Coping with Perfectionism: When "Perfect" Isn't Good Enough

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I thought of perfectionists as women who were ambitious, tireless, and hard workers. I was none of those things. In fact, I struggled constantly with exhaustion and anxiety and had trouble getting things done. Surely I wasn’t one of those mythical creatures who had everything so together!

Little did I know that perfectionism is not a strength belonging to an elite few. It’s a relentless, tormenting mindset. It’s a broken record playing in your brain telling you: “You’re not enough. Work harder. Do more. Become perfect.”

It’s a less psychotic (and, thankfully, more peaceful) version of “Amazing Amy.” And this past spring I finally came to the realization that I am a perfectionist.

Perfectionism does not belong to one type of person. Perfectionists can be driven or easy-going, men or women, introverts or extroverts, academic or sportsy, business-like or creative, or a combination of these things. Just because I was not a straight-A student in college and I didn’t have the energy to exercise didn’t mean I wasn’t a perfectionist. Perfectionism is not an action, it is a mindset, and an excruciating one, at that.

Life as a perfectionist becomes a comparison game. Beloved hobbies turn into compulsive competition. Airbrushed magazine covers rule your life as the standard of beauty. Buzzfeed articles on “Things Every Twenty-Something Must Do Before They Die Or Else They Are Frauds And Losers Who Haven’t Really Lived” lurk in the back of your thoughts, reminding you that you are not living up to social expectations. This is no way to live, and I know I deserve better.

Here are some of the ways I cope with my perfectionism:

1. Remember that “perfection” does not exist.

The closest thing that we human beings can get to perfection is to try our personal best. That is so varied, individual, and frankly subjective, that it cannot possibly be held to a universal standard.

I have a lot of health issues, so getting out of bed and doing my makeup is a victory for me. That is doing my best. For someone else who is healthy and a morning person, that’s not a big deal.

I know who I am and I know my strengths and weaknesses, and the only “perfect” I can be is perfectly me. (Is it just me or does that majorly sound like a song lyric?)

2. There is more than just one way to live.

Just because a friend is a Ph.D. candidate, has a gorgeous boyfriend, her own apartment, and is great at parties doesn’t mean that I need to strive to be like that. Our lives are not a hodge-podge of good, better, best.

While it’s good to have goals to work towards, it’s not good to put yourself down when you feel like you’re not measuring up to someone else’s life.

3. Self-awareness is key.

A healthy pursuit of improvement in an activity that I enjoy (such as drawing) can spiral into an unhealthy preoccupation with becoming the best. Let me tell you, that is the fastest way to lose interest in a hobby. It saps the joy out of you and turns a passion into a chore. However, since I’m aware of this tendency then I’m able to keep checks and balances, and I will notice if I’m veering too closely to an extreme of being apathetic or being obsessive.

4. Set minimums and limits.

When I start to feel like I have to do ALL THE THINGS! in one day or my life is a failure, then I need a way to stop myself from getting carried away.

Something that works really well for me is making a to-do list. I choose two tasks from the list and two fun activities. I won’t let myself go over that, but if I go under that then I tell myself not to sweat it. They can be small things like calling to cancel an appointment, or something much larger like vacuuming and dusting my room. Perhaps this sounds too organized or tyrannical to you, but for me it’s an excellent way of ordering my day.

I’ve always been a “list person,” so that’s great for me! Additionally, this method is an excellent antidote to abstract feelings. If my perfectionism starts telling me that I’ve not done enough, I just look at all those things I’ve crossed off on my list: proof that I’ve done “enough!”

All-or-nothing thinking tends to lead to lengthy fasts or full-on binges, and both extremes are unhealthy. I have to make sure to find the happy medium, even if that means taking baby steps or abstaining from Buzzfeed.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by a self-imposed standard? I’d love to hear your coping methods!

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