Emma Cannon on why trying to be too good can be bad
The perfectionist is very concerned with an idealised version of his or her surroundings or the people in their life. But perfectionism can often hide a darker, more troubled side to a personality. The standard is set so high that they will drive themselves and everyone else into the ground trying to maintain it.
Behind many perfectionists there is low self-esteem and a lack of self-love. Many perfectionists are actually quite self-centered and in their quest to appear perfect – they often try to hide their errors as they wrongly think of them as weaknesses or failings.
Being a perfectionist is very stressful. Being second best is not an option – you miss out on trying things in case you aren’t good at them. There is no grey area with you – just black and white, good and bad. You are very defensive because you cannot take any criticism, seeing it only in a negative light and feeling judged by others.
According to the World Health Organisation, a record number of young adults are suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. It is not hard to see how this can be when you understand the pressure they are under to be perfect and liked. But it is not only the external forces, it is more often the pressure that they put upon themselves to be perfect that causes the problems.
It is not enough to achieve academic success; professional achievement is expected at a young age, as well as a perfect appearance and a seemingly perfect life. The myth that we should all be living perfect lives is making a whole generation of young people emotionally unwell.
I was lucky to have a father who taught me that it is OK to fail, and believe me I have failed many, many times in my life. I failed at school, in my early professional choices, and multiple times in my early relationships. Some of my failures have been embarrassing and some have cost me financially. But all have ultimately been the best teachers I have had. I am grateful that I did not grow up in a time where my whole life was scrutinised publicly, and the need to be acknowledged, recognised and perfect was a real and present pressure.
As a parent I am often secretly delighted to see my children achieve less than perfect results as it usually leads to them being more creative and inventive and finding their own way through problems. These are skills for life; they build resilience and they ultimately equip you for the journey. Real life, not life lived out on social media.
Ironically, perfectionism can actually result in a kind of paralysis that prevents us from achieving what we desire. It leads to rumination and procrastination and this is a killer of growth and development. The temptation not to give new projects a go due to the risk of failure is very real for the perfectionist. The fear of failure is so strong that it actually serves to keep them small. And according to new research, it increases the risk of suffering from mental health issues.
• Don’t over-think things. Remember procrastination is the killer of transformation.
• Take risks and let go of the need for the outcome to be perfect.
• Remember times when you have succeeded at something.
• Avoid self-criticism and criticism of others.
• Love your whole self including the imperfect parts.
• Start to see your imperfections as uniqueness.
• Learn to re-frame mistakes as life lessons from which you will ultimately grow.
Creatives can be so passionate about the beauty of their work that they surpass inspirational and veer right off into the unreachable, continuing along a path of perfection and finding themselves never achieving it. Because they can never live up to their standards, they also rarely fully commit to any one thing, feeling dissatisfied and scattered along their journey, rarely finishing projects for fear of it not being good enough. The cycle will continue as they settle into these feelings of inadequacy.
Strive for excellence, not perfection. Aiming for the best you can do is a positive motivator. Remember that when you strive for perfection, you demoralise yourself, your work and your life, and set yourself up for failure. Work on your self-esteem and, as cliché as it sounds, realise – nobody is perfect!
Emma is an integrated women’s health expert, registered acupuncturist and author emmacannon.co.uk
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