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Chasing Perfection

We meet the embarrassment of failure at a rather young age and codify success as not making any mistakes. Our flaws and shortcomings are criticized by others, first and foremost, by our family. Almost all of us have found ourselves being compared to others and forced to behave better by our parents and trying to adopt the characteristics and behaviours of people held in admiration. In our childhood, a period during which we feel the most vulnerable and defenceless against criticism, we try to deal with the feeling of embarrassment by being a “well-behaved kid.” We think about what people want to see and decide to be that; below this urge lies the desire to be strong, smart, attractive, or good enough to be loved. This is how our struggle begins to find favour in people’s eyes in that perfection.

A Quest Rooted In Childhood

Before everyone else, we want our parents to love us, and we desire to be their favorited. People whose needs for love, appreciation, and acceptance weren’t fulfilled during childhood often develop a sense of being neglected and worthlessness. Let’s think about the first relationships in which we create a bond with authority figures, like teachers. Children who are pressured under authority make a bigger effort to satisfy others. When we try to define and to evaluate ourselves through others, we channel our power outward and start making an effort to be perfect in the eyes of others. We become afraid of making a mistake for fear of being scolded and of taking initiative for fear of not being accepted. We lose our self-confidence because we believe we’re not good enough. The behavioural tendencies we exhibit throughout life are filtered by how things should be under the influence of parental schemes and culture, in the mental records kept since our childhood. Among the questions of “Who am I?” or “How/Who should I be?” an image is shaped by how we wish to manifest ourselves or to become. However, we start suffering when this identity isn’t realized. Suffering can be defined by general negative feelings such as emotions of anxiety, anger, guilt, or embarrassment when we’re not desired. We strive to become the person our parents want us to be because we don’t want to experience this suffering. This instinct to please others and to be perfect becomes the whisper of a quest for perfection when it makes us live a life we don’t want. Although the effort to make others happy stems from our need to find a safe place to take shelter, we’re often left alone while looking for perfection. It’s because the quest for perfection, at its deepest essence, is about not being sure of ourselves. People who describe themselves as “perfectionists” worry that they’re not good enough. Due to this deep fear, they try to look perfect for the sake of protecting themselves. This is where the dilemma lies as we try to defend our inadequacies with a shield of perfection, which, over time, turn into complexes of perfectionism. On the other hand, being perfect, in pursuit of our best selves, is not possible.

Think about how we react when we turn this into a race, when we’re not good enough, or we believe that we will never succeed. Can we push on? We act like a kid, who believes that he’ll never succeed in class, accepts that he’ll never gain the favour of his parents and stops studying altogether. Unless we regard our best efforts to be good enough or accept “good enough” as a success, we’re bound to experience questioning, lack of motivation, procrastination, inclination to addiction, and depression. Try to see the similarities between children, who focus on activities that fulfil their desires and urges (such as gaming) in this state of carelessness, and adults, who become addicted to their wishes and needs when they cannot deal with their feelings. The search for a sense of comfort often takes us to our desires. Who knows, maybe what we’re looking for is the perfect environment of the womb? Imitating the constant temperature of the womb at 36.5 degrees Celsius, we always look for this perfection in our relationship with others and the spaces we’re in, never to find it. This quest is a lifelong fantasy of perfection. This desire for perfection, which is mistakenly expected to bring peace when attained, is in fact a defence mechanism. In situations where the bonds of a relationship grow weak or break and when life gets tough or unlucky, i.e. in situations of uncertainty and anxiety which cannot be controlled by us, we idealize what’s perfect as a defence mechanism and enter a state of delusion which is as futile as dreaming of immortality. When we find ourselves within this cycle, the only thing we need to remember is that the quest for perfection doesn’t have a “saturation point.” Relationships, professional lives, family ties, or financial means which have become like items on a to-do list - whatever it is you want it to be perfect, when you reach that point, you’ll certainly find a new quest because it’s merely that. In order to end this quest, we need to find ourselves. Oscar Wilde underlined the importance of authenticity and the awareness of being our own selves when he said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Each moment we’re unaware of who we are, we define ourselves through an other. But, what if it’s enough for us to just be ourselves? What can we really control by being a perfectionist? I wish us all a happy life in which we can embrace the flaws that make us who we are.


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