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The “Trauma” of Seeking Perfection

Artist perfecting his artwork using marker

The “Trauma” of Seeking Perfection

The “Trauma” of Seeking Perfection

In the same way that people tend to feel an urge to appear like they have the perfect lives, there can be art trauma—the trauma of trying to be perfect and feeling like you aren’t. 

During a 90-minute art challenge with Bobby Chiu featuring Ahmed Aldoori, a viewer asked Ahmed how to deal with art trauma and the need to feel perfect. This is a question Ahmed is familiar with but is still trying to find the answer to. Art trauma is deeply personal and must be taken seriously. 

Role models tend to not talk about their weaknesses, they only project their perfections. This puts pressure on the artist to do what they can do when it’s impossible to be perfect, and your role model isn’t perfect, but you think they are. The question is, how does one deal with the trauma of trying to be perfect and get beyond the fear of rejection?

Perspective:

From your perspective, you may not see the sacrifices made to achieve “perfection”, but chasing that idea of perfection can take a toll on your mental health. Not only can it affect your mental health, but your body can react physically to the trauma as well. The next time you want to draw or create, your muscles and your mind remember the pain of what can happen, and you freeze. 

Your body can react and start shaking and go to survival mode. Self-care and therapy can help heal that trauma and repair some of the damage done. There is no correct answer to this question, as it varies from person to person, but you can make progress to overcome the desire to be perfect. 

Focus on the Small Things:

Bobby added that the objective should be enjoying the art that you do as opposed to always trying to create “great” art. Bobby uses the example of a director for an animated film. They have the most challenging job because the studio can one day decide that they are no longer on the project at the drop of a hat. 

Directors often put in years on an animated film before it gets to the final stages, and it could be gone in the blink of an eye. It was their creation and their idea, but at the end of the day, it’s not really their project. It belongs to the studio. 

There will often be a part of your job that you like, and even if it’s small, focus on that element. By doing this, you can start to work through any trauma that you experienced in the past. Work to expand that joy into other parts of the job until all or most of the job is actually enjoyable. 

Bobby suggests that you think back to your memories as a child. What did you enjoy about art when you were little? Did you enjoy the smell of the crayons or sitting on the floor with a coloring book? Fall back in love with the process of art and do art because you love it. Not for anyone else. Unless you have a client, then do it for them. 

Drawing for the Wrong Reasons:

Someone at the beginning of their journey might think they know what the end goal is, but that will likely not turn out to be the case. 

Ahmed felt as if he used art as a currency to make himself feel valid. He thought that he had to produce a certain level of art to be accepted in his social group or family. The art was compensation for letting him stay. If he wasn’t using art as a currency to earn his place, why was he doing it?

A simple answer is that art is a conversation and a form of communication, but when one person is talking, or no one is listening, these conversations are unsuccessful. If you have no audience or someone to communicate with, what is the point of communicating at all?

Anyone can run into the trap of doing an activity only for validation and not for pure joy. It is not written that you are less than anyone else because you want validation, but you can push yourself into a new era of enjoyment if you can get beyond the need for it. 

Personal Experience:

Trauma is so personal that it is impossible to pinpoint a cure-all treatment. Personal reflection and practice may help some, while others may need professional therapy to work through their thoughts. 

There is no way to erase trauma. It will always be there. The goal is to learn how to live with your feelings and push past them when they become a mental or physical block for you. Your individual experiences are what led you to where you are now, and without them, there is no way of knowing what your life would have been like without those unique experiences.

A Two-Way Street:

A rainy two way street

Art is a two-way experience. The first is through the creator and how it gets made, whether it’s a painting, graphic novel, or animated TV show. And the second is through the viewer in a gallery, in a book, or on a screen. There is no rule that says only one of the parties can enjoy it, as art is made to be enjoyed by all. 

Use what you create to bring joy to others and take pleasure because it brings you happiness to share in that experience. 

There is risk in declaring what you enjoy for fear of rejection, but one step in overcoming your trauma is understanding that rejection is part of the process, and your art may not be liked by every person that sees it. It could end up being the favorite piece of one person that sees it, or it could end up being your favorite, and that’s all that matters. 

Let Go of the Fear of Making a Mistake:

Often, the desire for perfection stems from the fear of making mistakes. The thought process of never making a mistake and always being perfect can harm the drive to create. You can find yourself having expectations for yourself that you wouldn’t expect from anyone else in the same position. Know that it is okay to make mistakes. That is how you learn!

Those seeking perfection can limit their opportunities because they are unsure of the outcome. The old cliche ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ rings true when it comes to seeking perfection. You won’t improve your skills or learn new things if you never take the chance. 

Start with baby steps. If you are worried about how the public will react to your art, start with a close friend that supports your art but understands your struggles. It may seem insignificant at first, but the positive reinforcement of someone you trust could be the first step to overcoming the trauma of needing to be perfect. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Trauma is real, and your feelings are valid. Therapists can help you heal and process your emotions in a healthy way. You may have underlying reasons for your desires that haven’t occurred to you. You are not alone. 

Look Toward the Future Instead of Dwelling in the Past:

You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. Every single person you meet has something from their past they wish they could change. Whether it’s something minor from elementary school that they think about from time to time or a life-changing decision they think about every day, everyone has made mistakes. 

Spend a few minutes every day thinking about everything positive that happened the day before. Even what you may feel are insignificant moments, like finding a dollar in your pocket or a stranger holding the door for you at the store, can help you push past your negative thoughts and set you on a path toward success. 

It is tempting to put things off until you feel you are ready to do them perfectly, but there is no time like the present, and you won’t ever feel prepared if you don’t try. If you put projects off until “later,” they may never happen. When you feel the inspiration, jump in and start without letting yourself fall into the spiral of doubt. 

Use Your Feelings to Create:

The idea of using your feelings to create something is nothing new. Artists used their pain or pure bliss to create some of the world’s most famous pieces of art. Your art may not be destined for the Louvre, but you can use your experience to create something new. 

Art can bring feelings to the surface through the melancholy melodies of music or the bright colors in a drawing. Don’t discount your desire to feel validation, as your feelings themselves are valid to others, but use those feelings and desires to create and bring more emotion to the conversation. 

Talent comes in many forms, and no two people have the same skill. Avoid comparing yourself to others and having unrealistic expectations of yourself. It is a long road to healing the trauma of seeking perfection, but you can take the first step by making an effort and not being afraid to make mistakes! 

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