My own saying when it comes to perfectionism is as follows:
That’s right – Perfectionism is a concept, not a reality.
It’s something many of us strive for, whether we realise it or not. We want, we need, things to be ‘just so’. Any less will result in anxiety, frustration, feelings of disappointment with the situation and with ourselves.
Are there positives to perfectionism? There are positives to goals and ideals because they make us work harder, give us some direction, maybe even motivate and inspire us. But none of that is really real when they don’t exist the way we imagine them to.
Perfection itself doesn’t exist. It’s a socially sculpted, socially defined concept.
We are always generating notions of perfection, aiming to reach them, berating ourselves when we don’t.
Nothing will ever be ‘exactly perfect’, and even if whatever it is goes to plan or you find yourself thinking something is close to perfect, the feeling is fleeting, hollow; it never feels the way you think it would.
Looking For Perfection
Perfection In The Smaller Things
We aim for these perfect ideals in the smallest of things – the way the bread is toasted ‘just right’, having a day out or our pre-made plans go smoothly just as you hope, how exact you get your duvet cover to fit. Those with OCD and anxiety will likely know the smaller things quite well and deal with the niggles they bring every day. They are endless. I think some of the smaller perfectionist issues likely come from our need for control, too.
Perfection In The Bigger Things
We aim for perfection in the bigger, more serious things too – the size and shape of our bodies, how our faces look, having the perfect relationships and careers.
We’ve been told time and time again what the perfect face looks like, how our bodies should look, what kinds of jobs are the most respectable, how much we should be earning, what we should and shouldn’t be eating, all of the things we should be doing in our lives if we want to be interesting and amazing people.
Perfection In Life’s Milestones
Society has taught us all too often that there are certain milestones to achieve by certain points in your life, such as when to get into a serious relationship, when to settle down, when to get a career, to move out, to get a mortgage and get married and have a child etc.
Perfection… Says Who?
But these are perfectionist, idealistic goals that don’t suit everyone. Not only that, but they’re simply ideas of what others think ‘should’ happen. Who cares? Who made up these rules and standards that we feel obliged to follow and to aim for?
If we don’t follow these rules and aim for these ideals and achieve such perfectionism, what happens? Are we not good enough as we are, are our lives not worth anything if we don’t join the gym and a book club, sip wine with a bunch of giggling friends in the evening, have a 10 year plan sketched out for when we’re hitting the next milestones, own our own swish apartment filled with expensive gadgets and brand label clothing afforded by our high-flying successful careers, while we stand in front of a mirror to think just how perfectly incredible we look? What if we don’t own the best, most expensive gadgets and clothing?
What if our bread isn’t perfectly toasted on both sides? What if we miss a spot when we clean the kitchen and our duvet covers are a mess and our skin has breakouts and our hair doesn’t swish like in the L’Oreal adverts? What if, no matter how much we plan and try to control our days, things never quite go the way we want them to?
Whatever we do when we aim for perfection, it will never be enough.
Whenever we try to meet someone else’s rules and ideals, we will feel as though we fall short.
The more our anxiety notches up over trying to be perfect, the more pressure there is on us, the more stressed we feel. The desire for perfect starts to affect every part of your life and before you know it you’re living just to achieve something you don’t have and are constantly striving for things to be ‘just so’.
You’ll never appreciate yourself, your life, and the big and little things in it, while you’re doing this.
What happens when you don’t reach the ideals?
Nothing too drastic, if you can do away with the self-judgement. The world won’t end, you won’t change as a person, no curse will be cast upon you. The world keeps turning and your heart keeps beating.
Maybe it’s time we loosen the ropes a little, let go of the ideals and the concept of perfection. Dealing with an invisible / chronic illness is difficult enough, don’t add striving for ideals to your struggles.
Working on anxiety to calm the niggles of the smaller perfectionist issues is a hard thing to do, but take it day by day. Remember that you are bigger than those things, and that the world won’t fall apart if things aren’t quite ‘perfect’.
When it comes to the bigger perfectionist issues and the standards society sets, I think it’s time to say ‘enough’. Set your own goals and standards, and be answerable only to yourself. Pave your own path and live your own life because you’re the only one who can.