Perfectionism + Control
I always thought that being perfect was okay. I thought it was a good thing to be perfect. People would talk about perfectionism as this normal ideal to strive for, but no one could ever quite put the elusive concept into words.
I think I have always struggled with perfectionism and the need to control the world around me. I remember being a little girl and wanting people to like me. I wanted to be perfect and so I controlled my external world when everything seemed chaotic and scary.
I was an anxious kid; always wanting to be off in my own imagination, somewhat terrified of the outside world and often intrinsically in awe of it. When I was a kid, I loved arts and crafts. It was something that my introverted self naturally gravitated toward and I was grateful to have a family that valued creative expression. I found a sense of belonging when I was making art; the opposite feeling I had when I tried to socialize. I was shy as a child. I had a hard time speaking up for myself and an even harder time finding the right words to explain how I was feeling. I either let the world consume me or pass me by, but somewhere in the middle, art was a way for me to express my voice.
As I started to grow, my curiosity for art began to dissipate. High school came around and I wanted to play sports and hang with friends. I stopped making time for arts and crafts and started making time for drinking, parties and self-doubt. This is where the need to be perfect started to amplify. My parents started having trouble in their marriage, my brother was off to college, and I started feeling depressed for the first time in my life. I felt myself gasping for air, and the only thing I thought would breathe life back into me was being perfect.
I focused on having the perfect body. I went through years of controlling what I ate, controlling my exercise routine and controlling my self-image. Social media came along and amplified the need to control my image because there were more people to impress and more people to seek validation from.
Like a friend you know is not good for your health but their presence is comforting because you know them so well, perfectionism seemed to call my name through each cycle in life.
After my older brother died, my grief led me back to art. I started decorating cookies as a way to express what I could not articulate — something my inner child knew well. I was healing, and simultaneously, perfectionism made its presence known again. There was this need to express myself perfectly. The need to control people’s perception of my story. I wanted to be in control of my interactions in person and online because the discomfort of talking about my brother dying was too much for me to digest. As I started to grow my business online, the need to control and to be perfect started to grow. As the number of followers increased, the long nights making elaborate elegant treats started to multiply. The trays of cookies that were “not good enough for Instagram” were thrown in the trash and my camera roll was filled with one hundred photos of the same cake, but not the perfect angle of the cake.
I got to a point in my story where the pain of trying to control the world was too much. The discomfort was too great to continue down that road, so I decided to go inward. I started to do the inner work to really understand my need to control the outside world and why I was striving for perfection.
After slowing my body down and calming my mind, the true healing came. My body was looking outside of myself for love by trying to be perfect because I was not giving myself love. I was looking for someone else to say I was enough, without realizing that someone was me. I was looking to be appreciated. I was looking to be valued. And yet, I did not give that to myself.
Perfectionism will not magically disappear from my body any time soon, or maybe it will not disappear at all. It is a part of me that needs love the most, so how could I possibly ignore it? I need to constantly shower it with love, hold it close and say, “Thank you for showing up, but I do not need you today”.
I still catch myself throughout the day trying to get the perfect photo or create the perfect caption, but the difference is I am aware of it today. I can observe my behavior and realize that it is my body’s way of saying, “Hey sister, I need some extra love right now”.
I am learning how to love myself. I am learning how to be free.