Opinion: Toxic perfectionism — take that break

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After taking a statistics exam freshman year at BYU, my friend looked at me and said she was upset that she had only gotten a 94%. I was baffled. I had gotten a 78% but was glad I hadn’t received a worse grade. I asked her why she was upset when she had received an A. She told me she was upset because she could’ve done better — a 94% wasn’t a perfect grade.

My friends at BYU have told me that some students and members in the Church in general feel constant pressure to always excel in every aspect including schoolwork, relationships, careers, parenting and religious affiliations.

The scripture in Matthew 5:48 reads “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Some members take this literally, thinking they have to be perfect in whatever they do because that is what God expects of them, assuming He only expects perfection and nothing less.

“Excelling in all areas of performance is a trap for perfectionists. They believe that unless they do well in every area of their lives, they are inadequate and unworthy,” said psychologist Marleen Williams in a BYU Counseling and Psychological Services article.

This mindset transfers over to not only religious pursuits, but also in mundane and daily tasks — in raising children, in schoolwork, in relationships with peers and family members and in careers. I’ve also had moments where I felt I couldn’t cut out toxic friendships and relationships in my life because that would mean I failed. Cutting out people meant I was one more giant step away from reaching perfection.

Many times I have gotten down on myself for making small mistakes, or for not receiving the grade that I could have gotten.

Some people are afraid to even try new things, tackle a new assignment or study because they fear they’ll do poorly, so they don’t even try. Williams said the most common attitude within Church members is the all-or-nothing attitude. “Perfectionists see themselves either as successes or failures with no in-between,” she said. “They forget that growth occurs ‘line upon line and precept upon precept.’” 

I had a friend who was brilliant, but stopped trying in school. She stopped trying because she asked, “What is the point of even trying if I’m just going to mess up or not do as well on my assignments?”

I wish I could have told her back then that trying is all that matters. We shouldn’t focus so much on the end result, but rather on the small things you can do day by day.

What people fail to realize is that God doesn’t love His children because they’re already perfect, but He loves His children because they are imperfect. He loves His children for their efforts in becoming better people, and He definitely does not expect all of His children to become perfect overnight.

It took me several years to realize that getting good grades, having a perfect relationship with my boyfriend or being a perfect member weren’t the only goals I should have been focusing on. I had turned down good opportunities and fun experiences along the way because I was obsessed with focusing on only achieving success and being “perfect” in any way possible.

The whole point of college is to try new things, to be pushed out of your comfort zone, to meet new people and to find yourself. This might sound cliche, but college isn’t just only about getting grades or being as sinless as possible; it’s about finding joy in small moments every single day.

College isn’t a competition. It’s not about who can accomplish the most things in the shortest amount of time; everyone has their own timeline. Trust in your own timeline and follow what you think is right.

I wish someone would have told me back when I was a freshman that it’s OK to mess up, it’s OK to not get straight A’s on every exam and it’s OK to not always go, go, go — that it’s definitely OK to stop sometimes and take that break when you need it.

For those who are coming back to school or are attending BYU for the first time — you do not need to be perfect to be considered worthwhile or to get someone’s attention, especially God’s. God does not expect you to be perfect — he expects you to try your best, in whatever capacity that might be.

Don’t ever let yourself believe that you are less because you get a grade you didn’t expect or because you can’t constantly be on the go. If you need to take a break for your mental health, take it. Go on a walk, spend time with friends or do things that help you relax. God loves you for who you are, and there is no need to try to be someone who you aren’t. Enjoy your college experience. Find what makes you happy, and hold on to that.

Williams said it is not required that we develop a fullness of all gifts in this life. “Understanding the difference between a healthy quest for wholeness, growth, and development, as opposed to a frantic drive for perfectionism and absolutely flawless performance, is important in good mental health.”

Focus on your well-being and mental health, take a break and get the help if you need it. God is rooting for you and wants you to be happy more than anything else.

— Kristine Kim
Copy Editor

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