I’ve always considered myself a perfectionist. I obsess over every little detail when I am completing a task until I deem it satisfactory. When I make mistakes it feels like the end of the world, as extreme as that sounds. I beat myself up and tell myself that I should have known or done better. It can be hard for me to take criticism no matter how constructive it is. Lately, I’ve been contemplating how hard I am on myself when I make mistakes and it made me wonder, why do I feel the need to be perfect?

I am aware that it is impossible for anyone to be perfect. We all have flaws. We all make mistakes. So why do I still strive for perfection that I can’t achieve? 

The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. What I considered perfectionism was actually a disguise for self-hatred

Perfectionism can become a dangerous trait. When you constantly desire to be perfect in your life, whether it’s at work or in relationships, it leaves little room for the inevitable mishap or disappointment. In fact, that disappointment can become so crushing that it takes a toll on your mental health. Research shows that perfectionism is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and even suicidal impulses. 

When I came across this fact, it made me interrogate my own life. I found the spaces that my so-called perfectionism had seeped into. I saw that my eating disorders, depressive episodes, and anxiety were only worsened by my need to be without fault. I realized how hard I was on myself as a child and teenager, and how I didn’t deserve all that pressure.

I was a top student in high school and a model child at home, but I never allowed myself space to make mistakes. I never granted myself the space to be human.

Some people may think that perfectionism is a healthy tool to achieve goals and personal growth. But perfectionism is an unhealthy obsession with striving for perfection often occupied with a hyper-critical evaluation of yourself or your work. According to Brené Brown,  perfectionism is used by many as a shield to protect against the pain of blame, judgment, or shame. 

For me, these emotions can feel almost unbearable. It is the avoidance of these emotions that causes my perfectionism. I am already so deeply insecure that I place value on my work or other people’s perceptions of me. If it isn’t up to standard – meaning without faults or flaws – I am afraid of the guilt and shame that will take over me. 

Therefore, I obsess over every detail because I seek my worth in my work. I have to be certain that I am without faults because if they are exposed, then what I think of myself is true. If others see my mistakes, in my mind, that means I am truly unworthy and inadequate. Although I know I should never place my value in being perfect because I will always fall short, this is something I have taught myself. Most importantly, it is something I have to unlearn.

Now that I am aware of how deeply detrimental my perfectionism is and what the root causes are, I can make the necessary changes to work on myself. Especially, on how I view and treat myself. From this moment onwards, I no longer carry the title perfectionist. I am a human – flaws and all. 

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  • Tamia Adolph

    Tamia Adolph is a writer and journalist, who writes poetry and fiction writing under the pseudonym, Imogene Mist. She is the founder of a mental health awareness organization called #MeTooButImStillHere, which aims to advocate for mental illness in Africa. She holds a BA in Journalism and BA (Honours) in English Literature. Currently, she is completing her Masters in English Literature. Her passions include musicals, environmentalism, and all forms of art.