Great expectations: ‘The quest for perfection has cannibalised my identity’
You need to practice self-compassion,” my psychologist says to me. This is our sixth session, and, as per usual, he is struggling to find a phrase, a point – anything – that will help me move past the need to seek perfection in every part of my life.
“Yes, but how?” I ask, again. We talk about the usual techniques: not beating yourself up when you think you’ve failed; not automatically falling into a vortex of self-loathing at minor rejections.
“This experience does not reflect on you as a person,” he repeats, explaining that what I perceive as abject failure is a mere blip on the horizon, a simple fact of life.
I listen hard, I really do. I understand everything he says on an intellectual level, and I want to stop this ever-present stream of self-criticism before it gets too late.
The problem is the quest for perfection has cannibalised my identity.
Perfectionism is a personality trait, but psychologists classify it as a risk factor for a host of disorders, including (but not limited to) obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, social anxiety, social phobia, body dysmorphic disorder and workaholism.
It also confounds treatment. Dr Simon Sherry, a Canadian neuroscience professor and clinical psychologist, tells me perfectionists make for very difficult patients. “It can sabotage treatment at every level.”