The Neverending Pursuit of Perfection

salvador_dali_perfectionIt’s been a while since my last post. I must admit, I’ve had the time to write a post, I’ve just kind of been shying away from it because I haven’t been entirely sure of what to write about.

Perhaps I should start with what I’ve been up to the past couple months or so.

I suppose the main news in my life has been the fact that I started, and have just finished, a 7-week low-intensity cognitive behavioural therapy course for my anxiety.

It was an incredibly helpful course and is definitely something I needed. It taught me a lot about myself including some of the more (to me) bizarre behaviours and thought patterns I fall guilty of.

A lot of it I kind of already knew about, for example, I already knew I had quite strong feelings of social anxiety (something I eluded to in one of my previous posts). But the CBT went deeper than just identifying what my therapist thinks I experience – it gave me some examples of the behaviours that cause my social anxiety. So, rather than just thinking about the “disorder” that I think I have, it helped me consider what it was that created the problem in the first place.

There were many different cognitive behaviours I could relate to: all the way from the more over-arching concepts of worrying and rumination down to specific types of thinking like “mind-reading” (e.g. he/she thinks I’m boring) or personalising situations (e.g. they are all laughing – they must be laughing at me).

It is all incredibly interesting and hopefully I’ll find the time to comment on them a bit more in the future.

There was, however, one concept that really resonated with me: the idea of perfectionism.

Now I can guarantee that the majority of people who read that immediately get the image of someone fussing over, say, a written assignment for a bit longer than normal, or perhaps touching up an image they produced because they think “it’s not quite perfect” (something I was very guilty of during my Fine Art A-Levels).

This is perfectionism in a sense, but not exactly in the anxiety sense.

You see, some would think that perfectionism is a good thing and readily admit to it. It’s just someone making sure that what they are doing/producing is as good as it can be. There’s nothing wrong with that surely?

Well, in the context I realised it affects me, perfectionism is far from helpful.

In my eyes, perfectionism infiltrates the majority of my life. It has moved from just making sure I’ve spelled every word correctly in this blog post to ensuring I say every word in a sentence in exactly the right tone, rhythm and time.

That’s probably the best example I can think of actually – if I’m talking to anyone, even my absolute closest friends, I think about the sentence I want to say well in advance of me actually saying it. In real time, we’re probably talking about 5-10 seconds before it leaves my mouth. In that time-frame, I chop and change what I’m about to say over and over again, the majority of the time leading me to say something very different to what I originally thought. Even once I’ve said it, I will immediately analyse how I said it and how the person I was saying it to reacted to it. The majority of the time, this results in me thinking that I’ve said it wrong, or perhaps I’ve said it at an inappropriate time or even that I’ve said it to the wrong person.

This means things like social media become very difficult to me. What many find as easy as pie to share their thoughts, I find social media platforms an incredibly difficult way to express how I truly feel. The majority of the time, I will write a status, chop and change it for 5 minutes, and then delete it altogether because I decide that “no one will be interested in it anyway” or that “someone will find a pitfall in it and mock me because of it”.

Now, I have mentioned this to a few friends of mine and some of them agree with my behaviours, claiming that they actually do exactly the same thing. I can believe they do, but I’m not too sure it’s for the same reasons as me.

These are quite specific examples of perfectionism in my life – and if I kept listing more examples, I’d quite literally be writing this post all night – but, in a broad sense, it essentially means I set myself a goal or a vision of myself that I can never actually achieve.

It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I will never say a sentence exactly how I wanted it to come out. I will never physically look exactly how I want to look. I will never be the perfect friend or loved one that I wish I could be.

At the risk of sounding self-pitying, it’s quite sad really.

I may be experiencing something which many people already do and, in a way, I’m hoping that there are others that experience this way of thinking, especially those that think they can’t share their thoughts. Since I had the opportunity to share these thoughts with a trained therapist, I’ve really been able to identify the things that aren’t quite “normal” and try to remedy them, or at least find ways to try and cope with them.

Funnily enough, I have since spoken with my mum a few times about these sessions and their findings and the concept of perfectionism is something she can also massively relate to. She never felt she could be as good as her mum always wanted her to be – perhaps then it’s a type of behaviour she inadvertently passed onto me?

Interesting… but something I’ll hopefully touch on in a future post.

For now, I think 996 words is plenty enough for you to read.

Speak soon.

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