The Double-Edged Sword of Perfectionism

Hello, World.

Today I want to talk about something I feel has greatly affected me in the past, and in many ways, in the present. Perfectionism. Perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. People who suffer from this very real condition are probably people who you look at and say, “wow, such an overachiever,” or “she’s always so perfect,” or “why don’t you ever let people see you as anything other than perfect?” You probably get annoyed with people who are perfectionists without even realizing that it’s not easy for them to be perfectionists. Perfectionism can be debilitating because we, those who like to be perfect, have to actively work at not letting people see us sweat. And it’s a totally double edged sword because we don’t want to mess up and we like people to think we have it all together, so the minute we’re shown as humans who make mistakes, well, people judge and ridicule the mistake we made because we hardly let them see us as fellow humans who make human mistakes. I’ve always worked very hard, and I’ve always liked to be the one who had it all together and I hate making mistakes. I’m a private person, so I don’t feel the need to shout to the world “HEY I MADE A MISTAKE TODAY!” People who are upfront about life, and the mistakes they make are amazing, brave individuals, but just because I, and others, don’t share as much about our mistakes, failures, etc. does’t mean we’re any less great. You don’t have to advertise your mistakes or trials to be a strong person.

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For me personally, I share my life on the internet, and for me that’s so far out of my normal comfort zone that it seems weird at times. However, I should also say I tend to share the highlights because I don’t know many people who love reading about people’s hardships. Sometimes reading those posts, about a time someone failed a test or class, or a failed relationship, or whatever else are part of life can be reassuring, but it really depends. The people who share those, and the people who don’t, are opening themselves up to immense amounts of criticism. For every comment saying, “you’re amazing! Go you!” there are seven more saying, “you’re awful, go away, why are you so pathetic?” Being on the internet is scary, but that’s not what I want to focus on, today I want to talk about those of us that tend to pick the highlights not only in our internet presence but in our everyday life.

When I was in high school, I didn’t drink and I didn’t [and still do not] do drugs. I didn’t think this was a big deal. I just went about my business. But then, I started losing friends. Friends stopped inviting me with them because there would drinking or smoking or whatever. Here’s the thing though: just because I didn’t do those things didn’t mean I thought less of the people who did. At the time, I didn’t necessarily understand some of the choices, but I tried my best not to judge them.

In college, I wasn’t into hook up culture. I had friends who were because let’s face it: hook up culture is prominent in college. But I didn’t judge the people who partook because frankly it’s not place to judge them. If they feel empowered or feel like it’s best, then they should do it. But I had friends who stopped telling me things, acted nervous that I would judge them, and wouldn’t understand. To that, all I have to say is I may not relate perfectly, but again, it’s not my place to judge. Just because I don’t partake in something doesn’t mean I will vote to burn you at the stake if you do. I wasn’t perfect, I made mistakes, but I think because I often kept them to myself, my friends weren’t as comfortable sharing their lives with me because they thought their actions weren’t perfect, and so I wouldn’t approve. I cannot count the number of times people said, “oh, you’re perfect. Oh, you don’t make mistakes.” I don’t say this to brag because honestly to me this is more of an insult. I want to yell, “No I’m not. I’m just like you,” but doing so isn’t really in me. I project an image of myself that is true, but is also a more refined version of myself. I care far too much what people think, I have countless insecurities, and so I keep many things to myself because sometimes I don’t want to deal with other people’s opinions.

In all honesty, I don’t think I ever really thought too much about my battle with perfectionism, except when my need to be perfect began to affect my relationships with other people. Then I started to feel utterly alone, and while I wouldn’t settle for less than an A in a class, or having the perfect outfit everyday, I started feeling like maybe my social life was less than perfect. To be honest, the first time I really started to think that maybe my perfectionism had gotten out of hand was when someone said to me, in so many words, “you project a certain image of yourself. You’re all about you all the time, and you never let anyone see you as anything less than perfect. It makes people feel judged.” While I was already thoroughly irritated with the person who delivered this message for various reasons, this particular chain of thought gave me pause. I wasn’t sure what to say. I remember crying. I wanted to say, “I’m not perfect. I’m not judging. You don’t understand that I can’t control my need to be perfect.” I cried for a long time because my perfectionism was really affecting my ability to connect with people who made different choices than I did or felt that I was judging them. I think in many ways my perfectionism became a point of insecurity. I didn’t want to talk about my grades or what I was doing at family functions and I didn’t want to let my friends see me cry over a perfectly fine LSAT score because I knew the comments that would follow would be similar to “you’re so perfect. Why am I not surprised? Are you really crying? It’s not a big deal.” For the record, telling someone with perfectionism they’re perfect doesn’t actually help them. At all.

I’m not looking for sympathy by posting about this, but rather I’m hoping to give a voice to those who have perfectionism. I’m also hoping that people who think I’m perfect or feel I’m always judging will understand I’m just a normal human too. I think I felt compelled to share about this because I went to a “How to be a Successful Law Student,” and one of the speakers was talking about a girl she thought was perfect and totally together her 1L year. Later, when they were talking, the girl who seemed perfect admitted to crying everyday of her 1L year. I know it’s cliche, but don’t judge a book by it’s cover! Just because people seem one way, doesn’t automatically mean they are that way. Remember: people probably think all kinds of things about you, but do you think everything everyone has ever thought about you is true?

Truly,
Callie leigh

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