Mental Health

Are you an ‘emotional perfectionist’? Here’s how to tell (and what you can do about it)

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Lauren Geall
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We can’t control our emotions, so why do so many of us berate ourselves for not being happy 24/7?

Ask the people around you what they want from life, and chances are at least a couple of them will mention happiness in one form or another. It’s one of those dreams people have pursued for generations – after all, it’s only natural to dream of a future in which all of your problems melt away.

However, while people in the past may have defined ‘being happy’ as feeling content with their lot, nowadays our definition of happiness is a lot more personally involved.

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Thanks in part to the pressures of social media, happiness is now portrayed as a project we have to work at every day – a kind of status symbol which is upheld by a combination of wellness activities and self-reflection. 

And while there’s nothing wrong with trying to boost your mood when you’re feeling rubbish, attempting to be happy all the time (and pretending as if you can control your emotions) isn’t a good idea.

That’s according to Sharnade George, a therapist, writer and founder of the online therapy directory Cultureminds Therapy. George describes this modern urge to be happy 24/7 as a kind of ‘emotional perfectionism’ – and warns that trying to avoid ‘negative’ emotions such as anger and sadness isn’t just unrealistic, but it can stop you from confronting issues in your life.  

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Striving for emotional perfection can take its toll.

“Always wanting to feel a certain emotion – happiness, in this case  – often means you lack an understanding of the value other emotions can offer,” George explains. “Every single negative emotion is a sign pointing towards a problem that needs your attention.”

As well as this, George explains, putting pressure on yourself to be happy all the time can ironically lead you to get “stuck in a negative state of wanting to be perfect,” and leave you feeling guilty for experiencing a completely normal and healthy range of emotions, whether that’s anger, sadness, fear or disgust.

While there’s no quick fix for unpicking emotional perfectionism, George says there are some things you can do to slowly unravel your attitude – starting with some emotional reflection

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“There are a number of ways for you to improve if you struggle with emotional perfectionism,” she explains. “For example, you could try to take some time to really feel and get to know your emotions, and notice how they feel in your body. 

“You could also practise describing your emotions out loud or writing them down to help you reflect on how you feel – and if you’re struggling, you could find a therapist who can help you to take these steps.”

Dealing with emotional perfectionism may not be a big deal in the short term, but it’s clear that forcing yourself to be happy 24/7 can have bigger consequences further down the line. 

It’s completely normal to experience all kinds of emotions on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis – and at the end of the day, denying yourself the chance to feel those feelings is only going to make you feel worse. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.