This Is What Perfectionism Really Looks Like


Perfectionism says you can’t make a mistake. If you do make a mistake, it haunts you. It becomes the only thing you’ve ever done in your life and it indicates your ability more than anything else. If you make mistakes or don’t do something perfect 1% of the time, you focus entirely on that 1% and forget the other 99% completely. You’d rather plan to fail than bury yourself in the possibility of coming up short. You’d rather not try, because at least in the not trying, you can control that outcome.

When you’re a perfectionist, a compliment is a prison sentence. The moment someone tells you that you’re doing a good job, you hear that you have to do a good job all the time forever, because now they expect you to be perfect. You can’t just hear a compliment and say, “thank you, that was kind.” You hear a compliment and internalize that as pressure, their pressure on you to be perfect and the best and to do the best job all the time and never, ever, ever mess up.

Never mess up.

When you’re a perfectionist, you don’t try. If you’re trying to start a new exercise routine, you plan out how to do that exercise every single day of your life and, if you have a trip coming up in seven weeks, you don’t start the exercise routine, because you know you’ll get off track seven weeks from now. One deviation from your routine is a failure, so you just don’t routinize your life. You stop trying to keep yourself to a schedule, because, you know that if you can’t keep that schedule every day always and always and always, then you will have to face the fact that you are not perfect.

Perfectionism is not about perfecting what you do. It is about the fear that you never will be able to. And, so you spin. You keep spinning. You don’t move forward because what if you move forward incorrectly? What if you start something and you’re not the best at it? These are real fears that cannot always be explained away.

Perfectionism is about being frozen because you never want to find out that you are not the best at something. You circle the drain and repeat old behaviors and you control what you know you can control because the idea of risking being wrong or incorrect or imperfect makes your heart race in a terrible way.

Perfectionism exists in the silent way you berate yourself for not being able to do certain things. It’s this insidious belief that all would be perfect and fine if only you could be perfect and fine. It’s a carrot dangling out of reach for eternity because it’s never going to be in your reach. You can never do enough. You can never be perfect.

Perfectionism means you overthink conversations before and after you have them. You plan your words. You beat yourself up if you say something that upsets another person. You try to perfect your relationships and the fact that someone else’s feelings exist means you can’t perfect it and so you keep everyone at a distance. You can’t get close to people because people are unpredictable and unpredictability means you can’t be perfect and contained and so you contain what you can by controlling what you can.

Perfectionism is control.

Perfectionism will present you with people you will compare yourself to endlessly. You will look at their lives and wonder why you don’t have what they have. You will attract all around you people who it seems are effortlessly in abundance of all the things you lack and desperately want. Perfectionism will tell you that all you have to do is change everything about yourself and be perfect at it, then you get to have what they have.

Perfectionism is a temptress whispering sweet-nothings in your ear about some parallel life you could have if only you could be the best and never mess up and always do things perfectly. It tells you that your perfect body and your perfect health and perfect life is on the other side of your failure to perfect it. It makes you circle yourself until you don’t know where to escape to. It lies to you.

Perfectionism lies.

And you’ll make progress. You’ll take risks and you’ll fuck up and it won’t kill you. You’ll upset people and it won’t haunt you like it used to. But that little voice will always be there tempting you to come back, telling you that all the things you want are hanging in the balance of this perfectionism and it will try to get you back in its hands. That’s how it goes.

And you’ll resist the temptation to cower back to perfectionism and you will try at something that you don’t know if you’ll be the best at. And it will be terrifying. You’ll try to let people know you’re terrified, but they will not understand the level of terror you’re feeling. They won’t understand that you keep yourself up at night so you can tear yourself down about what you couldn’t achieve. Perfectionism will never reward you for your efforts. You will give it your best and give it your all and you will still come up short because perfectionism will be the measuring stick above your head that you will never measure up to. It’s a trap.

Perfectionism is a trap.

Perfectionism will tell you that you need to give in and cower to it. But, your beautiful, peaceful life lives on the other side of that perfectionism. Not on the perfect side, but on the side that lets you be human. And you have to fight that perfectionism down. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and stop seeing the inadequate version of yourself and, instead, see yourself wholly and fully. You are a collection of pieces. You are not good or bad, perfect or imperfect. You cannot be that quickly and easily contained. You are made of multitudes. And, you must fight against this incessant desire to be perfect, to be the best, to achieve more and more and more and to fill, fill, fill an emptiness with something else outside of you. You need to fill yourself. This is the way out. It’s the funniest thing, really, that the only way out of perfectionism is to imperfectly stumble and fight your way out. It’s the simplest thing of all that the only way to stop holding yourself hostage to perfect is to accept that you never will be. It is to fumble around in the darkness until you find the light which reveals there was nothing to be afraid of at all.