My name is Staci and I have a confession; I am a perfectionist and a control freak.
Well, actually there are two issues with that statement. The first is that I used the term ‘I am’. It sounds so definite, doesn’t it? It almost limits me by the boundaries of perfectionism. The second is that I used the term ‘control freak’, implying that there is something wrong with wanting and needing control in life.
Truth is, I never thought I was a perfectionist. When my therapist asked me if I thought I was, I said no. In my head were visions of aesthetically pleasing homes, well behaved dogs, and a kind of order and serenity that only came to those women in magazines and TV. I could not possibly be a perfectionist; I turn rooms into a pigsty just by walking through them, my dog is just as stubborn and unruly as I was when I was a teenager, and my life felt chaotic and stressful.
It was only through discussing this further that I realised perfectionism is far from presenting the perfect life I had envisioned when the question was asked.
It’s only doing things you know you can do well and not even trying the rest. It’s setting the bar for yourself so much higher than you would for others and berating yourself when you don’t hit it. It’s treating every mistake as a failure and a mark on your character. It’s anxiety around every task, fearing rejection every time you don’t hit some self imposed expectation, and constantly telling yourself you can be better.
This might sound extreme, and like so many other things, perfectionism may exhibit differently for others. For me though, it was a reality. I had told myself that I needed to be good, no, the best at everything I did. If I couldn't be the best, I had to at least be noticeably good. Because of this, I quit everything that got hard; It wasn’t worth the time I would use up when I had other things I was already good at and could improve upon. I was constantly telling myself I was no good, constantly living in fear of the opinions of others, and all of this led to chronic stress and anxiety.
I realised that my idea of perfection was having total and utter control over everything and everyone in my life. If I could control how others saw me, things would be so much better, I thought. Alas, control is one of the great jokes of the universe. Just when you think you have it, something takes it away and leaves you feeling powerless again.
This often leads people to desperately find things they can control all the time — their eating, their movement, the people around them, and it can quite often have devastating effects on them and their loved ones.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that perfectionism and the need for control are bad. In healthy amounts, they can be incredibly useful. Living in constant chaos and being battered around by life without any control at all can be exhausting and just as dangerous as trying to control everything. And perfectionism can lead to some of the greatest achievements in your life, as long as you know where to set the boundary between healthy and unhealthy.
Learning where that boundary is can be hard. It can take a lot of brave, honest conversations with yourself. I think it’s something I will always have to work at. I’m learning to realise when things are ‘good enough’, how to see mistakes as opportunities to grow and develop, and to slowly untangle my sense of self worth from the things I do and control.
So if I were to try the first sentence again, it would probably read something like this:
My name is Staci, and I have a perfectionist streak and really feel the need to control everything and everyone around me, but know I cant.
Hmmm, no, wait that could be better…
My name is Staci, and I have a tendency towards perfectionism and am learning to embrace what I can and can’t control in life.
Yeah, that’s good enough.