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How I’m Overcoming the Perfectionism at the Root of My Anxiety

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I learned at a young age that “good girls” did X, Y, and Z. “Good girls” were nice, always smiled and said please and thank you. I have always felt small. No one seemed to want me. So instead, I tried to be a “good girl” — to be likable and perfect so I could be OK.

Maybe that was OK as a child. I was learning how navigate through this world. But now as an adult, I find myself still doing it; saying yes to everything my boss asks of me, letting my clients push me around, apologizing constantly to strangers for doing nothing wrong and apologizing to friends and my husband for not being “good enough.”

I have these impossible standards. No matter how hard I try, I can’t be the perfect student. I can’t ever be the perfect friend, the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect employee. And now matter how hard I try, I can’t get everyone to like me. It actually sometimes seems like the harder I try to be good, the less people like me.

I keep buying into the common misconception that women are supposed to be good and sweet and hardworking and silent. Even though in my head, I know this it’s not true.

These struggles are the root of my anxiety. I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety, but trying to be perfect and wanting everyone to like me appear to be the cause of my problems.

I keep wanting to change. I want to be assertive. I want to be strong. But then I find myself being quiet, meek and running around trying to make someone happy; or beating myself up for not being perfect.

I had a difficult counseling session yesterday. My counselor said, “Trying to be perfect is your biggest problem. I’ve been your counselor for almost two years, and I think I’m a pretty good counselor, but I haven’t been able to make a dent in your perfectionism.”

When my counselor said I haven’t changed it felt like I was broken, like I will never change. It seemed like he was giving up on me.

But he hasn’t given up me. He keeps brainstorming new ways to help me. And I remind myself that my story isn’t over yet. Sometimes change comes quickly, but sometimes it takes a long time. The thoughts I am dealing with were so strongly ingrained in me as a child, so it will take a time to overcome them.

Today I am telling myself that I am not perfect and will never be perfect. I have to be firm with myself and fight back against perfectionism.

So I tell myself: You will never be the perfect student. You don’t listen well in class because you’re easily distracted. You panic during presentations. You’ll never be perfect. But you’re able to do quite well, and that’s OK.

I tell myself: You will never be the perfect employee. You run late. You’re unorganized.  And not everyone likes your quiet personality. You will never be a perfect employee, and that’s OK.

I tell myself: You will never be a perfect wife. You’re not always organized, you’re not a great cook, you forget some things and you’re too exhausted to clean the house most of the time. When you’re anxious you can be difficult to live with. You’ll never be the perfect wife, but that’s OK because your husband still loves you.

I tell myself: You will never be the perfect friend. You keep canceling plans because of panic attacks, and when you’re struggling with mental illness you become self-absorbed. You forget birthdays and don’t always listen well. You’ll never be the perfect friend, and that’s OK.

I don’t know if I will ever be cured of my perfectionism or anxiety. But I am definitely working on getting better. For today I am telling myself, I will never be perfect, and that is OK.

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Originally published: June 20, 2017
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