“I work too hard”, “I have high standards”, “I can be a control freak”, “I’m a perfectionist”… Just a few of the socially accepted statements that are truly negative but our society, us as individuals have come to view as positive. People hear the words “I work too hard” and think “high-capacity” not “frequently burnt out”. People hear “I have high standards” and think “always finishes the job well” not “frequently makes people feel not good enough”. People hear “I can be a control freak” and think “highly organised” not “crippled with stress and anxiety trying to hold everything together”. People hear “I’m a perfectionist” and think “strives for excellence”
At the age of 19, I realised that perfectionism is the most socially acceptable mental illness and because it is so accepted and often praised it is left to grow, it slowly affects every area of your life; it is so subtle and viewed in such a positive light that even though you can see the affects of it, see the damage it causes, it takes time to realise that it is in fact the root cause of your problems. Perfectionism is a wolf in sheeps clothing – seemingly innocent but sly and dangerous, perfectionism is like taking a supplement everyday that you’re convinced makes you an exceptional human being but in reality it is slowly paralysing you.
For some of you this might be obvious but for someone with a perfectionist mindset, it is hard to believe that it is a bad thing because your mind denies it, you tell yourself oh I’m just hard working, it’s just other people that’s the problem, they just don’t try hard enough and the list of justifications goes on. I knew that though I could be convinced that being a perfectionist isn’t ‘ideal’ for about a day, I’d soon come to forget, come to be content with my socially accepted flaw and continue as I was and this is why on my 19th Birthday I wrote down the list you are about to read in my journal and I titled it “realising the pressure valve of perfectionism”. I read the list below and it makes me cry, I cry because I remember what it felt like each day waking up to that much pressure inside of me, I cry because I’m so grateful that this is not who I am anymore and that I realised how toxic perfectionism is not just to myself but to other people. Today I want to share it with you for two reasons. Firstly, if you’re like how I was, I pray that your eyes would be opened to see perfectionism for what it really is because you can’t fix what you don’t admit is broken. Secondly, for those of you who don’t struggle with it but you have celebrated it in the past not knowing fully what it can be like, not realising that the person telling you that their a perfectionist needs your help because the thing is, for the most part people do think perfectionists have it all together because all they see is the facade.
Reasons to intentionally stop being a perfectionist:
- The inability to make a decision because of the inability to see the most perfect path. The intense and debilitating analysis paralysis (which is when you analysis and overthink a decision or choice that it paralysis’s you)
- The frustration and depression of submitting or letting anyone see anything that is less than my perceived best.
- The ultra-critical voice inside your head that makes you paranoid as to whether you did or said the right thing, sad because the voice says you could have done better, lonely because you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about it because they don’t have the same standards and hopeless because you never feel good enough for yourself.
- The pressure that you unconsciously put on the people around you who strive to reach your unachievable standards which consequently leaves people feeling undervalued.
- You ironically procrastinate projects because you refuse to start it until you have the perfect idea and know that the project will be finished perfectly.
- You don’t sleep because you frequently keep yourself up by over-analysing every situation, questioning every decision.
- You waste so much make up covering the heavy eye bags around your eyes because of lack of sleep.
- You are completely crushed when something important to you falls short of your standards.
- You wish everyone close to you would meet YOUR expectations and you are constantly disappointed because most of them never will.
- You isolate yourself by wanting to do everything on your own, just in case someone else does not do it to your standard. (For example, cooking.. deep down you know it is better to sit down and eat an average meal that was made with love and laughter and together than to sit down and eat a perfect meal that you’ve made on your own and probably indirectly insulted someones catering skills on the way).
- You have baked cakes over and over again, re-made food, wasted so much ingredients for the sake of making a perfect dish. Whilst you have much and waste much, children are starving in other countries.
- You try to stop yourself falling in love and become in denial of even the smallest of feelings you have because love is uncontrollable and you are a control freak and you think that there is a perfect person for you when ‘the one’ does not exist; instead people become ‘the one’ and how can you ever let anyone become the one if you’re too busy worrying about picking the perfect person to fall in love with and being the perfect person first.
- When you got your first B at school, you had such a break down that anyone else with a B or lower felt rubbish about themselves and you could barely eat or sleep for weeks.
- Sometimes you striving to fix every detail makes people feel completely controlled or like your next project or not good enough to be your friend and it just comes across as stuck up.
- If you keep waiting to be the perfect person to serve Jesus, then you will never serve Jesus. If you keep waiting to be good enough to call yourself a Christian, you’ll never call yourself a Christian.
What releasing the pressure valve of perfectionism will look like in action:
- You’ll end up encouraging people more than criticising
- You’ll get more sleep, you’ll be more productive and more efficient
- You’ll have more fun and be more carefree than uptight
- You may even let yourself fall in love (emphasis on may babes)
- You won’t unconsciously increase anyone’s insecurities
- You won’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes
- You won’t get so disappointed when people let you down
- You’ll be more understanding when people make mistakes
- You’ll probably eat more averagely made food and drink a lot of weak tea but you’ll be grateful for it
- You won’t be as isolated
- You’ll have a better relationship with God. The Bible calls us to be “perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word for “perfect” here is telios. It means “brought to its end, completed, or perfect.” So, to be “perfect” in this sense is not how perfectionists so often imagine it. Rather, it is to be completed in Christ. Philippians 4:6 says that completion is the work of God. He created us, saved us, and is faithful to perfect us, it is not something you have to do on your own, it is not something you can do on your own.
And that was pretty much all I wrote, I took out a section where I had listed every person and scenario where me striving to be perfect negatively impacted someone or something simply because that felt a little too private and it is so hard for me to even just share what I have just shared. I found it so hard to write it down the first time I wrote it and I have found it hard to rewrite it today.
Thanks to someone very dear to me I have really been able to delve into why I became like this and why I can still catch myself thinking like this. I think it begun the first time something was uncertain in my life… it was when I was six years old in England, my dad (in Nigeria at the time) would always ring me every day regardless of when he was travelling and he hadn’t, I rang his number multiple times for what felt like a week but it didn’t go through, I rang my mum and ask where he was and she said “he was sleeping or spending time with God”, unable to bring herself to tell her six year old daughter that her daddy had been killed suddenly in a car accident. This was the first time something was uncertain in my life and the reality was worse than I could have ever imagine and so began the trait of needing to be sure and certain of every situation and it just spiralled from there, manifesting in so many different ways.
Yes I still find life overwhelming and scary and there are times when it causes me to try and control and perfect everything within my reach because life is so uncertain but I have found comfort in the Bible, the Bible that tells me of a God who “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17), “He is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) – my constant, my anchor, my every present help in time of need and yes I can strive for excellence but I don’t need to be perfect because He sees every imperfection and still He chooses me, still He loves me and it is His unconditional love that releases the pressure valve of perfectionism.