I was a perfectionist, I am now a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism runs in my blood, my whole family are perfectionists. I am a Virgo, so even the universe has labelled me a perfectionist! I have always found it calming when things are done just right, I thought having things perfect will end my anxiety. But things are never really perfect, at least they don’t stay perfect for long. So my anxiety would flare and my brain would demand perfection, which I couldn’t deliver, so I felt like a waste of space, like I had failed and this would always lead down the dark road of depression, anxiety and self-deprecation.
I know I am not the only one who has been through this vicious cycle of burnout and depression, at no point reaching the perfect state of being that we strive for.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Society, media, family all make you feel like perfection is real and attainable. Social media posts are so perfect, perfect people with perfect lives posting about their perfect food on their perfect phones. Perfect bullshit!!!
It isn’t real and we actually know this, yet we continue striving!
I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for depression and after the initial appointment the therapist said the depression I suffered was strongly related to perfectionism. During lockdown,I began a strenuous, nerve-wracking and utterly life altering course of treatment. I was given “experiments” (so worded because she knew the scientist in me would respond favourably!), in which I had to make things imperfect and change how I did certain things. My whole perception of perfection was shifted drastically, finally seeing that it was a made up, unattainable concept and that if things were not perfect the whole world wouldn’t implode!!!
I found that there were certain things I could change and certain things that would make me very anxious when I tried to change them. I tried different ways of having the latter imperfect, for example I keep my essential oils in alphabetical order, as well as by bottle size and whether they are single oils or mixed – yes, there are many categories!! I would also ensure the labels were facing up so that I could find them easily, however I would spend a lot of time fiddling with the bottles to make sure each one had the label the exact same way! The first experiment was to put the essential oils in the boxes haphazardly, however, this made me so uncomfortable and I could think of nothing else but how they were in disarray! It wasn’t long before I changed it back to “perfect”. So, the next task was not having the labels face up, turns out this was a level of imperfection I could accept without anxious thoughts.
Experimenting in this way was hard, without the CBT therapist I would not have had the support I needed to go through each experiment and radically change my way of thinking. I found that within a few months I had reduced my levels of depression and anxiety from clinically severe to moderate!
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com
I am still trying to feel comfortable with imperfection and there are still a lot of things that I do “perfectly”. I think the key for me was to recognise areas in which I could allow imperfection and be comfortable with it, putting it out of my mind and not dwell on how it “should be” according to the perfectionist’s voice in my head. Whilst I do still hear that voice, I have found ways to address it and tell myself that being imperfect does not make me an awful person, in fact it makes me human! Saying perfection isn’t real helped me a lot, if perfection is a made up concept then surely imperfection is too. We aren’t perfect or imperfect people, we are just people!
Where did your perfectionist’s voice come from? What is the root cause of your perfectionism? How can you change your belief system around what it means to be perfect?