and slowly die inside.
I am a self destructive perfectionist. It doesn’t matter how hard I tried or if it’s any good, it’s always going to be crap. It will never be perfect. I froze when writing my thesis because it felt like anything I did would be crap; so it was better if I did nothing. I use write a column, and then stopped because I couldn’t take the stress of making errors. I couldn’t deal with other people seeing my errors. I often freeze at my job because I just can’t let myself fail. It feels like impending doom. I should get it right on the first try because it has to be perfect.
I was so frozen, that it would take me over two hours to write a short email. Writing an email could be a whole day project. Even weeks, because I’d put it off because the email would never be good enough.
If life was a videogame self destructive perfectionism is like that boss fight where one shot from the boss kills you. It’s stressful, so instead of trying, I avoid it. I stopped writing, I stopped making, because I couldn’t deal with the failure.
This logic is flawed.
One of the reasons I started writing under another name was to give myself permission to fail. Not Bad for a Robot is allowed to make mistakes. In real life, I have never allowed myself to fail. Every failure, and perceived failure felt like disaster. It wasn’t that there was a grammatical error, I used the wrong ‘there’ or forgot an article, I was a horrible person and that’s why I made those errors.
As a teacher I constantly re-assure students that failure is expected. That it’s okay. It’s part of the process. But I have so much difficultly failing.
How does this happen?
Part of it is that no matter what I did, I was always terrible. If it was my first attempt I’d get anxious because I needed to be at an expert level on the first try. People would tease me if I did things wrong. Or say condescending things like “we know how hard this is for you.” I remember sending articles I had recently published in a real magazine, and immediately my family wouldn’t comment on the content but say “oh, you spelt this wrong.”
I’d show my art work and someone would say ‘Oh but you should have hung the work like this.” “It would be better if you did that.” “I didn’t like that you used this filter.”
My thesis was “You are a terrible writer.” I ask what I did wrong. “You can’t fix it, you are simply terrible, that’s just how you write.”
The examples are endless.
It’s those comments. I never really got the positive feedback. It was always the bad pointed out. So you stop seeing the good, because it’s never acknowledged.
Now when people tell me positives about my work, I basically stare at the blankly because I see all the flaws. I see what I could have done better. I can’t believe the good. One of my exs thought they could solve this problem by complimenting me all the time, and all it did was make me feel worse. I thought they were lying and trying to put even more expectations on me.
Now what do you do about it?
It’s like exposure therapy. To write, I started writing under another name. I as I said, I’m okay with Not bad for a Robot making mistakes.
Compliments are really hard. I’ve put it on an auto reply where I say ‘Thank you.” and then I try not to think about it. I found that compliments with evidence are easier to accept. e.g There’s a pile of bricks stacked and some one says “You did a lot of work.” and there’s physical evidence that a lot was done. So it must be true.
I’m using evidence in the gym. I’ll be running and I’ll say “Now do 10 seconds more, Now another 10, see you did that 20, let’s see if you can 30. See you didn’t think you could do another, but you did it. etc See you did it, you ran for 5 minutes. You went further than you though you could”
This is easier for me to accept than “You are great!” “You are a fitness master!”
It’s small enough that I can accept that it’s true. I did run that 5 minutes. I did that.
What I am doing is taking that kind of thinking and transferring it to other skills.
I’m scared of working on a new art work.
I asked myself to write down ideas. I gave myself an amount of time to tolerate (distress tolerance skills!) the fear of failure. I found I quickly worked for an hour even though I said I’d only try working for a minute.
I also re-labeled the art work as a prototype and an experiment because those things are allowed to be failures. Art isn’t suppose to fail.
I tell myself: It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to make mistakes. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to get done. If you make a mistake, be accountable and responsible and it will be okay.
If I assure myself enough, maybe I can re-program my brain to believe it.
It’s a battle, but I’m slowly getting things done.