Loopy, Lonely and Lost

The Narcissism of Perfectionism

Posted on: November 14, 2019

I’m several months into my job now, and I’m still sure it was a good move. Quite apart from the fact that I firmly believe that moving on is almost always the right thing to do, practically everything about how my new employer works is better, more effective and healthier than how the old company did things.

Everything is peer reviewed, and people always provide each other with feedback, and it’s all constructive with very little by way of blame culture. And this is good, it’s everything I’ve been saying for years that I wanted. I spent so long receiving only praise that I lost sight of my strengths and weaknesses.

I have meetings with my manager every week or two and they’re overwhelmingly positive, the kind of management meetings I’ve been used to. She tells me all the good feedback she’s had for me and praises my abilities and achievements, and I give awkward thanks but feel nothing other than a faint relief that my mistakes aren’t being highlighted.

I’ve been working with a new supervisor over the past few weeks and he’s big on feedback. Not cruel or nitpicky or abusing his power, he’s just a man gently pointing out what I could do better or how he’d do things differently.

Here’s the thing, though. Tell me I’m brilliant and I’ll blush and avoid eye contact and not really believe you at all, and complain that you don’t give me anything to work on. But tell me I’m wrong or could do better, and I shrink away from you in horrified shame.

It’s not nice to admit it. I believe in feedback. I think it’s important. I want to improve. But it makes me feel so useless.

And I think the reason praise never really affects me, other than to make me feel faintly embarrassed, is because I expect to be good at things. With things that I commit a lot of time to and place importance on, like my job, I expect to be great. I expect to be the best. So if you tell me I’m the best, I shrug it off. It’s not recognition I want, just the satisfaction of doing something well.

When I was 15, a teacher told me in amazement that she’d marked an exam I’d taken and I’d got 113 out of 114. My immediate question was, “what did I get wrong?”

I expect myself to be 100% right, 100% of the time. And it really is an expectation, not an ambition. Maybe normal people hope for 100%, but realistically expect something more reasonable. I see 100% as a baseline. Achieving it is a relief, but not a particularly impressive accomplishment. Falling short by any margin is a disappointment, a failure, and embarrassment.

But who am I, to expect 100%? It’s not even like I feel pride or achievement. I see 100% as not drawing attention to myself with silly errors (which is why I get so uncomfortable if I achieve 100% or anywhere near and then someone does draw attention to it). It seems so cocky to assume I’m capable of doing that, to see it as my minimum requirement.

Holding myself to a higher standard than I hold anyone else is in itself a sign of ridiculous arrogance. If I had a more realistic view of myself and my abilities, everything would be easier.

It doesn’t show me in a good light. That I’m so fragile I struggle to take any criticism, that I believe I’m better than that.

And I think about how uneasy and worthless I feel, and how much I worry about tiny mistakes and how much all feedback makes me cringe, and I think about it in terms of imposter syndrome.

And then I think, you crazy, arrogant bitch. Only talented people get imposter syndrome. Some people genuinely are just useless.

I take the feedback. I cheerfully agree to make suggested changes. I use my body language and tone to let my supervisor know I’m not taking it personally, even though I totally am (sometimes he suggests something and asks if I agree, like he’s worried I mind his opinion and wants me to feel it’s collaborative. I recognise his kindness but resent being patronised). It’s not his fault that a perfectly reasonable comment can send me spiralling into self-loathing.

I felt like this for a while at my last job. And the one before. Eventually I got good enough to not have to feel like this.

I hope I catch up to that stage soon.

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My name is Laura. I was once told that I have cyclothymia. This blog is mostly where I write about living as a person with extremes and instability of mood, and the history of a life that led to the development of those symptoms.

I complain a lot, I'm very repetitive, unreliable, and I tend to contradict myself.

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