As a teenager, perfectionism was the quality I was always advised to respond with when asked what my weaknesses were in job interviews.
It is said to be a blessing in disguise, because it is a good thing to always strive for more; for bigger and for better, right?
I’m telling you this as someone who is their own worst critic, and as someone who feels guilty about everything as a consequence.
Guilt is not always a bad thing. It can help us be more responsible and considerate people, because it is an indication that we understand that our behaviour has an impact on those around us. But I’ve come to realise that most of my anxiety stems from feeling like I’m not good enough. Every mistake I make is a fresh opportunity for my brain to torture itself over not being good enough. Not a good enough daughter. Not a good enough sister. Granddaughter. Girlfriend. Employee. Friend. Person. The list goes on. And above all – not good enough at juggling being all of these things at once.
Guilt comes along with these feelings of inadequacy by the bucket load.
My assumptions about what constitutes a mistake are twisted. Somehow I see the feelings, faults and problems of others as my responsibility, and it’s always my fault whenever things go wrong. Let’s take a look at some of my thought processes up close:
- My brother has been struggling to find a job. I blame myself, because I’m not around to help him with his job applications as much as I should be. This means I’m not a good enough sister. Guilty.
- When I’m with my mum, I feel bad for not being with my dad. When I’m with my dad, I feel bad for not being with my mum. I feel bad when I’m not with either of them when I’m with my friends. My guilt is even worse when I think oh my god, I wish I could just be alone today. I feel guilty for not sending my grandma enough letters. I feel bad when I forget to text my boyfriend back. I feel guilty for not telling those I love that they’re appreciated enough. In simple terms: I don’t feel I give anyone in my life as much attention and support as they deserve.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
It’s good to want to be better for yourself and for others; but there comes a point where you have to stop living for other people. You have to stop torturing yourself and understand that you can’t be responsible for other people’s happiness. You can’t always solve the problems of others, and you can’t always make your loved ones feel better – but this is no reflection on yourself, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. In reality, most folk are pretty resilient – they are responsible for their own lives and they can look after themselves.
The cheesy truth is that there’s no such thing as the perfect daughter, girlfriend, friend. We’re only human, and we can only do our best. Sometimes it’s good enough, sometimes it’s not: but what isn’t helpful is feeling guilty about it all the time and constantly apologising just for being.
This is a lesson I’ve revised over and over again, but the notes never seem to go in. Needless to say, I’ve never passed the exam. It’s like anything. For something to stick it needs to be said over and over again.
Going forwards I’m going to be kinder to myself. I’m going to try to change my thought processes for the better. This starts by understanding when it is healthy to strive for better, and when the need for perfection is actually making you miserable. Most of all, I’m trying to tell myself more often: I’m only human – I’m doing my best, and that should enough.