Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, German Philosopher (1844 – 1900)
When I received the diagnosis from the test I was somewhat bemused and a little confused. I was found to have two characteristic traits on a scale determined by the psychological academic community; they were: “high perfection” and “high inner critical voice.” These findings came from left field: my therapist had previously referred me to a website run by an institute focused on mental illness connected to a reputable university. The website had a 2 hour quiz with a very intricate and had a specific set of questions asking about my thoughts around certain situations and attitudes towards certain circumstances. The findings were an eye opener and began a journey of self exploration and understanding.
* * *
Everyone lives their lives in their own bubble of reality. Everyone has their own perspectives and opinions, their own way of doing things, their own way of seeing the world, their own way of feeling pleasure and pain. In each bubble there are common ‘recipes’ for particular perspectives. For example, people who belong to the same religion would have a similar set of foundational beliefs as the common ‘recipe.’ Like any recipe, you can diverge and change it to your own taste and creativity, people’s perspectives will also diverge from the root beliefs.
The perfectionism bubble has many core characteristics, one of which is the eternal pursuit of perfection. There are positive and negative outcomes of cooking up the recipe for perfectionism: it drives strong ambition, the striving to reach goals but it can also lead to unrealistic goals being set, unhappiness, anxiety, depression and possibly even suicide.
In my bubble, I had truly thought that I was happy. I believed I was a happy, successful, efficient and productive person and I regarded the periodic depression as “normal” and systemic of my own doing and a consequence to my success. I had accepted it as a natural flow of life – when it really isn’t. Success and happiness isn’t balanced out with failure and disappointment – it isn’t yin and yang or good and evil. In the end I was so guilt ridden from my small successes I felt that I deserved the pain and suffering.
* * *
When family or friends who knew of my plight tried to console me, help me and advise me when I was in the darkest recesses of my mind. But they will never know the anguish and angst I’ve been through. If only they can walk in my shoes.
They try to empathise and make me feel better.
“I also feel sad at times.”
“You can’t always be happy.”
“Look at my life, I’ve been through a lot of (insert unhappy events here). You’ve achieved so much: (insert stuff I’ve achieved).”
“You have so many more opportunities. You are luckier than (insert story of a person or family living in a third world country).”
They will never truly understand.
* * *
What is the secret to freeing yourself from perfectionism? There are no real secrets; just a series of steps which I discovered really helped me out in my own journey. It is all about consistency in applying the solution, creating new habits. Easily said than done as for perfectionists, everything is working against them especially when they are in their neurotic and depressive stages. With high expectations to succeed in everything – even in trying to solve the problem of perfectionism: I too fallen in the trap of getting agitated and disappointed when seeing no progress.
I had an obsession for self-help books and I still do read the occasional book to expand my wisdom and perspective. If the book was about business, finance, happiness, efficiency, ambition or goal-setting I would have read it and even own a copy. Self-help books have a purpose to serve, it provides food for people who are curious, who want more in life and targeted at those who are seeking to plug a gap in their lives. A lot of self-help book wisdom is common sense but I’ve found that reading the books helps me understand and see concepts from a slightly different viewpoint.
This book is by definition a self-help book. I hope it does help you in finding happiness or in helping others find happiness in their own lives.
* * *
Watch your thoughts for they become words.
Watch your words for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
And watch your character for it becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.
— Different versions attributed to many: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lao Tzu, Frank Outlaw, Gautama Buddha, and the father of Margaret Thatcher.
Learn more about the Perfectionism Book Project here.
This is the “Prologue” Chapter from Overcoming Perfectionism: Defeat Depression & Embrace Mindfulness by Gerald Pappas. Copyright Gerald Pappas © 2015. All rights reserved.