(Perceived) Perfection Casualty

A large part of struggling with perfectionism is the idea that others expect you to be perfect as well. Perceived perfection occurs when you believe people will not love and accept you as a flawed and vulnerable human being. Many of the flaws that make me feeling comfortable include: expressing anger, expressing sadness, and expressing fear. I've always hated expressing anger towards people because I correlate anger with aggression. While I was in school, we discussed the emotions that people often associate with "masculine" traits, with anger being one of them. Although there are times when I want to shout, curse someone out, or throw a dish across the room, I instead find ways to express my anger quietly. By doing so, I've realized I also minimize myself and create less "negative energy" and space. More often than not, I hate the idea of how looking angry may appear to others as well. Will I be labeled as a "hot head"? Will people fear confrontations with me because of how I may react? Instead, I quietly deal with my disappointments and anger towards people by internalizing it. The problem with this is that you may find yourself shifting the blame of your anger towards yourself and never really dealing with what caused you to feel that way in the first place.

Expressing sadness has been a fear of mine for many reasons. Growing up in a religious (and super Nigerian) family, sadness almost becomes a taboo emotion to express. The idea that the Lord is constantly watching over you and showing favor to you despite circumstances in life is enough for you to feel thankful. It wasn't until I was in my Master's program that I became more accepting of feeling sadness and embracing it as an emotion that keeps me grounded. I've struggled with depression on and off for over a decade. As a result, sadness and disappointment have almost become feelings that are most familiar to me. I feared expressing moments when I felt sadness because the label of being a "Debbie Downer" or someone that others would not want to be around haunted me. I did not want to lose my friends or the closeness they felt they shared with me due to my dark emotions. As a result, I began to associated sadness with shame, I felt ashamed when I felt sad and depressed because externally, no one could see why I had any reason to feel this way. 

Fear is another tough emotion to express because it is often associated with self-esteem. My fear of failure, my fear of how people perceive me, my fear of whether my family or friends were proud of me, my fear of expressing vulnerability in relationships often kept me from experiencing happiness. I could not stop and appreciate the milestones in my life because I feared at any moment, it could be taken away or destroyed. I feared sharing my authentic self with people I care about because I fear that the person they've gotten to know is not the person I truly am. My biggest fear is often that showing my vulnerability and flaws will push people away from me and cause them to pity or despise me.

Perfectionism Casualty

For pretty much as long as I can remember, my primary drive was to be as "perfect" as possible. In hindsight, I can definitely correlate the level of confidence I was feeling at any point in my life to my drive to achieve some level of perfection. To me, perfectionism means to be as far from failure and mistakes as possible. In my early years, perfection came in the form of performing well academically. I knew all the courses to take, all the extra-curricular activities to participate in, and all the awards to collect in order to feel like I was making my parents proud. More than anything else, I craved validation from my parents and beat myself up whenever I failed to be "perfect" for them. It seems as though from an early age, I taught myself to seek validation from the people around me through the "things" I did or could do for them, rather than simply live for myself.

The problem with perfectionism is that it is like running a race where the finish line constantly moves further from you, no matter how close you seem to crossing it. It's an incredibly frustrating and defeating mindset because often times, the notion of perfection is created entirely on unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves. A few weeks ago, I read a quote that stated, "you are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress". I felt my mind almost having a meltdown trying to process this. It was so simple, yet I've constantly failed to see myself as a "work in progress" because my eye was always on the "masterpiece". 

Thing is, even masterpieces aren't perfect. The pieces of art we laud the most can arguably be critiqued with parts that can be considered "imperfect". The beautiful thing is not the perfection but the efforts by the artist for their creation. During the course of my life, I had created a narrative for myself that my imperfections made me unworthy and flawed. I berated myself and instead of embracing these qualities or learning from them, I simply designed a new target that I could reach that would neutralize these mistakes in order to make myself someone worthy of love, respect, kindness, etc. 

However, like I stated earlier... "perfection" is like a target that moves away the closer you get to it. It's like a mirage in the middle of a desert. It's a beautiful idea, but's it's not real.


Confidence Casualty

There are many beliefs about where our confidence is rooted in our lives. If you ask most people, they will explain that they've been confident their entire lives. From the first step they took as a toddler to the choices and decisions that they've made for themselves as adults, they are rooted in the confidence of who they are and their abilities in life. I've heard frequently that your upbringing also has a lot to do with your confidence regarding yourself. Parents constantly praise you and encourage you to be the best you can be? Well, you are potentially raising the next Michelle Obama, right? What about parents that frequently belittle and ignore their children? Are their children subsequently doomed to become degenerates and delinquents in society?

My own situation is quite different. Growing up, my parents were the type that consciously made sure to encourage me and tell me that I can do whatever I want and that I'm smart, beautiful, and capable of achieving my dreams. Nigerian parents, however tough their parenting can be at times, are experts at extolling upon their children the importance of excellence and speaking positive affirmations upon their lives. Somewhere along the way however, my confidence meter became broken. I constantly questioned myself regarding making decisions, my appearance, my position within my social circle, as well as my own future. I doubted myself regarding almost every area of my life, and constantly toiled with the idea that others saw the same qualities in me as well.

It's amazing how easy it was to create a facade of confidence. The more I doubted myself and felt inadequate, the harder I fought to show externally that everything was perfect and I had "everything under control". People in my lives or I came across would always comment about how confident I appeared and how they envied my ability to make "everything look so easy and flawless". The funny thing is that this was far from the truth that I struggled with internally.

Confidence was deeply affected by my expectations for myself. The further I believed I was from living up to my expectations, the smaller my confidence shrunk. I became in many ways, a casualty of myself due to my confidence (or lack thereof).