Growing up, I had to choose between being hurt for being too good or being hurt for not being good enough. There was no in between; those were my only options. So I chose to be perfect. It probably helped that I was born with relatively high intelligence, which allowed me to succeed academically with very little, if any, effort.

But it still ended up hurting me. Being perfect was viewed as an insult in my family. Being perfect meant that I thought that I was better than them. How could I have the audacity to think I was better than anyone, especially them? It made my parents angry, and they took that anger out on me. I could never take pleasure in an achievement; it ended up resulting in more pain.

I held on to perfection like it were a life raft, saving me from drowning. It’s the only thing I had in my life that gave me any sense of worth. Other people would tell me how intelligent I was, how much potential I had, how much talent I possessed. I needed that because it gave my life meaning.

Unfortunately, my need for perfection has hindered me in the long run. If I am not perfect, I feel worthless. I cannot bask in many of my achievements if I know I could have done better. I hold myself to (at times) impossibly high standards.

This was exemplified recently when I took the GRE. I told my therapist the unofficial raw scores I received, completely lacking any enthusiasm about them. I was such a mess when I took the exam that I knew, in my belief, that I had done poorly. My tremendous headache (self-induced) and lack of sleep just ruined everything for me.

“I know students that would be thrilled to have GRE scores anywhere close to yours.”

“But they’re not good enough.”

“You can get in to any school with scores like those.”

“But they’re not perfect.”

On some level, I knew my therapist was right. But I was so mad at myself because I didn’t get that perfect score. I could have slept longer. I could have not gone crazy and banged my head the day before. I could have eaten breakfast. I could have done better than I did. I need to be perfect or I’m not good enough.

So when any other person would be ecstatic with those scores, I could not take any kind of pleasure in what was, in reality, a considerable achievement. I talked about it as if I were talking about cloudy weather.

I also think my previous graduate school experience has hampered my academic outlook in general. I can no longer get excited about anything because no matter what I did before, I ended up not being good enough for the program. If I don’t get excited, I won’t be as hurt in the end when it doesn’t work out. It’s a twisted form of self-protection.

As a child, I held on to hope that perfection would save me. It never did. So why do I still need it in order to feel like I’m worth something?

3 thoughts on “Perfection

  1. Hello KJ,

    Yes, we have this in common. academics and even being better than them was worth it because it made us worth it. It meant something and so did the life. It was a way out but its’ no escape from our own minds.

    I’m sorry they hurt you. You are good enough to exist.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. So, KJ, I had a very similar experience with a grad school admission test. It was in another city so I had to stay at my natal family’s house the night before. No $ for a hotel. There was a bed but they said it wasn’t worth disturbing it for one night so I slept on a wood floor. I didn’t actually sleep. I just cried, you know.
    The next day I cried through the whole test. Examiners came up and asked if I was Ok. I just went on, feeling like a monkey throwing darts. I had no sense that I understood anything. {Whoa, now I know there was some huge dissociation going on there…}
    So then the result came and I got a nearly perfect score.
    And I did get in to the top schools.
    And STILL, 3 decades later, feel agony that that score was not perfect.
    So, WHY?? I think the not perfect scores showed everyone in the world what a fraud and a failure I was. [as I was treated at home – useless, ugly, should be dead] So it still hurts. And, yeah, I made it through that great grad program and had a fabulously successful career, from which I recently retired to be a grandmother.
    And it still hurts.
    I send soft hugs to your little ones who still believe the lies they were told. You are just as pretty and wonderful and lovable and loving as the other girls were.You just had a shit family. xoxoxox TS

    Liked by 1 person

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