Confessions Of A Perfectionist

Ayla is 20-years-old and is studying Screenwriting and Film Studies. Ayla decided to get involved with Student Life to share her experiences to help others and due to her passion for writing.

perfectionist, perfectionism.

We all know perfectionists; I am one of them. As I write this article, the tendencies are gnawing at me; rewriting, deleting, doubting. It’s a vicious cycle. There are many like me; Stanley Kubrick shot a take for The Shining over 127 times; F. Scott Fitzgerald redrafted his novels by unfathomable amounts; Beethoven rewrote entire sections of his symphonies. As these examples show, perfectionism can produce beautiful things, but it can be extremely debilitating. By psychologists, perfectionism is understood as a personality trait. Usually, it is a characteristic that derives from other mental disorders; depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and eating disorders. To society, perfectionism is associated with positive attributes; like a strong work-ethic, but enough can never simply be enough for a perfectionist.

As you can imagine, dealing with perfectionism is extremely difficult in a University environment. For someone who aspires to be a writer, it is even harder. There is a great sense of inadequacy for the individual; constantly feeling as though they are not good enough, or that the success they have had is a fluke. I recognised the severity of my problem when it took me over a week to write a sentence in an essay. Or when I rewrote my screenplay five times in one day instead of going out with my friends. Often, the anxiety of failure is paramount to completing the task, leading to excessive amounts of time on a project. It might sound absurd, but it is a very real phenomenon.

Since coming across this quote from the novelist John Steinbeck, I have attempted to change my mindset towards perfectionism

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”.

This outlines everything the perfectionist fears: perfection does not equate to positivity. By setting myself small targets, this has decreased my anxiety levels. Just by speaking to someone, breaking my work into manageable pieces, and allowing myself time to relax has been highly effective in reevaluating how I view perfection. Though I would not want to rid myself of my perfectionism, it can be dealt with in a healthy way.

"I'm a bit of a perfectionist"

Written by Carole Thain

How often do you hear someone say that? Have you perhaps ever said it yourself?  I know I have. It is really quite natural to want to please and do things well, we learn this behaviour from a very early age.  Also perfectionism can sometimes seem like a positive trait so we may seek to try and achieve it.  

The reality though is that this may lead to putting ourselves under a lot of pressure, trying to please too many people and do absolutely everything to an impeccably high standard is almost often going to be impossible and may not be good for our mental or physical health over a long period of time. So the downside of seeking perfectionism is that this could lead to thoughts and behaviour that may actually prevent us achieving, and instead give us a sense of failure, low self-esteem and even make us feel stressed.

At Suffolk Mind we always talk about the difference between stretch and stress. One of our key emotional needs that must be met to stay well is achievement: we need to feel that we are developing our skills and knowledge, even in small ways, to stretch ourselves. This is qualitatively different to stress.

Whereas being stretched – challenged in ways that give us a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives – can help us to thrive and succeed, stress can leave us feeling uncomfortable and overwhelmed, and even feelings of being useless as we fail to achieve the almost impossible goals we set ourselves. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having high standards and having a sense of pride in ourselves and the work that do. We do need to remember though that nobody can be perfect all the time or be the best at everything. We all make mistakes and get things wrong sometimes, we are human after all. Think also of all the positive qualities you have and celebrate the things you have achieved and that you are good at doing.

If you are keen to know more about taking care of your mental health and wellbeing you might like to join our Friends of Suffolk Mind network.  It’s free and simple to join, all you have to do is take our pledge and commit to looking after your own mental wellbeing and help to promote the importance of this to others.  For more information visit our website -