I’ve struggled with perfectionism throughout my life. This led to me missing out on opportunities to have fun and enjoy myself. There were times when I was so focused on making things “perfect” for others that I couldn’t relax. On the outside, I may have appeared perfectly composed, while inside I was stressing out. Why did I do that?
It definitely started back when I was a kid. Lately, I’m trying to recall experiences from my past so I can get to the root of it. One memory that bubbled up to the surface was from my elementary school days. There were four of us besties. We played together at recess, paired up when there were group projects, etc. We were inseparable during school hours.
Then everyone in our grade had to do an “achievement test” to assess our skills in reading, math, etc. The kids that did well on the test got “enhanced” status and took a separate class from the rest. Well, wouldn’t you know it – my three friends were put in this enhanced class and I wasn’t. I was devastated. I felt rejected and less-than. We split up and I became the odd one out. It was a negative childhood experience that helped form the belief that I need to be perfect or else I’ll be left behind. This was the beginning of my drive to succeed academically. I didn’t want to feel less-than again.
For the rest of my school years, I was always at the top of the class. Teachers would praise me for being a perfect student. The praise and good grades were addictive. School was a serious job for me. I worked hard and pushed myself a lot. It was stressful. Stressful keeping the perfect student image intact. I was afraid to reveal my flaws to others because I thought they would reject me. Deep down, I didn’t feel I was good enough. An issue of low self-worth that’s for sure. Needless to say, I don’t have many happy memories about school. I missed experiencing them because I was trying to control things too much.
Perfectionism creeped into the rest of my life too. If there was any trouble in my life, I would try my best to hide it. I became a master of illusions! Even if someone would detect a crack, I’d insist everything was fine. I was more interested in accommodating others so that they wouldn’t think bad of me. This took its toll on me both mentally and physically. It also took a toll on my relationships. Since I felt I couldn’t relax and be myself, I became resentful toward others (without realizing the real cause of it). Unconsciously, I pushed people away and didn’t allow deeper relationships to form. As I’m writing this, I’m seeing that I became the same rejecter that I feared.
My need for control meant that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be in the moment and enjoy life. I was too busy worrying about the details. Perfectionism run amok!
Now, I’m learning to be comfortable in being myself around others. I practice in small ways, like not obsessively cleaning and tidying up my house before company comes over (a bit of mess is okay – shows you live there!). Or being honest about my feelings and letting others know when I’m not doing so well. It’s liberating to drop this perfect façade and to find that others accept me for me. I held onto this belief for way too long. I’m ready to let it go.
Do you have perfectionist tendencies too? If so, are there any examples you can think of when it got in the way of you enjoying the present moment? Have you been able to overcome the need to be perfect all the time? How did you do it? Please share your experiences and thoughts below. You can also share your comments with me via Facebook (@HolisticMilka) or Twitter (@holistic_milka).