Students address religious perfectionism in panel discussion

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BYU senior Kelsey Mae Nield, center, speaks at the PEN Talks event on Thursday as Taif Almadi, left, and Rand Alrabadi look on. Nield and four other students were panelists as part of the BYUSA Mental Health Matters week, where they answered questions about religious perfectionism. (Gabrielle Shiozawa)

BYUSA hosted a PEN Talks event Thursday on overcoming religious perfectionism to facilitate an open dialogue on mental health. The event was part of the BYUSA Mental Health Matters campaign this week.

The panel consisted of five students from different religious backgrounds, hosted by BYU student Saane Siale and Student Connection and Leadership Center Director Angela Blomquist. The audience sent in anonymous questions for the panel to discuss.

Questions explored the triggers of perfectionism, how to differentiate unrealistically high expectations not being met versus “really messing up,” how family and cultural expectations play a role in expecting perfection, how to combat goals of perfectionism and how BYU students can help each other lessen the burden of perfectionism.

Genetics major Taif Almadi shared experiences from her Muslim upbringing.

“We have this idea in Islam that God will not let you face anything that you’re not physically or mentally capable of, but it doesn’t mean that you have to face it by yourself,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that your capabilities are limited to you by yourself.”

Almadi said that no matter what cultural pressures people face, they need to remember that “nothing is ever going to be enough for people” and there will always be judgement.

“You’re never going to be enough for anyone, so you might as well be enough for yourself,” Almadi said.

BYU student Vibalia Raj addresses the audience during the PEN Talks event on Thursday. Raj and four other students were panelists as part of the BYUSA Mental Health Matters week, where they answered questions about religious perfectionism. (Gabrielle Shiozawa)

When asked about what triggers perfectionism, BYU math major Jon DeAlba said failing little goals, such as not waking up by a certain time, made him feel like an overall failure. DeAlba shared an experience of giving up in a class because he missed one assignment and felt that because he couldn’t get an A, he had already failed.

BYU journalism major Kelsey Mae Nield shared her experience with being unable to serve a mission because of an eating disorder and how her father’s disappointment impacted her desires for perfection.

“Already I don’t feel like enough, and it’s hard when your family doesn’t think you’re enough too,” Nield said.

Nield encouraged parents and Church members to keep their expectations to themselves. She said people should never judge someone else by their standards and said it’s not their place to judge another for their sins.

Vibalia Raj, a BYU biodiversity major, said every day she is on campus she is reminded that she does not belong here. The India native asked the audience to not invalidate others’ struggles by telling them they only complain when they have the courage to be vulnerable with them.

“When it comes to religion, I think we have to dig a little bit deeper into the idea that even God is not looking for us to be perfect,” computer science major Rand Alrabadi said. “In fact, He does not want us to get close to Him if we are perfect. His goal is constantly working and looking for people who are imperfect so He can perfect them.”

The final PEN Talks of the semester on March 31 will feature disabled BYU students’ experiences.

BYU student Vibalia Raj, at right, speaks during the PEN Talks event on Thursday as panelists Jon DeAlba, Taif Almadi, Kelsey Mae Nield and Rand Alrabadi look on. These students answered questions about religious perfectionism as part of the BYUSA Mental Health Matters week. (Gabrielle Shiozawa)
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