Understanding Perfectionism Disorder

May is Mental Heal Awareness Month, and I would love to use this time to highlight some key areas in mental health and fight some of the stigmas associated with various disorders, as well as educate readers on the different facets of mental health, and finally share resources to use if help is needed, or to just learn further information. However, this post is going to specifically focus on my battle with perfectionism and what perfectionism disorder is.

Let’s break down the three types of perfectionism according to Psychology Today:

  1. Self-oriented perfectionism is when a person imposes an unrealistic desire to be perfect on oneself
  2. Other-oriented perfectionism is when a person imposes unrealistic standards of perfection on others
  3. Social-prescribed perfectionism is when a person perceives unrealistic expectations from others.

These three variations of perfectionism can be summed up as “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.”

Here is a cute little video that helps explain the three “flavors” of perfection a bit more clearly than I feel like I did.

So, what does this mean, and how does this affect me? Well, I struggle with all three types if we’re being honest, but the one I struggle with most and consequentially affects the other two is social-prescribed perfectionism (SPP.) Since I was in elementary school I have struggled with feeling that I wasn’t “worthy” of approval unless I achieved perfection.

Over the years I would put unnecessary amounts of stress on myself when it came to homework and school projects, not because I wanted to do well and get a good grade, but because I felt like if I didn’t reach those things, my parents and teachers would be disappointed in me and think of me as a failure. This resulted in many many many late nights working on something that could’ve been completed in an hour or two, but out of the fear of failure, I would sit at my desk “procrastinating” or going into anxiety attacks because I felt like I couldn’t produce something that I deemed perfect. Now, this didn’t happen in all areas of my academic life, and it didn’t happen every year I was in school, but 8 times out of 10 I struggled with this problem.

That is just one of the thousands of ways SPP has affected my life, I could go on and on about different ways SPP and SOP affect my daily life, but y’all don’t have time for that, so I’ll just sum up how I feel on a daily basis with this example: I constantly feel as though I’m on a stage in front of thousands of people who expect me to perfectly balance ten plates on those little spiny stick things, and the moment one of those plates  slips or falls to the ground, the weight of the audience’s disappointment will crush me. So I do everything in my power to prevent that disappointment, which causes more stress and the cycle is repeated.

Medicine and a better understanding of what perfection disorder means have really helped me cope with the obstacles it throws my way. I have had to learn to slow down and take deep breaths anytime I feel myself getting worked up over situations that I can’t control. I have had to learn how to identify and separate the situations I can’t control from situations I can control. I’ve had to retrain my mind to focus on what is realistic when it comes to expectations of myself and others. I’ve had to accept the fact that it is okay and normal to disappoint people, and just because they might be disappointed doesn’t mean they think less of me. I’ve had to practice turning my brain off and taking control of the run-away train.

If you read this and thought “hmm that sounds like something I deal with” then I highly recommend talking with a professional. Going to therapy changed my life and made me aware of different triggers and situations that enhance or bring out my anxiety and perfectionism the most. There are also a lot of great books and websites that you can read to learn more. One of the books that helped me the most was The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

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