Struggling to be Perfect
Do you remember a time when you felt diminished, unworthy, or imperfect?
Lately I have noticed the amount of pressure we place upon ourselves to be more or better, often deriving from the feeling of never being enough. Our society demands so much from us. We are pushed and pushed to be the most successful, the smartest, the wisest, the most beautiful, the richest, the best of the best, and it seems to be expected from all of us as well.
It begins with the thoughts of “I should,” “I ought to,” “I must,” and it can move on to high anxiety, depression, OCD, eating disorders, and much more. Perfectionism is an internal battle that many struggle to manage. How can we possibly stop these thoughts from creeping their way into our minds?
What exactly is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is known as the refusal to accept anything short of perfect, or striving to be perfect, whether that is perfect in your own eyes or others’. Severe perfectionism can invade our every thought and action, from something as simple as forgetting to call someone back or not having neat enough handwriting.
Where does perfectionism stem from?
Perfectionism can come from many different people, organizations, or views.
Perfectionism can often stem from societal ideals or expectations, especially when it comes to body image or grades in school. Perfectionism can begin with someone criticizing you, bullying from peers, or even jealousy.
Parents can influence perfectionism at times, perhaps when they struggle to remember to validate their child’s effort. At times, the drive to be perfect can come about from teachers, coaches, or even our boss or coworkers.
Perfectionism in the Gifted and Highly Sensitive Communities
Within the gifted community, perfectionism is often a struggle many endure.
In 2004, Michael Pyryt stated that “among educators of the gifted, the link between giftedness and perfectionism is clearly established.” His research goes on to reveal that those who are gifted often struggle with the emotional turmoil that comes with perfectionism as well as underachievement. The Nation Association for Gifted Children agrees, reporting that “approximately 20% of gifted children suffer from perfectionism to the degree it causes problems.”
For example, many gifted individuals may refuse to submit work due to the fact that it might not be not seen as “perfect” in their eyes, and thus their grades then fall. Some gifted people may also feel extra pressure from parents, teachers, mentors, etc. who see their giftedness as a reason to expect more or better quality from them, which can feel overwhelming.
Not only are these individuals struggling with their own expectations, yet also the added expectations from others to be the best, the brightest, and the highest achieving.
Highly sensitive people (HSP) might experience perfectionism due to the fact that it can often be easier to see the flaws or “mistakes” others might easily overlook or turn away from. Highly sensitive individuals may also be more aware of what is around them, the dynamics occurring in front of them, and the intricacies of most things, which can set them up to notice their own and others’ imperfections, and try to change them.
Now this is difficult! Not only are highly sensitive individuals at times more aware of imperfections, they also often work to have others see the imperfections and to fix them.
This begs the question, how can we change something others do not notice? Well, it can be hard, and it can also trigger us to engage in perfectionism while feeling unheard or unseen, which could then lead to difficult emotional consequences. However, there is help and hope.
What alleviates this struggle?
- We have to first and foremost remind ourselves that we are enough. As human beings we are imperfect and that is okay; the concept of perfect is an irrational belief, and a social construction that ultimately cannot and does not exist.
- We must remind ourselves of our worth, and work on increasing our sense of worth throughout time. Noticing the steps we take to succeed or feel better are so very important, regardless of how “little” these steps may seem.
- We must surround ourselves with supportive people and be supportive people in others’ lives. We must acknowledge our strengths and positive qualities as well as their strengths and positive qualities too. We must see our own effort and notice the effort others put forth. Having a supportive community around us is essential, and being a supportive person to others is needed.
- Finally, we must be kind to ourselves. We need to learn to appreciate our “flaws,” our “quirks,” our “imperfections.” Ultimately those aspects of ourselves are what make us us (and we are pretty amazing).
What do you think of perfectionism? Can we be perfect, or is this a struggle that eventually only harms us alone? Have you struggled with perfectionism in the past?
Let us know your thoughts and insights in the comment section below!