Perfectionism is a funny thing. It’s the strong urge to do things “perfectly” even when the expectations are unrealistic. Whether it’s your first time trying something new or you have no idea what you’re doing, the pressure to do things “right” and “perfectly” is overbearing. The goal to achieve more, better, and faster creates an enormous amount of pressure on our self-worth, well-being, and identity.
One thing I recently learned is perfectionism looks different than what I thought it would as a kid. For me, I never identified as a perfectionist because I wasn’t a straight-A student, didn’t apply to every Ivy League, or was I always put together (still not lol!). I can’t speak 4 languages, play multiple sports and instruments, nor did I win multiple scholarships or awards. We all know incredible people who checked all these boxes, I just wasn’t one of them!
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect myself to be all of those things. I’m smart, I think quick on my feet, and even when I’m half trying, I typically can deliver a strong B+/A- so I didn’t do too bad. I was involved in organizations I cared about, made friends, and did extracurriculars I felt mattered in my learning and development.
So whenever I saw posts or articles about people struggling with perfectionism, I scrolled right past them. I felt like it had nothing to do with me because I wasn’t that image of someone who struggled with perfectionism.
Boy, was I wrong!
Here are symptoms of perfectionism I didn’t expect to check off:
- Struggle to relax and share my work, thoughts, or feelings with others (half check? I have a lot of feelings y’all)
- Feeling anxiety about my performance where I don’t want to start in fear of failing
- Constant anxiety and fear of judgment of others. This also includes anticipating comments, criticisms, and rejection of others for my work
- Starting out strong but not completing projects, due to fear of failure, rejection, or criticism
- Procrastination regularly
- Being controlling of relationships – intimate, social, and/or professional relationships (sorry!)
- Being obsessed with rules, lists, and work, or feel extremely apathetic (it’s an emotional yo-yo and it’s exhausting!)
(You can read more about Perfectionism by Healthline here. Also, did anyone else feel attacked or triggered while reading this list?! I know I did writing it! Share which symptoms you related to in the comments and how you’re managing them!)
Turns out perfectionism is when we constantly feel like we’re not good enough due to impossibly high standards society, family, or influential people ingrained in us. Over time, we subconsciously adopt these standards as the end-all-be-all and torture ourselves for not living up to them.
(Emotional sideline: Let’s be honest, many of us emotionally terrorize ourselves already. We shame ourselves for not looking a certain way. We guilt ourselves into doing things we really don’t want to do. Then when we don’t achieve what we thought we were supposed to, we dig this massive pool of self-rejection and cannonball in.)
When I found this out, I was like HOLY EFF! This makes so much sense! As a recovering hyper achiever, my perfectionism was getting the best of me. In fact, it was sucking the life out of me and preventing me from making progress on my goals. It got to the point where I had to personally address it and tell myself to cut it out!
The self-talk with my Inner Critic (the keeper of my perfectionist tendencies and impossible standards) went a little like this: “Listen you, I know you’re looking out for me. I know you know what I’m capable of and probably what I’m not capable of, more than I do. But you have to stop getting in my way!
I have goals and big dreams. I want to help people better themselves, contribute to their communities, and solve world problems. I can’t do that if every time I start something or try something new, you criticize and remind me of all the reasons why it won’t work.
When it comes to working on myself and towards my goals, I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to experience rejection and fail the first several tries! And that’s OK!
Before you have a panic attack, these are not bad things. They’re apart of the journey and it doesn’t hinder my personal development journey (PDJ) as you were told to believe. Having these experiences will actually help me become better!”
It’s been a process, to say the least.
Recognizing that I’m some kind of new-age perfectionist did not immediately solve all my problems. I am working every day to validate myself, show more self-love and overcome the hyper achiever tendencies that prevent me from going after my goals.
Some days are easier than others to focus on what I need to do. Some days I need to be more gentle with myself and support my Inner Critic, like a best friend who’s trying to leave a toxic relationship and break her bad habits. Regardless of whether it’s a productive day or an emotionally healing one, I’m learning more about myself and how to show up as my better self.
I hope you can show yourself the same grace and love for yourself, especially on those emotionally tough days!
Sending much love and healing,
Inspired by conversations with Chris Danilo and Basil Jackson.