Life is a journey; we cannot deny that. One day everything seems to be falling into place, and the next minute, you can’t fathom how it all went wrong. Growing up, I can still remember the aim of life as was propagated in the media and people around me.
It was the 6-1 Rule of Life (in my own words):
5- days of working each week
4- wheel drive car
3- bedroomed house
1-Wife or husband (depends on what you are looking for)
As I was doing research I found a 0 that I don’t recall if it existed during that time; well, if memory serves me right. It stands for 0- tension. Many of us if you ever came across this probably strived and are still attempting to achieve this.
Once your life could be summarized as the 6543210 rule, then, you were living a perfect life. The media promotes a life that seems “perfect”, from the movies to books we read. A perfect home, perfect body, perfect lifestyle, are mostly what we are conditioned to achieve.
However, life has its ups and downs. And when you see yourself just about to realize a particular goal, some obstacle comes your way.
You are probably thinking, but I am not a perfectionist. According to the definition of Psychology Today, a perfectionist is one whose life is like a report card. Having a checklist of goals and achievements, that guide you through life. Adrian Furnham Ph.D., further states that a perfectionist imposes high standards on themselves.
One may, in turn, tend to impose the same standards on others. In some areas, perfectionism is even encouraged, e.g., sports. To psychologists, perfectionism disorder is mostly like a handicap.
Where does it come from?
It is logical to wonder where one’s perfectionist tendencies emanate from. Perfectionism in a child can be attributed to an overbearing parent. One who gives love and nurturing to the kid, conditional on their performance. But do we blame parents for all people suffering from perfectionism depression?
Not really. Other scenarios can also create in us; the need to be perfect including:
• Education Systems
Most of the education systems in the world place emphasis on grades. The grading levels then separate the students into high-achievers, average students, and low-achievers. If you can be honest with yourself, we all wanted and did all we can to be among the high-achievers.
It was a moment of glory. However, it put you in the limelight as every other student would seek to know your performance after every exam. If you were a high-achiever, you didn’t want to fall out of the group. And if you did, then, you would use every strategy possible to recover the lost “glory.”
Finland has an exemplary education system. The first standardized test that students sit is at the age of 16. Children have little or no homework to take back home, and undergraduate study is free. They also have a phenomenon-based learning system. How cool? If only I were young.
• The illusion of Control
Sometimes if not always, the events that shape our lives go out of our control. In the attempt to deal with the uncertainty that we face, we seek to control other areas of our lives. It is our defense mechanism against the crisis at hand.
It provides us with distraction. Our thinking may even convince us that by being perfect, we can rid ourselves of the challenge at hand. Say, an abusive relationship or addictions.
• Compensation for the challenges of life
How many of us, pursued the top grades in class, in the hope that scholastic achievements, will be compensation for the problems you are facing or faced? You probably cannot say it out loud, but deep down you know that it was one of your motivations. You strive to be perfect and thus pressure yourself to work harder than the rest.
This drive could also be due to taking great responsibility why you were still at a young age.
Effects of Perfectionism
There’s so much dispute on what constitutes perfectionism. Some psychologists divide it into two types, adaptive and maladaptive. Both set high standards for themselves, but the maladaptive perfectionist gets more stressed when they fail to reach those standards, than, the others. Though, some other psychologists disagree with this distinction.
Mel Schwartz L.C.S.W., the author of the book, A Shift of Mind, says that, as we pursue perfection, we rob ourselves of the vitality of life. We are either replaying the decisions we have made, critiquing the past, or always worrying about the future.
In a feature by the APA (American Psychological Association), on the faces of perfectionism, Gordon Flett Ph.D., a psychologist says, that those with socially prescribed perfectionism tend to feel like if they do better, then the better they are expected to do. Such people believe that others will value them only if they are perfect.
Links associated this kind of perfectionism with depression and even suicide. For those with an internal desire to be perfect, self-oriented perfectionism, are linked to mental health problems. That is, according to the studies by Flett, Paul Hewitt, Ph.D., and their colleagues.
It can even lead to psychopathology, as per the report by O’Connor and O’Connor, in the Journal of Counselling Psychology.
Ways To Overcome
The path of a perfectionist can be a vicious cycle of self-destruction. Being held back by the fear of disapproval, failure or making mistakes. It can immobilize you, reduce your productivity and take away your motivation.
Perfectionism can constrain one’s happiness. Yes, you can set high standards, and reach them with effort. But you need to deal with the insecurities that cause you to desire perfection.
Make room for mistakes. Set realistic goals. Cut yourself some slack, once in a while. No matter how bad you may want to achieve something, events beyond your control may make it unattainable. It doesn’t make you a failure.
Don’t be rigid; it is now time to learn how to take one step at a time, in life.
If it still doesn’t steer you in the right direction, maybe the words by Ryan Holiday will change your perspective,
Ignore what other people are doing. Ignore what’s going on around you. There is no competition. There is no objective benchmark to hit. There is simply the best you can do — that’s all that matters.”
After all, it is a New Year, and Njaanuary will not go easy on you.
Cheers to the New Year, New and better Resolutions!