Lynda* 22, struggles with perfectionist tendencies. She talks about recognising how her high expectations negatively affect her life and relationships, and how her fear of admitting her imperfection prevents her from seeking professional help.
This is Lynda’s story, as told to Boluwatife
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On paper, I’m the perfect employee. I easily tick off most job requirement boxes. “Keen attention to details”? Check. “Able to take ownership at all times”? Double check. Everyone wants the diligent “perfectionist” on their team, but perfectionism is ruining my life.
No, I don’t have a professional diagnosis yet, but every psychological book and resource I’ve read points to me as the poster child of this “condition”. Is it too perfectionist of me to say I don’t need a therapist to tell me something I already know I have?
I should start by saying I’ve also been an introvert for as long as I can remember, and I think this is related to my desire for perfection. For someone born to two extroverts, I wonder if my tendency to stay on my lane results from a lifetime of trying to keep up with parents who always needed to be out there. I’m an only child, and it always felt like the burden rested on me to strike a balance between my usually loud parents.
I don’t know which came first — introversion or perfectionism, but from my primary school days, I remember staying back in my classroom, while my mates went crazy on the swings, to arrange notes or just sit quietly to avoid staining my white socks. Teachers loved me and even encouraged others to be as put together as I was.
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But now that I’m older, I struggle to even like myself. I just have to be in control of everything. Trusting others to do something as well as I’d do it is extremely difficult. I overthink and hardly ask for help, even when it’s completely legitimate. I work in HR, but my workplace is a startup, which means duties overlap a lot and there’s no clear role distinction, especially for me. TBH, I’m the main cause of this situation. Let me explain.
Recently, our content marketing executive resigned, and I was tasked with recruiting to fill up the role. I was meant to interview candidates with the soon-to-be-ex executive and just submit the names to our boss. I ended up also making the exiting employee hand over and explain all his duties and processes to me so I could provide answers to the new employee if he had questions. I even recorded the hand-over sessions and created spreadsheets to document the entire content process. This took three weeks.
My health suffered because I hardly slept during that period. I’d rather throw sleep away than let my work suffer, so my work rate was still impeccable. I was a star employee to my bosses, but my teammates just think I’m an oversabi — which I totally am. I’m almost always burned out at work. It’s not that I like work. I’m just allergic to mistakes.
I can confidently say I remember almost every mistake I’ve ever made. For perfectionists, making mistakes isn’t a “normal human experience”. It’s a sin worse than eating eba with a fork. My brain never lets me forget exactly how I messed up. It doesn’t matter that it’s something that may have been beyond my control. My perfect self should just have known better.
My relationships? If there were a level lower than being in the streets, I’d be there. When I want to make myself feel better about the sorry state of my relationships, I blame introversion. But even I know when I’m simply lying to myself.
I have just a handful of slightly close friends — exactly four of them. And the fact that they’ve stayed around for more than two years is nothing short of a miracle and sheer will on their part. I’m a pain to be around. Remember when I said my brain constantly judges me when I make a mistake? Well, that’s how I judge the people around me too.
I’m the worst person to discuss boy-girl relationship problems with because I’ll call out what I perceive to be weaknesses or mistakes. I remember a friend I almost made in 2019, my final year in university. We were classmates but never had any reason to be close. Not surprising because I hardly talked to people, but I knew she wanted to be my friend. People tend to want to befriend the class efiko.
We got paired, along with other students, for a group assignment, and we somehow hit it off. Well, until she complained to me about her boyfriend withdrawing her money with her ATM card. I didn’t hold back and told her in clear terms she’d made a silly mistake letting him know her pin in the first place. How could she trust a boyfriend with that? I forced her to call him, and I gave him a good talking to, even threatened to call the police. They eventually settled, and I stopped talking to her. Obviously, she had bad judgment, and I couldn’t handle that.
I have certain expectations of my relationships with friends and family. How they should understand my thoughts, the right words I want to hear at certain times and other annoying rubbish like that. When they do things contrary to what I expect, my mind goes, “How do you not know this is the right thing to do?” at the same time that a little voice tells me, “They’re not wizards for Chrissakes!”
I try to be reasonable — even when my head tells me my way of doing things is the most reasonable way — and other times, I judge and react. I don’t want to be a horrible person, but most times, I just can’t help it.
I’ve been in three relationships since I turned 20, and though two ended due to cheating, and the last, when he japa without telling me, 90% of the fights within the relationships were linked to them not meeting my expectations, spoken or not. After every fight, I’d lock up until they gave in and apologised or agreed with my points. I just had to be right.
I recently confided in one of my four friends about my struggles with perfection. She believes that since I recognise just how much perfectionism harms me, I’m already on the path to becoming better, but I struggle to believe her.
Is your personality something you can just turn on and off at will? I may gather the courage to visit a therapist soon. I’ve not done so yet because having a professional confirm I’m flawed and not the perfect person I think I am is a scary prospect. I may damn the consequences one day. But before then, I have to figure out how to take every day one at a time and try not to push people out of my life each day.
*Subject’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
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