Oct. 26, 2016, 6:34 p.m.
Throughout my life, I have struggled with perfectionism.
The clothing in my closet had to be organized and arranged in a systematic and precise way, divided by colours, texture, and seasons. The books on my shelves had to be sorted by author, subject and year. I would spend hours shaping my external environment to be meticulously spotless.
While completing my undergraduate education only straight A’s were acceptable and even then, I kept thinking that I could and should be being doing better. The mantra, “It’s not good enough” ran through my mind and kept me alone and isolated in an effort in to make my life perfect.
It just needed to be perfect.
I needed to be perfect.
My pursuit of perfection included the desire for physical perfection. I was meticulous, obsessive and I scrutinized intensively over how I appeared to the world. My passion to achieve perfection was the primary focus of all my energy.
I believed that if I weighed a certain amount, did what I thought was expected of me, appeared how I perceived society wanted me to and excelled in everything; if I could achieve all of these things, I would be happy and more importantly, accepted by others. In reality, perfectionism was depleting every part of myself especially my sense of esteem and worth. Mentally I had a list of rules on how to act, and I ended up viewing myself only as my current weight, grade point average, books I read recently, clothes I was wearing and a long list of other random definers I deemed important.
My perfectionism held me prisoner, drained all of my energy and resources, restricted my happiness and suffocated my relationships one by one.
Perfectionism made me miserable. How satisfying is it to be a student when nothing less than an A is acceptable? How hard is it to enjoy a hobby when nothing less than being the best is acceptable? And how hard is it to enjoy what our bodies can do when you internally hate them for not looking how you have decided you want them to?
It wasn’t until years of eating disorder recovery that I realized perfectionism is nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid criticism, rejection, and feelings of fear, pain and shame. During this time I also learned that I’m not the exception, but that we all struggle with perfectionism at some point or another. We all feel at some point we need to be the perfect. I expressed my desire for perfection most excessively through my body, but it wasn’t the only way. Some of us do that with our social media accounts, extracurricular activities, jobs, friends and so much more! My perfectionistic values leaked all over my life however all of my perfectionistic behaviours were done in my desperate attempt to be perceived as perfect and therefore be accepted by others, even though there is no way to control another person’s perception our acceptance of you.
Perfection is a fiction. It’s a rouse, a self-destructive and manipulative mechanism because perfection isn't real. We don’t get to sit down and write the perfect story of our lives; instead, we are given the opportunity each day to allow the beautiful story of our lives to unfold naturally through our ability to show up moment to moment.
When I finally accepted this, I was able to let go of the rigid standards I held myself to. My road to overcoming perfection has included acknowledging my desire for connection, love, acceptance and worthiness as not something fundamentally wrong with me but instead as universal needs that we all have.
Perfection served a purpose, and it was important for me to acknowledge its usefulness. Perfectionism protected me from other challenging emotions and feelings including shame, fear and unworthiness. At that time in my life I couldn’t handle feeling those hard emotions. It has taken me years to get comfortable being uncomfortable and to trade a ‘perfect’ body for enjoying my body for its complete entirety.
Now I don't avoid these unsettling sensations but instead, surrender them into my heart as they are equally a part of the human experience as the labelled 'positive' feelings. When these unsettling emotions present themselves, they allow me to build a stronger connection to self-compassion and self-love. Challenging emotions present us with an opportunity to grow and represent the resilient capacity we all have for change.
When I open my heart to all of life, the good and the bad, the 'perfect' and ‘imperfect’; I allow myself to grow authentically and be seen transparently for the entirety of who I am - mess and no mess!
Ailey Jolie is current student working towards a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology. She has personal experiences with the world of eating disorders which drives her passion for helping others through their own recovery process. You can find Ailey's website here.