As children and teenagers, we are constantly trying to understand ourselves and the world around us. Because we don’t establish our own identity until our mid-20s, we look to others for indications of what we are like. Believing that if people think I’m ok, then I’m ok.
This need for approval from our world is essential to developing our sense of self as we grow up and reassures us that we are ok as people. If we want our children to grow healthily, we need to help them to do this.
Healthy people accept that they are flawed, make numerous mistakes and are confident in their own skin. They believe that they are no more flawed than anyone else.
Whilst at a surface level, most people will acknowledge that no one is perfect, the message we live by ourselves and give our young people is the total opposite. From teen magazines/school/the latest fashion craze/sport, we teach our kids that to be ok, they must achieve certain results or be a certain way. And this striving for perfectionism trickles down to even the most mundane things, like taking selfies.
We don’t go from just wanting a nice photo to having to take the perfect selfie overnight. It’s a chain reaction that stems from the belief that in order to be just ok, we must be perfect. Perfectionism is not about trying to be perfect. Perfectionism is the belief that to be just OK, I must be perfect and never display any flaws.
If I rate myself as a person by how I appear to others or believe that I am whatever they think I am, then I will try to show them a perfect image and prevent people from seeing my imperfections.
Of course, we all know that we are not perfect, so, to compensate, we try to create a “Designer Me”.
When we convince ourselves of something, not only will we see evidence to support our viewpoint, but we will also dismiss anything that disagrees with what we believe.
So, the more perfect I try to be, the more imperfect I will see myself becoming, until all I can see are my shortcomings.
This causes us to try harder to get everything right. However, the harder we try to get it right, the more we see ourselves as getting it wrong. Hence the more and more perfectionist behaviour. Trying to get it right, but only seeing ourselves as abnormal for getting it wrong.
Conversely, the more abnormal we see ourselves, the more we will see others as normal, until we eventually grow to loathe our own unique identity. We see the real us as failures, viewing our designer persona as the person we must be, to be normal.
This is the thinking dynamic in anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder etc.
The problem with this- as with all obsessive behaviour- is that initially it does exactly what it says on the tin. The pleasure sensors in our brain react like a kid in a sweetshop to the feeling of immediate success that we get with a good photo or 100 likes.
Post a less than flattering photo of yourself on social media
At the start, all we see is excitement at the sense of achievement and self-worth. When we get a good photo, we get an adrenaline rush. We convince ourselves that if little wins like this feel this good, then big wins must feel so much better.
By trying harder and harder to get another 100 likes, we train our brains to believe that if I haven’t got it right this time, then I’ll get it right at the next attempt.
We only need to succeed once in every 20 or so times to keep this “Groundhog Day” effect going, and down the obsession rabbit hole we go.
Compulsive behaviour like this is an obsessive illness, not a series of “voluntary” selfies. Very quickly, our brain hotwires itself into compelling us to take photo after photo. We are powerless to stop it. The more we struggle, the deeper we get stuck. Our brains can only see the illusive perfect image.
Show our flaws
Society’s concept of normal and normal people doesn’t exist. Similarly, for every success you achieve, you will fail 100 times. You only need to get it right occasionally in order to be successful.
So, before we can ever succeed, we must first learn how to fail. And we can only do that if we accept ourselves as flawed people. Constantly trying to get things perfect makes the problem worse. By trying to get our children to win, we continuously reinforce all the negatives about them.
As a result, they will catastrophize what they think others may think of them, training their brain to view themselves through a vague negative lens that becomes a constant voice in their head, preventing them from ever achieving their potential.
We need to teach them how to get things wrong, so, start with yourself. Get rid of your perfectionist streak. Post a less than flattering photo of yourself on social media.
Become a mentor to your kids
Help them see how flawed you are. Show them your mistakes and how you can roll with the punches.
The younger they are, the more they see you as God. By watching you trip up, they learn that getting it wrong and being imperfect is normal and a vital part of life. And it all starts with taking an imperfect selfie.
Children learn what they live. If they live with criticism, they learn to criticise. If they live with our perfectionism, then they will learn that they are not acceptable as they are
To correct this, we need to first stop playing the perfection game ourselves and to do that, we must first accept our own flaws in all their entirety. In short, we must become members of the Raggy Doll Club.
The Raggy Dolls was a cartoon in the 80s about toys that were thrown into the reject bin who were very happy with who they were.
To become a member all you need to do is accept and practice four things:
1. You are probably as mad as a brush but no madder than anyone else.
2. That you screw up regularly but no more than anyone else.
3. You can't be measured by your screw ups there is no measuring tool.
4. You don't have to except anyone else's opinion of you, it is no more valid than your opinion of them.