me, but to be able to overcome this issue, I will need to continue to ‘sharpen the saw’ as Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

In a recent situation which might almost seem trivial to some (but I found quite distressing due to what my standard of ‘failure’ is), forgetting to bring my credit card to pay at a restaurant, I decided to physically take myself out of the situation, omit the mistake (which was then outside of my circle of control), and then place myself back into the situation, with a refreshed mindset. I succeeded in proactively taking a step against my perfectionism, and even though it took me a few weeks to completely omit the mistake, I still felt like it was a step in the right direction. To begin to start working on such a deep-rooted problem, it is important to abstract it and take it apart in smaller steps. 

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” - Bill Hogan

I think we all at some point come to terms that life will never be how it is described, like the adage goes ‘the grass is greener on the other side’, and as a result the goal is to aim just below perfection. 

‘Done is better than perfection’ - Sheryl Sandberg

Having a finished draft on a huge project, or even being able to submit a piece of work without being overly conscientious, is a huge achievement for a perfectionist, and it is something that is worth respecting. We are all individuals with our own problems, and it might sound silly to some but if it’s meaningful to you, then that is what matters.

When we discuss our most innermost emotions, those that cloud our thoughts, or share a glimpse of the reality of our situations, it is of the utmost importance that we tread so carefully on such delicate issues. 

'To deal only with the superficial trivia without seeing the deeper, more tender issues is to trample on the sacred ground of another's heart.' - Stephen R. Covey

 Even being able to write this article was one that required a lot of willpower, as my imperfections are so openly on display and it serves as a reminder of the purpose of it. I hope it was as relatable reading it, as it was liberating writing it.

If you would value talking to a mentor, coach or counsellor in relation to your mental health or depression, please contact us below... 

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