I’ve been having a meltdown just because I’m not good at D.I.Y: it turns out that being a perfectionist is a B.A.D thing
DO YOU REMEMBER that trick we all used in job interviews back in the 1980s?
“My biggest weakness? I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a perfectionist…”
Well, I found out just recently that I wasn’t lying. It seems that I am a perfectionist and, actually, it’s been kinda ruining my life just recently.
I began last week under a massive cloud because I’d spent all weekend trying – and failing – to put up a shed over at the allotment.
The manufacturers said (Ha!) that it should take between 4-8 hours but, after spending two days sweating over the fucker, my son and I still hadn’t even got the roof on.
Then, back at home on Monday morning, I had to replace a broken window pane so a painter could work on it.
I gave myself an hour for the job because he wanted to start ASAP but, in the end, it took me more than two to do it badly – with the pins still poking out of the putty.
As I laboured, swore, bodged, I convinced myself that The Painter despised me for not being a Real Man, someone Good With His Hands.
What sort of Bloke is he? I imagined him thinking. Sitting at home all day: what does he do?
By the time I’d finished with the window, I was so upset that my heart was racing and my breathing was quick and shallow. I was starting to have a panic attack…
From experience, I knew that the best thing to do was to jump on a bike and sweat the fear out – and 25 hilly kilometres later, sitting at a café in a faraway park, I at last felt able to forgive myself.
But on Tuesday and Wednesday, The Blues hit back hard.
In my diary, I wrote stuff like: “paralysed about the smallest things” and “I wish I knew why I feel so sad and down on myself”.
I really was baffled about why a couple of dodgy DIY sessions had bought me so low.
Thank God, then, for my favourite psychology show, The Richard Nicholls Podcast.
I hadn’t heard it on Monday, as usual, because I was still balls deep in Window Pain Hell.
But when I heard it on Wednesday night, the scales fell from my eyes.
Listening to Nicholls, I realised that I could be experiencing a phenomenon called Socially Prescribed Perfectionism, which occurs when people like me imagine that others are demanding impossibly high standards from them.
“(It’s) as if there’s this collective criticism from the entire world that’s scrutinising what you do to make sure it’s perfect,” Nicholls explains.
“This is the one that would influence mental health the most because it leads to hopelessness, which is a major contributor to depression.
“… if the outside world is setting your goals for you and, no matter what you do, you can’t reach them, you might as well not bother trying.
“This is what makes people hide under the duvet, because the brain begins to let go of any purpose in life, which feeds the hopelessness.”
Uh. Ok. So that’s why I was yearning to go to bed at noon. That was why I thought The Painter hated me. That’s why I was having panic attacks…
Instead of seeking perfectionism, Nicholls suggests that something he terms Positive Striving might be better for one’s sanity.
Positive Striving “is to have high standards,” he says. “But setting realistic standards, so that you can feel as if you’ve actually achieved something, you can be satisfied with what you’ve done, with a… That’s Good Enough attitude.”
In other words, I don’t have to be a Wizard With A Chisel, or a Demon With A Drill.
It’s OK if the outside of my daughter’s window looks like Pin Cushion Guy from Hellraiser*, as long as the glass stays in and keeps her warm and dry.
It’s not even The End Of The World if I am the Eric The Eel* of shed building. I need to remember that it’ll get done, eventually, and that no-one will judge me for taking it slow.
Having been brought up by a mother who was the epitome of what Nicholls calls the Other Oriented Perfectionist – or someone who demands that people around them are perfect – I have an inkling of how my demons got there in the first place.
But I am trying to get ‘em out. This morning, I went to the – still unfinished – shed again and set myself a minimum target, a realistic expectation.
I didn’t achieve it, mainly because The Shyster Shed Company seems to have palmed off The Most Labour-intensive Shed Kit Ever Known To Man on me.
But I did work for two hours, as efficiently and effectively as I could, and moved the whole nightmare on a bit.
I was a bit disappointed, but I told myself: “Positive Striving!”
And, just for once, I was able to settle for That’s Good Enough – and mean it.
*One for the teenagers…
** … and another!