There’s a song by Dashboard Confessional that says,
Buried deep as you can dig inside yourself
Hidden in a perfect shell
Such a charming, beautiful exterior
Laced with brilliant smiles and shining eyes
Perfect makeup, but you’re barely scraping by
But you’re barely scraping by.
A friend once told me that this song reminded him of me.
I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist. A perfectionist is someone who gets perfect grades, is organized, a model employee, chairing every committee, perfect body, perfect face, perfect family.
Yesterday I met with Therapist and talked about perfectionism. She gave me a chart listing several attributes of the perfectionist:
1) You feel stressed and driven and motivated by the fear of failure
(Maybe not driven. Just overwhelmed and stressed.)
2) Your accomplishments never seem to satisfy you
(I can’t even list any accomplishments. Nothing I do is impressive to me.)
3) You feel you must impress others with your intelligence or accomplishments to get them to like and respect you.
(I can’t get close to people because I’m not interesting, pretty or successful enough to deserve friendship.)
4) If you make a mistake or fail to achieve an important goal, you become self-critical and feel like a failure as a human being.
(Once I dropped an egg and had a panic attack. I attached moral value to things like dropping an egg, messing up a recipe, not getting everything done. “Failing” at these things meant I was a failure at everything and, thus, a bad person.)
5) You think you must always be strong and in control of your emotions.
(After I got divorced, I was “fine.”)
Perfectionism doesn’t mean you’re organized all the time, or always look put together. It means that you see things in black and white. You’re either the best/perfect, or you suck.
“I’m either the prettiest, or I’m hideously ugly.”
“If I say something wrong, I won’t have any friends.”
“Everyone must like me, or no one likes me.”
“Everyone must love me, or I’m unlovable.”
“If I make a mistake, people will think less of me.”
“I won’t be good at ___, so I’m not even going to try.”
“If my house isn’t clean, I’m lazy and dirty.”
Perfectionism is the reason I stopped living:
· I don’t want to get a job unless it’s the best job ever and I can do it perfectly.
· I don’t want to take the GRE unless I can get a perfect score.
· I don’t want to go back to school unless I know I’ll get all A’s.
· I don’t want to date unless I’m more interesting than anyone else they’ve ever dated.
· I don’t want to try a yoga class because I’ve never done it before and I might embarrass myself.
I basically took every interest or goal I’ve ever had and said to myself,
“You can’t do it perfectly, so don’t even try. It’s not worth doing if you’re not the best.”
I always wanted to do everything “right.” I always wanted to be “right.” But in the pursuit of “rightness” I was usually wrong. Making a mistake doesn’t mean I’m not likable. It’s not possible to be “the prettiest” because beauty is so subjective. Getting a B doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Not being the thinnest doesn’t make me fat. All the messages I told myself were totally illogical and just WRONG.
Frank served a purpose in my life. With him I was able to consolidate my perfectionism into one focused area: Anorexia. I COULD be the best at anorexia. I was the littlest person I knew. Even though I couldn’t see a difference between myself and them, I knew my weight and I knew I weighed less. As long as I could be perfect at anorexia, it was ok to not try the other things.
Dumping Frank means I’m going to have a lot of extra time to pursue new interests, which is exciting, but also terrifying. I know I’m going to not be the best at some things. I might even fail sometimes. But if you fall as you move forward, you’re still falling forward.