During job interviews, I always dread the question:
“What would you consider to be your greatest weakness?”
Because then I’d have to reveal that I am a perfectionist. And though others would say that is a positive attribute, I beg to differ.
The perfectionistic tendencies people praise is described to be adaptive. That means this form of perfectionism is healthy, meticulous, results-driven, organized, maintains high standards and tenacity. The version I suffer from is maladaptive, which means it’s associated with distress, low self-esteem, people-pleasing, self-doubt, obsession with control, shame, and fear of making mistakes.
Perfectionism has been a tightrope I kept walking on all my life. I am always nervous about falling, shakily keeping my balance, and wondering why this path is a good one in the first place. Those experiences have been the reason for my struggles and my accomplishments.
In 2020, the infamous beginning of the pandemic, it was also the year I experienced burnout. I was bedridden for two months and was compelled to understand how detrimental being a perfectionist has been for me.
It is how I finally stepped off the tightrope and freed myself from my unhealthy way of being.
Letting Go of the Coping Mechanism
We can see perfectionism in children as young as 7 years old. I don’t really remember when or why I started being a perfectionist, but I do remember believing that doing everything in my power to be perfect was the only way I could be. If I weren’t perfect, then there would be something wrong with me, which would be really bad.
When I was bedridden, I had to email my professors and colleagues that I could not go to class. It scared me shitless. But I received supportive and understanding replies, and it made me cry more than I already did that day because I never felt so much relief.
Stopped Being a Mean Friend to Myself
I grew up being told I was very hard on myself. I cared so much about what people thought of me, and even when I thought I stopped people-pleasing, I still held onto a lot of that scathing self-talk so I could stay in-line with what I believed is the best version of myself.
During my burnout, I naturally self-isolated even before the virus created quarantine lockdowns all over the world. I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone because all I could feel was self-loathing. I knew I didn’t want my friends or family to console me, help me feel better, tell me I’m good enough because I was done with external validation. I knew I had to sit through it and try to be a friend to myself first before being a better one to anyone else.
Rumination Will Not Be My Pastime Anymore
Other than negative inner dialogue, I have suffered from rumination. It means that I continuously and obsessively rehash moments, experiences, mistakes, failures, etc. That made me beat myself up more and more, to the point where I have had suicidal ideations.
My brother once said, “You like having problems.” It stuck with me for a long time because I couldn’t understand it. Why would anyone like that? I only recently learned that perfectionists tend to create stress because other than being flooded with stress daily, we are overwhelmed by feelings of shame for the mistakes we made and not being good enough. Once I understood that I found ways to stop ruminating because my mistakes aren’t awful, they’re just lessons I needed to learn to become better and develop and hone my skills.
Work in Progress: The Ultimate Procrastinating Workaholic
Like most disorders, most of them result in escapism (e.g., alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.) To cope with my never-ending need to be perfect, I became a workaholic. I would accomplish things easily with work but never take breaks or eat enough meals because I liked the feeling work gave me, that I was performing well, which means I’m perfecting things, I must keep going! But at the same time, if some tasks or deliverables were deemed a setup for failure, I tend to procrastinate. I get anxious and fear that I won’t do well, so I’d instead not even try at all.
To this day, I still struggle with these but will soon find the balance to keep working healthy and avoid procrastinating by improving my time management, balancing more than one job.
I think that year made me realize what’s really important in life. It wasn’t getting the perfect job, settling down with Mr. Right, or financial stability. Most importantly, self-care, self-love, and building and nurturing a relationship with myself when I needed it most. Perfectionism is a silent killer. At first, I thought it was what drove me to succeed in most of my endeavors, but I’ve come to realize it was detrimental to my health and well-being. I had to free myself from the perfect version of Veronica. It’s been emotional and almost unbearable to go through, but I did it… And I’ve never felt more myself than I have ever been in my life.