For most of my life I’ve been a perfectionist. I was a (mostly) straight-A student with honors, meticulous in my writing and my art projects, incapable of letting myself make mistakes. Perfectionism held me back because it kept me afraid of failing.
Failing was simply never an option. Failing told me that I couldn’t do anything right. I kept telling myself that there was no room for failure. When I did make a mistake or fell short of expectations I told myself “you can’t do anything right.”
The Anti-Mantra: You Can’t Do Anything Right
Imagine telling yourself that anti-mantra for years, from middle-school all the way through your twenties. Imagine believing so deeply that success was based on the percentage of failure as measured against the percentage of perfectionism. It made it hard to celebrate other people’s success because their achievement was one more goal to reach. I was jealous of everyone who was better than me at anything, even if I had no talent in that arena at all. I was envious of their talent, their looks, their luck, their success – there simply wasn’t room for joy or contentment because I was in constant competition with myself and everyone I knew. I was mad at perfect strangers for accomplishing things I had no realistic hope of accomplishing. I was just mad that it wasn’t me.
The anti-mantra “you can’t do anything right” quickly morphed into “you can’t do anything,” which eventually became: “you’re worthless. Why bother?”
Worthlessness lifted a little when I made accomplishments. With every thing I did right, the value scale tipped in my favor. When I made a mistake, the whole delicate balance came crashing down. I honestly had no self-awareness of how toxic this mindset was until my late twenties. I knew something was wrong with how I viewed myself, but I couldn’t pinpoint it and I certainly didn’t know how to change. I didn’t even consider that I might have anxiety until I went to my primary care physician and just blurted it out when she asked if I had any other concerns.
And she listened.
Actively Pursuing Anxiety, Symptoms, & Positive Thinking
My doctor recommended counseling, but being the stubborn person I was (am), I chose not to pursue the avenue at that time. Since my doctor is great and could see that counseling was not an option, she recommended some books and told me to contact her if I felt like it was getting worse.
So I started actively paying attention to my anxiety. I began by recognizing my anxiety for what it was and by naming it. I allowed myself to feel the emotions instead of numbing them. I began countering the negativity with positive thinking. I read Scripture and prayed fiercely. I found that once I began this process, I couldn’t hold it all in anymore. Worse, I couldn’t seem to stop crying. I remember going to the altar at church one Sunday and giving it to God, even though I didn’t know what “it” all entailed. All I knew was that I couldn’t handle living with such a high-level of anxiety anymore.
I began researching practical ways to combat negativity: creating a positivity wall, writing Scripture on sticky notes and plastering them all over the house, listening to Christian music, fine-tuning my social media feeds to only include positive people, learning how to set boundaries, and learning how to say “no” and letting myself say it. I also researched the science behind the wiring in our brains and what happens to our brains and bodies when we experience anxiety and stress.
What I Learned
I learned to accept myself for who I am in the moment and that my anxiety doesn’t define me. Experiencing emotions, having panic attacks, letting things be out of my control – these are all things I’ve had to come to terms with and surrender. These moments of imperfection exist because I am not a perfect person. No one is. I am embracing the messiness that is my life and my heart because it’s a testament to a life that is lived. I am alive and I am here and I am doing the best I can.
How Can You Let Go of Perfection?
- First, I am not a doctor or mental health care professional. If you think you have anxiety or another mental health issue, speak with your doctor. While I didn’t pursue counseling right away, I eventually decided to find a therapist to help with some reoccurring issues.
- Research – Start by reading up on anxiety and how stress affects us. I personally felt validated for my anxiety when I could read and understand what’s going on in my brain on a basic, scientific level.
- Find positive people and find out what they’re doing to keep the negativity at bay. Copy their habits.
- Take everything in small steps and/or multiple steps, because you never know what may work.
- Invite someone trusted into this journey.
- Be messy on purpose – and practice telling yourself it’ll be okay.
- Prayerful surrender – God is the Healer, after all. Scripture tells us to give Him our anxiety and burdens and that He cares for the brokenhearted. He listens to you and He loves you.
- Learn how to place boundaries and practice setting them – this is something I’ve been working on in the past year, not just because of Covid, but because I’ve finally accepted that I get to decide how to spend my time.
- Learn your triggers and form a plan on how to deal with those should they arise. Mine are grocery stores and large gatherings.
- Be willing to walk away from something that isn’t working. Not everything works for everyone. Something that helps ease anxiety this month might not be as effective a few months from now. Be flexible. It’s okay.