First off, super sorry for missing Monday. I came back from Thanksgiving Break to 6 papers due in the next 6 days. Which is actually related to what I’m gonna scream about today. So…totally planned that. Yup.
I’m well known to my friends and family as a strident perfectionist. I’ve been so ever since I was little–as in kindergarten-age. And it’s a super big problem, as you could probably guess. But not because I’m one, because lots of us are.
There’s this idea, especially for kids who are singled out while very young and told that they’re “gifted” at something (academics, sports, etc etc), that perfection is the only way forward–really, the only way possible to even stand still.
And it’s damaging. I was put in a G&T program (accelerated learning program, for my western friends) when I started first grade. From then on (and still today) my sense of self worth came exclusively from my grades. Don’t mistake perfectionism for competitiveness–perfectionists usually don’t care if others get an A, as long as they get an A.
Perfectionism is intense. I’ve seen kids I knew from puberty on self-destruct because of it. It can lead to anxiety, depression, increased suicide risk, dehumanization (of the perfectionist themselves), and all sorts of nasty things. Add to that the mask that all perfectionists keep up (so as to be seen as holding it all together), and you have a recipe for self-destruction, often taking loved ones with you, emotionally speaking.
So why is this something to scream about? Because no one is.
If I sound frustrated, that’s because I am. We warn kids about bullying, and about personal safety, and about drugs, and alcohol, and all sorts of things that could possibly bruise them–kids aren’t allowed on monkey bars in my brother’s old school, for heaven’s sake–but we don’t talk about perfectionism, especially to women, who are a touch more prone to it. It’s a kind of social taboo, unless you’re in a job interview, where ‘perfectionism’ might be a ‘flaw-but-not-really-a-flaw’ you’ll offer your prospective employer.
And that needs to stop. Because everyone–everyone–can be prone to this. But there are certain people for whom perfectionism is instilled in them at a young age; like cells that reproduce carrying immunity to viruses, we break apart, but each part of us still contains the perfectionism bacteria. Because it’s not just about being perfect in school, or work, or sports, or at home–it’s about never making a misstep. Never once letting anyone think you might be less than a machine.
And that kind of worrying, that kind of damaging self-identity? Especially among kids, who are developing in the way they’ll interact with the world at large for decades to come?
Well, that’s something to scream about.