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When the pursuit of perfection rules your life

Nurturing

When the pursuit of perfection rules your life

Mental Matters
Jannah Walshe

Life is a show, a type of presentation or performance to other people. You aim to display your best: you think about what others’ reactions to your actions will be; you watch them for their reaction, and if you deem it to be negative, you adjust the show for the next time round. All the time the aim of the game is to reach perfection.
And the process of reaching this perfection must also be perfection. It must look easy. As if you are naturally this perfect, but you’ve also worked hard to get there … oh and you are modest too. No one likes a person who thinks they are too perfect.
Note to yourself: remember to not show anyone that you believe any part of you is perfect whilst maintaining that perfect front at all times. And if you do show any weakness it is in a way that makes you look even more perfect.
Because you are a dab hand at this perfectionism, you can let your hair down sometimes. You know, in that controlled, I look great on my down days kind of way. No greasy hair or dirty week-old clothes here! The pressure is immense. Never let your guard down and let someone see the real you, the you that is a bit messy, ugly, untidy and definitely not perfect.
Remember that life is a race to meet expectations. Expectations such as the type of child to be, to do well at school, to have some idea of what to do after school, to work towards it, to meet a wonderful partner, to buy a house, to buy a cool car, to stay out of too much debt, to have a steady but interesting job with some room for progression, to have the best garden, to hold it together, to look good, to be healthy but also able to enjoy a night out and let the hair down every so often, to post witty and interesting and good-looking posts online, to keep these posts regular, to be a good friend with a touch of competition thrown in, to raise decent children, to praise them but not too much, to hug them but not too much, to motivate them but also allow independence.
Basically get up in the morning, put a face on yourself, your family, your home and your life and begin your day. Be prepared for any potential threats, maintain your status quo and end the day with your image intact. That is a good day.

Can you relate? If the above sounds at all familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In our society today there is an ever-evolving set of criteria to live up to. Standards are high, and we are harder on ourselves than anyone else is.
Even though the thoughts I have outlined above may seem unrealistic, or even somewhat exaggerated, all too often, they are not. Even a selection of these internal monologues offer a snapshot of the many ways we find to apply perfectionistic standards to our lives.
As it is usually impossible to meet these types of expectations, our mental health and wellbeing is affected negatively. Living life for yourself instead of waiting for validation from others is a much shorter road to feeling happier and less stressed.
This involves a lot of self-acceptance and self-compassion – two things that perfectionists tend to find difficult.
But learning compassion over competition is well worth the personal rewards it brings.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie.