The Pressure Of “Perfection” On Mental Health

World War 2 started in 1955.

See that? That statement is wrong. It is a mistake, an error, and you know what? I am going to just leave it there for us all to deal with together.

It is fairly well documented that people with mental health problems like anorexia and anxiety are perfectionists, and I can certainly say that I am one of them.
To be honest the whole population is a bit obsessed with perfection, and magazines are constantly splattered with articles on how to get the “perfect body”, “perfect life”, “perfect relationship”, even “perfect eyebrows”. Seriously? Who needs perfect eyebrows? What even is a perfect eyebrow? I keep seeing loads of people shaving their eyebrows off and drawing them on again with pencil but how is that perfect? THAT ISN’T EVEN AN EYEBROW! It’s a line of charcoal or whatever the hell they put in make up these days. It can’t be the perfect eyebrow at all because it isn’t an eyebrow! The real eyebrow was shaved off! I can’t just doodle a nose on my arm and start sniffing through my elbow! Anyway back to my point…

People want perfection, most people fear failure and we all want everything to go smoothly, a nice idea, but not exactly a realistic one because perfection does not exist and I think it is time we all tackle it before our brains explode from the mental health damaging stress caused by trying to reach something unattainable.

Being a perfectionist affects my mental health on a daily basis in a variety of ways. With OCD I am always washing until I feel “perfectly clean”, with my eating disorder I am weighing myself or food to a “perfect” number and when it comes to the fear of abandonment caught up in my personality disorder, I am always writing and rewriting text messages or emails until they are “perfect” because I fear that one wrong word will make the recipient of my message hate me forevermore.
Being a perfectionist has also stopped me from doing a lot of things in life, from serious things like certain choices at university, to unimportant hobbies in my free time. I used to play video games all the time and found the act of roaming around fictional digital landscapes helpful in giving me a break from real life problems that were bothering me. Because of this obsession with perfection however, even that coping mechanism has been tarnished and I rarely ever pick up a control these days because the perfectionist in me found the pressure too hard to handle. When I was a kid, playing Pokemon on my original black and white gameboy was easy enough. I knew I could catch the required target of 150 Pokemon if I tried, but these days there are 802 Pokemon in total which makes it infinitely harder to “CATCH EM ALL”. I fear starting up the new games purely because I worry that I won’t be able to complete them “perfectly”, so for this reason I don’t play at all, don’t end up catching anything, all because I am scared of not living up to the task and hating myself for it.

Perfectionism is even slowly making it difficult to post anything on this blog, as with every Monday that arrives I am worried that what I am planning to post for the day won’t be good enough and that everyone will think that I am an idiot, hate me, refuse to ever read my blog again and send round a crowd of people with pitch forks and flaming torches to destroy the fool who dared post such nonsense to the internet.
I can guarantee that after I have put this blog up I will be reading it again and again, worrying that it is rubbish, seeing all the flaws, all the imperfections, hence why I made that initial mistake on purpose about World War Two. Yes it is there, I do not like it and there are probably many others, but I am trying to fight this neurotic need to make everything perfect so I am going to damn well leave those errors where they are! Queen Elizabeth is my sister and I turn into a saucepan at nighttime. YEAH. That’s right, two more errors (I actually turn into a teacup), LOOK AT THOSE ERROS AND DEAL WITH IT.

The really ridiculous thing about it all and the thing that makes the quest for perfection so futile is of course the fact that the “perfect” anything doesn’t even exist. The only thing close to perfection is Helena Bonham Carter and even in her case I am sure she must have a flaw somewhere (if you are reading this Helena please forgive me for making such an assumption but I am trying to make a point).
The word “perfect” itself is an idea, a concept that simply cannot be in the real world because what it represents is utterly subjective. A spatula is “a thing”, so we can all talk about spatulas collectively as a society (and oh how we love to talk about spatulas these days), because when two people say the word spatula we know we are referring to the same item. When it comes to “the perfect…” however, everyone is referring to something different so we cannot relate or talk meaningfully about it as a solid thing or goal to aim for.

It is like when I watch the Great British Bake Off (before Channel 4 rudely stole it and destroyed a summery British tradition whose absence will forever leave a doughnut hole deep within our hearts). Whenever it used to be pie or pastry week, Mary and Paul would often use the word “perfect “ to describe the base of a tart if it was crisp and there was no sign of “a soggy bottom”. To them, a crisp base was the epitome of pastry perfection, but that is the complete opposite to how I would see a pie as perfect.
When my grandma used to bake apple pie, I would have a sizeable bowl full of it, drowned in thick yellow custard. Had I ever found the base to be crisp I would have been very disappointed. I liked it when the pastry was all gooey, had soaked up all the apple juice and custard and turned into a mushy mess with no crunch or chewing required whatsoever. That was my perfect apple pie, and I would pick a pie like that any day over these crisp bottomed tarts I see praised on cookery programs like Bake Off, tarts with pastry more suited to building a house than squishing about on a spoon for a bit of deliciousness. Aiming for perfection in anything is therefore like trying to make a universally acclaimed “perfect apple pie”, a futile pursuit because it is searching for something that doesn’t exist.

Ok being a perfectionist can be good in some settings. If I undergo surgery I would very much like a surgeon with a perfect success rate rather than one who has been known to give people a few extra lungs or a bonus forehead nostril, but in life on the whole this quest for perfection is nothing but an unnecessary strain of pressure on our mental health, with anxiety so crippling that it leaves you unable to do anything for fear that something will go wrong.

If you are reading this as a perfectionist like me, and if you find that perfectionism is leading you to avoid something or you are buckling under pressure, sadness and anxiety, scared that you won’t do something perfectly, I urge you now to go ahead and do it anyway, just as I am uploading this post now, knowing that as a perfectionist, I will NEVER be satisfied.
Let the anxiety come and fight against it by knowing that if you are a perfectionist, no matter what you do, you will never feel your performance is good enough. Do what you are avoiding and make mistakes, revel in them and appreciate them being there. They are important and more real than any perfection you are chasing because mistakes can exist and be found in the real world, unlike a concept like the “perfect” apple pie.
Make errors and leave them in as I have done with this bog (OH LOOK ANOTHER ERROR), and fight this building pressure and anxiety provoking burden of perfection in everything you are and everything you do.
Don’t keep all your eggs safely in the basket for fear of making a bad omelette and end up starving to death with no omelette at all, crack the little buggers and get whisking before they go stale because ANY omelette, just like anything you could possibly do in life, is better than not making or doing anything at all.

Take care everyone x

Perfect

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8 thoughts on “The Pressure Of “Perfection” On Mental Health

  1. Katie, thank you for sharing and in my opinion writing a succinct heartwarming and open blog. That truely shines light on the difficulties you face. You explain in such tangible real ways. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Please don’t take me wrong I love all of your posts but I think this one is my favorite so far. And this is so creepy because it’s like you are literally living inside my brain. “I am always writing and rewriting text messages or emails until they are “perfect” because I fear that one wrong word will make the recipient of my message hate me forevermore” I don’t have a personality disorder but I could relate 100% to this.
    When I found your blog I was afraid of leaving a comment because my English is far from being perfect. I thought you would laugh at my mistakes so it took me two weeks to gain courage and finally leave a comment. It was the first time I ever talked in English with someone. Today, almost one year after (our one year anniversary is this Friday), I’m talking online with so many people from all around the world!! England, USA, Canada, Ireland, Germany, and France!! And this was all thanks to your blog.
    I know my English is not perfect, I know that I make so many mistakes, but honestly? I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!! I’m not perfect and I’ll never will but I’m finally starting to accept that.
    That little comment changed my life. You changed my life. Thank you so much!
    Oh, and btw, I will send you your letter tomorrow 🙂
    Kisses from Portugal ❤
    P.S: If you like playing games I would advise you to play The Sims. There is no goal, you don't have to catch anything, you don't have missions to complete, all you have to do is play and have fun. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! It is so fantastic to hear that you have become more confident with your English because it really is phenomenal! You may think you make mistakes a lot but I never notice them and if you hadn’t told me beforehand there is no way that I would think English was your second language! I am so so happy that you posted that first comment that started this friendship that is so special and important to me. Looking forward to your letter (and of course our anniversary! Happy anniversary in advance!) . Lots of love and kisses from England 😘❤️ xx p.s OMG HOW DID I FORGET THE SIMS THANK YOU FOR REMINDING ME I MUST PLAY IMMEDIATELY 😱

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  3. Oh Katie, I hate the thought of you not wanting to post on your blog because of your perfectionist streak – your blog is so informative and entertaining and helps so many people, that it would a travesty if you felt unable to post.

    As a fellow sufferer of anorexia, I can relate to the perfectionism. It was particularly apparent for me in school grades – I HAD to get a string of A*s, I HAD to get a first at uni etc, when I was teaching all my lessons HAD to be outstanding etc – and I am not naturally clever so I really had to work 24/7 to achieve those things. And for what? I had no social life, no friends, no enjoyment in life and an increase in disordered thoughts.

    Interestingly, I was never a perfectionist before I was ill and now I am weight restored and as recovered as I have ever been, my perfectionist tendencies have abated so that now I am happy to do things to a ‘good’ standard as opposed to a perfect one. A lot of the time, good is good enough.

    Take care, Katie, and please never feel that you are unable to post here. Many of us love your blog and look forward to reading your witty anecdotes and interesting tales xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is so helpful to have that reassurance! My brain is always telling me that one wrong word and everyone will hate me and I get so worried about losing you as a friend! It is great to have this comment to go against that on the really bad days! I think the lack of social life when you focus on perfection is the biggest thing I noticed at school and university. I may have had good grades but compared to other people who went out more I was nowhere near as happy and what is the point in an A* when you have nobody to laugh with on a Saturday night? It is funny that you mentioned being happy to do things to a “good” standard these days too because I just read a book with a quote about that! It is in East of Eden by John Steinbeck (maybe you have read it), and in it, a woman who had to mind that her behaviour was always perfect loses the influence that made her have to behave that way and someone says “now you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”. Really spoke to me a lot. Thank you again for supporting me regardless of the imperfections. You may think you are happy to be “good” these days but in my opinion you are even better. Much love xxx

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  4. I remember so many nights sitting with my son challenging that OCD voice. When he started challenging it himself, without my facilitating it, progress was made. He is recovering, but we’re not done yet. Since you promised honesty in your writing, I take you at your word. I hope you reread the last 2 paragraphs because you must, at some level, believe them to have written them. They drive the stake right through the heart of the OCD. Through my eyes I see a young woman who is challenging some of those destructive voices and messages. You have built a blog with which you are honest, vulnerable, informative, and witty. With your blog you help others and you have built an on-line support group for yourself. Not for the faint of heart! You have tremendous courage to do all of this and your insight is well beyond your years. I am quite convinced that if those nasty detractors dared show up with pitch forks and torches, you would meet them with a flame thrower (or a very good illustration of one). My money would be on you. Keep writing, let the imperfections stand because your readers want to know they are dealing with another human. It is quite obvious how many people your words comfort and inform. All of us want to see you succeed and to recover. You may well write yourself back to good mental health!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh goodness me yet another of your lovely comments has reduced me to a blubbery mess of happy tears! Thank you so much for having such faith and belief in me, for accepting me, supporting me and for betting that I would be handy with a flamethrower 😂 Sending you and your family loads of love ❤️ xxx

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