I am a recovering perfectionist. A perfectionist is someone who puts unrealistically high standards on themselves with overly critical self-evaluations. Some may project that onto others as well.
I got triggered by my own perfectionism while painting a bird - my second attempt at painting a bird (below). I'd invited constructive feedback by other hobby artists during the process but then I felt my normally low blood pressure rise, I felt angry inside and I felt 'done'. My frustrations came out in scribbling paint over the background and overdoing the highlights as per suggestions. I knew I had to stop.
I have observed many artistic people to have perfectionist traits. I am one of them. Some people will work on their art for weeks and they'll say 'just put it aside and look at it again later.' But then I ended up reworking the background several times, reworking the bird, reworking the foreground. For my own sanity, I need to decide when 'good enough' is 'enough' and just leave it alone, have a break and start a new painting. Start afresh.
Other people have said my painting is beautiful. Other self-critical people will point out what is 'wrong' with it. I am happy with parts of it but am tempted to got back to try to change things. But I've decided I've finished with it. It will never be 'perfect' and I will never be 'perfect'. I was triggered into anger with it and that's not how I want art to be for me. Art is something that helps me relax. It's also helped me to process trauma.
I learned to play piano for years and I used to go back to the beginning and start again if I made a mistake. It took a lot of training to help me to learn to 'bluff' through the mistakes. I ended up preferring an improvising style over classical, as the 'mistakes' can add flavour. I enjoy the experimentation. I think I'm like that with painting as well. I'm not a hyper-realistic painter. I like colour and I capture moods. I liked abstract because I could break rules and the perfectionism would lay dormant.
But then the perfectionism has been coming out when I paint semi-realistic subjects. I fiddle more. I wonder about it looking 'right'. I notice everything that's 'wrong'.
My perfectionism helped me do well in many school and university subjects and in the workplace but then as I had impairment with mental health struggles starting in my late teens, I would feel very alarmed that my brain felt 'broken' and I couldn't retain nor organise information anymore.
After getting As at university for the first two years of a science degree, I had a breakdown in my final year (looking back now it was a combination of my yet to be diagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD. Finally diagnosed in my forties). I couldn't retain information anymore. I reduced my workload and did the bare minimum just because I couldn't function. I got my first Bs. It took me 2 years longer to finish a 3 year degree because I was unwell and wasn't diagnosed.
During that time, I felt like a failure. At other times in my life, I have felt like a failure. Even after achievements such as winning a major prize in an essay competition and winning a business prize for a pet care business I started from scratch (but then later burnt out from). I got distinction in a piano exam and my teacher couldn't understand why I felt depressed. My perfectionism had come back out practising for the exam. I have hardly played piano since.
I have felt like a failure when I couldn't continue with a career in high school teaching, when my marriage broke up and other losses along the way. It's been brutal for my mental health. Deep down I felt like "I" wasn't good enough. Since childhood. It's quite hard to change those patterns. Perfectionism contributed a lot to my depressive episodes - some of it was expectations from others that I could no longer fulfill when I was unwell.
I read that over half of people who commit suicide were described by loved ones as perfectionists. It certainly is a contributing factor in my mental health issues. I feel very anxious with criticism from others. I was told by a psychiatrist that is one of the criteria of my social anxiety disorder. I fear negative evaluation from others. Yet I do it to myself. But I have learned over the years when to stop - good enough is enough.
I am good enough. That is more than enough.
Effects of perfectionism on mental health
I am no longer blogging or vlogging as a mental health and disability advocate. The politics of it is too toxic for me.