And why it's making you miserable.
This post also includes a list of my imperfections and the worst photos of me you'll see on the internet. If this doesn't appeal to you, look away now.
Perfection is something I think most of us foolishly strive for. I'm going to tell you why this fruitless task is probably the least helpful thing you are doing for yourself.
We do not expect perfection from anyone else. If you think about some of the people in your life; your colleagues, partner, parents, children and friends, I'm pretty sure that you do not expect any of them to be perfect. You don't think they're going to excel in every area of their lives at all times without any struggle. You know they have flaws and weaknesses. You know they may behave badly at times, they maybe be selfish or lazy . . . Yet we rarely allow that of ourselves.
We think we should be able to complete every task flawlessly. And (obviously) we should be able to; excel in our careers, keep our home tidy, lose weight, eat healthily, see our friends, learn new skills all the while maintaining a perfect work/life balance. I'm going to address the 'keep your home tidy' and eat healthy/lose weight' in another post. I have a lot to say about that. If we struggle in this impossible task that we've set ourselves then we tell ourselves that we are not doing well enough, so we push ourselves harder. And if (god forbid) we feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, then we tell ourselves that we're failing. Life is unpredictable and challenging and in the aftermath of feeling overwhelmed and stressed we apply guilt, shame and feelings of worthlessness. Not only does this achieve nothing, but it's detrimental to our health and makes us miserable.
What concerns me the most is that this seems to be a (mostly) female affliction; if there are any guys out there who can relate to this, get in touch, I'd love to hear your story. In a society where women are told that they can "have it all", it often means that we end up jumping anxiously from one task to another desperately trying to fulfill all of our various roles; a perfect employee, mum, partner, daughter, friend and sister. And actually what we end up with is the feeling that we aren't doing anything well, we are subpar in all of our roles. Which is pretty ironic given that most people spend their time trying to improve their lives in order to be happy, yet everyday we do things to ourselves that make us miserable. Our lives aren't making us unhappy, it's the constant feeling of not doing well enough.
'You can do anything but not everything' David Allen
This strive for perfection is nonsense. We are animals, who over a period of time lost our fur. We will often make mistakes, we will feel lost, our moods will fluctuate, we'll behave in ways are that are unhelpful, we'll behave childishly, we'll lose control and we'll lose our temper. Sometimes we'll even be selfish, lazy, thoughtless, and mean.
This may resonate with you or it may be completely unfamiliar. If this is alien, you are lucky that you've never felt this way. If you're a man and you've never felt this way, talk to the women in your life, they may be struggling with this every day.
Social media is the WORST for encouraging a sense of perfection. If you follow health or lifestyle accounts, it will seem as if those people have everything completely sorted. Like they live every day being healthy, relaxed and blessed. The kind of lifestyle you probably feel like you could never achieve. Please believe me when I say, those people's lives are not perfect. They will experience doubt, fear and worry. They'll have things they're self-conscious about, they'll will have issues, challenges and ailments; because they are human.
This is why it's so important to be ourselves. Not only is it impossible to be someone else, but also we don't know what is really going on - the shiny gorgeous social media could be pretty packaging on a miserable life. Even if you know someone well who looks like they have it all - you never know what is going on in their head.
I see this pattern all the time in people who experience anxiety. Anxiety often comes from a place of feeling like you're not doing well enough, you are not good enough and you're unable to cope. But you are not unable to cope with life; actually you're coping with life fantastically. What you are not able to do is to live up to the expectations you have of yourself. I do not mean to say that this idea of perfection is created by the individual alone, I think Society has a lot to answer for in that department (more on that later).
By letting go of these expectations; you'll find more freedom than you've ever experienced in your life. This was the best gift I have ever given myself. It was the most freeing and confidence boosting experience, when I noticed I was striving for perfection and took action. I'm not saying it's easy or that it happens overnight. But noticing, is the first step in changing anything; recognising that you're striving for perfection and acknowledging that it's unachievable. This allowed me to (gradually) come to the realisation that I am enough.
'Owning your shit can be empowering'
I am loud, I can be rude, I can be boastful, I can be messy and selfish, I can be so vicious to my sister, and I am not known for being modest. Despite my knowledge and experience of mental health I still experience my own ups and downs. And despite my depth in knowledge of self-compassion I still think critical thoughts of myself like "you should be able to cope better than this". In the past, I have tried desperately to contain these flaws and I would have DIED if anyone highlighted these things. But I realised over time that this made me unhappy. I wasn't able to be myself whilst I had a box of "shameful" character flaws safely hidden away. Now I know that if someone picks up on a flaw of mine I'm able to say, "Sure. This is me. Here I am".
I think it's important to remember if you are keen to make peace with yourself and own your flaws; It's important to know that not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to think you're a good person. And that's okay. Surround yourself with people who think you're awesome.
Me Also me
Forgive yourself. Allow yourself to be who you really are without trying to achieve the impossible. You deserve to feel good and to be happy and content; you do not need to be punished for not being perfect.
If you live locally and you want to know a bit more about what this topic, feel free to get in touch. If you live far away, let's Skype or Facetime or something.
Over and out.
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