Perfectionism isn’t self-abuse – don’t deny it, embrace it
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
I’ve been fighting perfectionism for many years. It started when others branded me with that label, and not in a nice way. I was probably 10 or 12 when the teasing started and girls at school would scribble all my work because it was “too neat”. They’d dare me to purposefully answer a question incorrectly in tests and they’d shun me when I’d get 100%.
I changed my handwriting. I remember a teacher in my early years of high school who pulled me aside after class to make a comment: “I notice you have very tiny and controlled handwriting, which indicates to me you might be feeling very small and insignificant?” She encouraged me to write bigger and bolder! I didn’t quite know how to respond. “Yep, OK…” I said.
I don’t recall trying to fail in tests, but the girls’ dares made me start to question why I was trying so hard. What was I getting out of it? I’ve always needed the reassurance of praise – I like to please people and disappointing anyone fills me with the most crippling grief. Still, this is a constant struggle. Perhaps being a perfectionist helps ensure that I can, at the very least, please me. My efforts and outcomes are all on me. Of course there are extremes, but for me it’s about self-satisfaction.
Maybe it was the continuous niggling from my peers that got me questioning ‘why?’, and ‘what is the point of trying so hard?’, which led to the first pangs of loss of self-satisfaction when I started fighting perfectionism as a young teen. But it you fight to change who you are, especially as a teenager, it only detours you from your path to self-discovery. Detours are OK, but some detours are bumpier than others.
I’m a sensitive person (another label other’s have given me), and I don’t believe there was only one thing that caused the most significant ordeal of my life, but rather a bunch of little things. Like an asteroid targeting Earth, a gazillion tiny particles that spent as many years in the making randomly collide and fuel each others’ energies. And unless you’ve got Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck on your back working away to blow apart all those years of pent up emotions and memories, the threat of destruction will never be far away.
Even today, many years after my recovery, I struggle to let go of perfectionism. And it’s only now as I’m typing this post that I’m wondering: ‘Is perfectionism really such a bad thing?” Or am I only perceiving it as a negative trait because that was the intention of a bunch of school girls almost 20 years ago? Maybe I should practice embracing perfectionism because it’s part of who I am. As long as I am resisting being my true self, I’m trying to be someone I’m not. And that’s not being kind to myself. I believe we should let go of others’ labels, or at least the energy with which they label us, and just be. I think I’ve realised that I don’t need to release control of perfectionism or deny it, but rather release control of self-resistance to perfectionism and embrace it.
I’ll go with that for now, anyway