The Perfectionism Cycle

This is a personal post.

This morning I went to see a counselor through the mental health services that the University offers.

This is nothing to be ashamed of; lots of people struggle with mental health issues, although not all issues are identified and/or treated.

Also, this is more than two years since a good friend told me explicitly I needed to go see a counselor because I had been crying and feeling inadequate at a conference.

I’ve been having some thesis anxiety lately and since I’ve been struggling with anxiety since forever, I decided to finally follow my friend’s advice.

We talked about all sorts of things, my parents, my school history, my friends, what I’m doing, what I want to do, what I’m really anxious about – and eventually she advised me to read up on perfectionism.

Which is fair enough really because since forever people have also been telling me I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

Which is probably part of the reason some of us are doing a PhD in the first place.

It was also at this point that I wanted to argue that it can’t be perfectionism, because:

I never put in the work to get perfect grades because I was (and am) always doing a number of things at once, and surely perfectionism can’t be an issue worthy of counselling.

At which point I caught myself and realised that this is a bit of a perfectionism cycle.

If I am a perfectionist, I feel I’m not even doing perfectionism right, and I may be seeking help for anxiety and/or perfectionism but I feel I’m not even doing the seeking help right because my issues can’t be serious enough to warrant help.

There are an awful lot of things I am anxious about, and they all boil down to me being scared that I’m not doing things right. Which can also paralyse and actually keep me from doing the things I should be doing, creating a cycle not just of anxiety of seeking unwarranted help but also of just not doing the right things when I should be doing them.

Which is not helping anyone.

I’m sure this is a thing a lot of PhD students struggle with, and if you are, can I please ask you to not be stupid like me and leave it two years before you seek help, but instead, contact your counselling services now (every Uni should have one) because even if you do think (like me) that your problem isn’t bad enough to warrant help, there’s always some advice and support they can give you.

Because we did get to this stage, and clearly, rationally, we’re all capable of doing this properly (they wouldn’t have taken us on otherwise), but there’s sure as hell a lot of students out there who feel (and perhaps even think) otherwise.


Author: Ilse A Ras

There are times when I am doing research on crime news and language; sometimes I'm obsessed, sometimes I'm bored, and sometimes my tea is getting cold.

One thought on “The Perfectionism Cycle”

  1. I totally feel you. I suffer from the perfectionist cycle too. It drives me crazy but it is innate in me. I don’t have an off button. What usually helps me re-focus is just to take a break. Walk away from the task I am obsessing about, and start something I don’t obsess about (watching a movie, exercising, or just napping).

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