We are taught to seek perfection from an early age. “Don’t make a mistake.” “You are perfectly right.” “Be a good girl, get me a pen…Thanks that’s perfect.” “How do you want your coffee?- Black with a splash of milk. Thanks that’s perfect.” “How do you like your meal? It’s perfect.” “Practice makes perfect.” The word “perfect” is tossed around casually, like tossing the backpack over your shoulder.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, perfect is: 1) being entirely without fault or defect- flawless; or 2) satisfying all requirements. Is that possible? When I look in the mirror before I go out, can I look perfect? Or is that even a desirable goal for which to strive?
Recently there has been an uptake in teen suicides. Suicide is the third highest cause of death for young people aged 10–24. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
After a nearly two decade decline through 2007, suicide rates for adolescents increased by 31% for males by 2015 and 50% for females during the same time;
Boys are about four times more likely than girls to die from suicide while females are more likely to express suicidal thoughts and to make nonfatal attempts;
A nationwide survey of high school students in the United States found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey;
Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are treated in Emergency Departments across the U.S. for self-inflicted injuries.
These facts reflect poorly on our culture and what we are raising our children to believe. Our society is in crisis.
Is there a connection between the drive for perfection and suicide? In my professional opinion, an unqualified YES. From an early age, we are shown images of perfection that very few of us can achieve. Girls and boys sometimes starve themselves to death in an attempt to have the perfect body. One “can never be thin enough or rich enough:” I was raised on that aphorism- and much to my chagrin, I believed it growing up. By shooting for perfection, we always fall short. We never feel good enough, so have always let someone else, and more importantly, our self, down. That is a hard burden to carry around.
This hyper-awareness of our imperfections is magnified because of our reliance on social media. Approximately 19% of teens use electronic devices, including smart phones, for at least five hours per day; these teens were 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use. (from a survey in Clinical Psychological Science). Studies have shown a correlation between use of social media and an increase in depression. The reflections of lives as presented on Facebook and Instagram look fantastic. There is rarely a “bad hair day.” Nor do you see the family fights or the struggles and self-doubts that we live with on a regular basis. Instead you see the fantastic travel pics, the “perfect” soufflé, or that amazing accomplishment. It is easy to get a distorted sense of the world.
Children have an inherent need to look up to their parents; in fact their survival, at a very young age at least, depends on it. Even in extreme cases of parental abuse or neglect, children will often feel a strong attachment to them and an acceptance of the abuse. Parents in turn model the strong behavior; children are the center of their world and as perfect parents, they will do anything for them. This attitude lays the foundation for unrealistic parenting.
Let go of this image of perfection; it is a myth! We do not need to “airbrush” our lives as if we are modeling for a magazine. What an enormous relief to embrace yourself, your families, and your friends as they are- with their accompanying strengths and challenges. When your children see you acknowledge your mistakes, it gives them permission to err too. When they see you angry, they learn they can get angry- without being overwhelmed or thought of as a bad person. When children learn that parents have other interests and talents, that the children are not their only focus, children learn the more realistic language of relationships and love.
We live in a judgmental world. If we are not perfect, we are judged- by ourselves and others- as not good enough. We are too thin or too fat; too stupid or too smart for our own good; too lazy or too hyper-active- the list could continue. It is time we let go of the judgement and accept who we are. If it is change we seek, recognize the choices you must make and the consequences of those choices. Be the best you can be; in some areas you may excel and, in others, fall short.
If we can’t be perfect- and we cannot- let it be great to be good enough as you are. If we can increase our self-acceptance, and model it for our loved ones, we can become more comfortable with our messy lives and more open to the adventures that lie ahead.
For more information on this topic and others, find me on Medium https://medium.com/@lisafedder18 or check out my website https://www.corecounselingsolutions.com/; my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/corecounselingsolutions/; and LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-fedder-056b045/.
Call me at 201–875–5699 if you are interested in setting up an appointment.