Real is the New Perfect
Things that are great in excess: happiness, love, and self-acceptance. Things that are never great: hatred, discrimination, and sadness. Things that can be good, only if used in moderation: perfectionism.
In mild doses, perfectionism can be a valuable, well-functioning characteristic to possess in an increasingly competitive world. Perfectionism can motivate us to give our all into every activity, experience, and task we immerse ourselves in. Perfectionism can be the force that gives us that extra push we need to stay on the track towards excellence. Perfectionism, like tough love, can be a method of hitting us with a brick of reality….a way of telling ourselves we can do better, so we will do better.
However, maladaptive perfectionism, unlike its flexible counterpart, is suffocating and lethal and crippling. It is a voice inside that constantly tells us we are nothing, that we will never be anything, until the prospect of ever loving ourselves is completely shattered. Maladaptive perfectionists live in constant terror, trying to keep track of every Lilliputian detail as their minds race. Their worlds are unstable Jenga towers, at great risk of utterly collapsing with the slightest touch of a finger, with the slightest mistake. And this endless fear, this inability to ever be at peace, this obligation to constantly be on the watch, is exhausting.
Maladaptive perfectionism has been something I have struggled with my entire life. It has led to self-sabotage, to anorexia, to hospitalizations, to starvation. It has led to weekly visits at the guidance center, where I completely breakdown and degenerate because I know for sure that I got one wrong on a test—that I wouldn’t get the perfect “100” I so desperately needed in order to silence that abusive voice inside my head. I am often scolded: “There are millions of people in this world that don’t even know when their next meal will come, and you are in uncontrollable hysterics over an A-?” And then, on top of me feeling horrible for being a “failure,” I feel horrible for being selfish and being so absorbed in shallow problems that don’t even matter when others have it so much worse. The truth is, I know my perfectionist tendencies, unrealistic aspirations, and feelings of inadequacy seem absurd to the naked eye, but anyone who has suffered with extreme perfectionism knows how real and completely terrifying these manifestations are.
The scariest part though is this—even during the darkest days of my anorexia recovery, I never doubted that full recovery was possible. However, I don’t think I will ever get rid of my perfectionism. In all honesty, perfectionism has always been a part of me, and I think that it always will be. It has been my inherent, inborn way of thinking from the day I entered this world, a defining scar of the mind. That scar will never disappear completely, but I am optimistic that it can fade. Although I may always have perfectionism, I can learn to cope and live with it, to dilute it to a safer form for humans, essentially imperfect beings.
I have found that the best way to mellow my perfectionist thoughts is merely to keep telling myself the exact opposite. As I look into the mirror each morning, staring at my face—flawed and blemished and natural and human—I smile, because even the simplest act of putting on a fake smile triggers the release of what I unscientifically call “happy, feel-good hormones.” Over and over, I continually tell myself “You are beautiful” and “You are perfectly imperfect” and “You’ve got this” and basically every other cliché yet genuine statement of self-affirmation. The more I say statements like these, the more I find myself believing them. If I am feeling extremely down or stressed or disappointed, I will close my eyes, take deep breaths, and picture what Earth would look like from space….just a tiny, marbled speck of green and blue among a field of black, my failures microscopically insignificant. But the most effective (albeit hardest) piece of advice I can give you (and myself) is this: Just surrender. Surrender to the moment. Surrender to the natural currents of existence. Surrender to the magical, wonderful, chaotic mess that is life.