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How I'm Fighting Back Against Perfectionism

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I was bullied for the majority of my life. Maybe it was because I hung out with the boys and played sports rather than playing house with the other girls, or maybe it was something else; nevertheless, I spent a lot of time being ridiculed for being different. I have been told that my parents should have aborted me, that I don’t deserve the breath in my lungs, and many, many other horrible things. I remember a few distinct bullies who tormented me for many years, quitting once they reached high school, but there is one bully who hasn’t stopped: me.

I am my own biggest bully.

I beat myself up over things I have no control over, set extreme expectations for myself and strive for perfectionism, even though there is no benefit in setting myself up for failure. Through professional help, I’ve discovered that perfectionism is a key part of my anxiety and depression problem. I seek approval of my teachers and friends, chastise myself for living in my sister’s shadow, overwork myself to the point of, as my therapist says, “burnout before you should be burning out,” and worry so much I make myself physically ill. I would never speak to others in the way I speak to myself, and the things I say about myself in my head would never leave my lips.

My therapist and I gave the voice in my head an identity. Her name is Kristen, and she is the spokeswoman for my anxiety and depression. She has straight A’s, looks just like me, but prettier, and is perfect in every way. Kristen is the girl I strive to be, but that’s completely impossible. I seek to be someone who never gets marked down on a paper, is loved by everyone and projects confidence in everything she does. Yet I fall so, so far from that standard.

Being cruel to myself won’t change things, though. If anything, that makes it worse. I draw out an hour-long English study session to much longer than it needs to be by crying on the floor, listening to Kristen say, “Why do you think you can teach this? You are foolish if you think you will succeed as a teacher.” Never would I say that to another person, so why do I say it to myself? Kristen does not deserve a stage, yet I become the production manager of my own nightmare.

Bullying myself isn’t the answer to my anxiety or perfection-seeking tendencies. I shouldn’t punish and berate myself over mistakes; I am human, and humans make mistakes. I am in school to learn, so a grade that isn’t perfect is understandable. I am my own person, no matter how many times I’m referred to as “Rylee’s sister.” I can’t grasp perfection, and that is OK.

Bullying myself over unrealistic standards won’t solve my problems. The voice telling me I will never be good enough, that my teachers don’t believe in me and I am the pity friend, not anyone’s real friend, does not deserve the space I give her to speak. Kristen is a bully I face every day, so I constantly have to tell myself that depression lies. I am not who she says I am; I am loved, intelligent and able. I seek to silence Kristen every time she tries to speak, even if it is hard.

I know others who struggle with a voice telling them they are not enough, that they must seek approval to find happiness. Be kind to yourself, and don’t let your Kristen lie to you.

Photo by Ernest Brillo on Unsplash

Originally published: January 27, 2020
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