We met Chloe and her partner when we first moved to Little Bay and took our gin and tonics for a walk. Since then they have become fast friends and we've bonded over dogs, food and coffee. Chloe's ability to see the positive in people is a welcome balance to my cynical nature and I always enjoy hearing her insight. I can't imagine the challenge of parenthood, let alone as a perfectionist and I hope to invite Chloe back here to talk more about that soon, probably when she's had some sleep.
1) What area/areas of your life do you experience perfectionism in?
It has impacted all areas of my life, though it largely manifests itself at work, and also in my home.
2) How does perfectionism present itself in these areas?
Work is where it’s at its most prevalent, and manifests itself in a variety of ways:
Generally it means I have been able to succeed and progress in my field. That said, this success has been a roadblock to seeking out new career opportunities out of fear that I won’t be as good in those fields as I am in my current role.
Difficulty delegating tasks to others, as I know it may not be completed to the same standards that I would hold myself to if I was completing it myself.
A tendency to procrastinate on anything non urgent, ensuring that I have the headspace to undertake the project properly - meaning that often I spend more time than is necessary on a task.
I compare myself to the success of others - even when this is unrealistic in my current situation. The nature of my role means that I am surrounded by senior influential and high profile individuals and I often battle with feelings of inadequacy in their presence. My best never seems good enough to myself, regardless of the positive feedback I receive.
Feelings of anxiety, imposter syndrome and in some circumstances deep shame when I make mistakes or misunderstand the brief. I can be very over sensitive to criticism, even when it is constructive & necessary for growth and learning.
This is largely a way to manage my anxiety - my mood can be correlated to how tidy or cluttered my environment is.
3) Thinking of these areas of your life how would you say perfectionism has impacted them?
I think perfectionism leans more towards a negative than a positive influence for me personally. Perfectionism has led to a strong work ethic, but this is driven largely by wanting to avoid disappointing anyone. I am reliable, always see projects/tasks that I’ve committed to through to completion and often go the extra mile beyond what is expected. That said, my perfectionism has meant that I set unachievable goals and am my own worst critic, and I would say has contributed to my clinical anxiety and feelings of sensitivity, self condemnation & shame. I struggle with not being good at things from the get go - as if natural ability was a measure of performance - and often won’t pursue them as a result, and I fear judgement of others.
4) Has it impacted other areas of your life and if so how?
I am less likely to put my hand up for new activities as I fear I may not be good at them - exercise is a clear example of this, I’ve always steered clear of team sports. I am not naturally gifted when it comes to anything physical and would never join a team for fear of letting people down.
My anxiety peaks when I have an untidy environment (and I have a high standard when it comes to tidiness & clutter) - it’s something that constantly needs to be maintained and I end up prioritising this over rest and sleep, which can mean burnout (especially as I’ve recently had a daughter and am already sleep deprived).
5) Where do you think your perfectionism comes from?
In my mind a childhood concept of striving to be loved. A fear that disapproval and disappointment would lead to you being viewed as inadequate and therefore not lovable or accepted as you are. By striving for perfection, we give ourselves the impression that something like being loved is in our control (ie. if we do everything to the highest standard we are deserving of love) - this is a completely false perception but one that is very hard to shake and takes a lot of self work & constant course correction in later life.
7) What have you tried (if anything) in the past or at present to manage your perfectionism?
Since having had my daughter earlier this year, I am less prone to seeking perfectionism (caveat that I am not currently working so remains to be seen if that has impacted on my work stance at all). My priorities at the moment are that my daughter be happy and healthy, and in this approach have gone with my gut versus what is recommended in parenting books & expert opinions etc. Not engaging in a comparison mindset has also helped; Social media feeds (which I have been influenced by in the past when it comes to comparing against the ‘perfect’ ideal) do not phase me anywhere near as much as they once did. Though I still feel as though my environment impacts my mood - I am currently very much of the ilk that done is better than perfect. This is a huge shift for me, but I am also conscious of learned behaviours when it comes to my daughter - I want her to understand that imperfection is normal, and that she is accepted & celebrated regardless of what she achieves, I need to ensure I actively model this for her. I want to ensure I go out of my way so that she knows unconditional love is not dependent on her performance.
8) If there are positives and negatives to perfectionism what would you say they are?
Perfectionism can be a great driver but I also think it can be incredibly toxic. On the one hand it motivates you but at the same time, when driven by fear & feelings of unworthiness, it can affect our productivity and prevent us from trying new things and taking on challenges. It is also a catalyst for disappointment, we set ourselves unattainable goals and ultimately hold ourselves responsible when we are unable to achieve them. At its worst it can also manifest in psychiatric conditions (eg. OCD).
Thanks for taking the the time to read about another perfectionist. If you'd like to be a part of this series feel free to drop me a line below.
You can also read more stories in 2021's book Perfectionism: living with perfectionism below: