Perfection Neurosis

I started a ceramics class two weeks ago. In our first class, we went over the supplies we would need. But in the second class, we made a pebble bowl. A pebble bowl is created by taking an already made bowl and lining it with plastic. After that, you take a clump of clay and rip it into small pieces. Then, you place the pieces down on the plastic lining side by side. Now this is just the first step.

But as soon the instructor gave us these instructions, there was a murmur. Myself and the six other women in my class leaned towards the teacher. The comments and questions rolled in steadily and strongly. Trepidation.

“Am I doing this right?”

“What shape should the pieces be?”

“Are these pieces too big?”

“There are gaps! Will I be able to eat cereal out of this bowl?” (That was me.)

I had a quick realization that these women were mirroring my own insecurities. We are programmed to want (and feel like we have to) do things perfectly, even the first time we try them. This is even if it’s for a hobby and there is nothing major at stake.

This neurosis (and it did really sound like neurosis after it went on for a solid hour), heavily impedes our magical and innate ability to create art. Later on in the class, I heard from a couple women that there were strong mother figures in their lives who created amazing art.

But the neurosis does not stem from being around artists during our childhoods. The neurosis comes from strange ideas that society would have us believe about ourselves. These include the fear of being a beginner and the pressure to perform even outside of a high-stakes settings. No wonder so many of us subject ourselves to menial work that does not feel fulfilling.

If society embraced beginnings and hobbies (without attachment to money-making and performance), we would not be afraid to strike out on our own and create the life we sit and whisper about when we’re alone. 

Perfection is encouraged in our society because it controls us. It’s not even institutions that control us so much as our own learned behaviors. In fact, we are not born with these types of neuroses. Instead, we are socially conditioned to be sick.

In order to be a functioning member of society, we are required to learn how to be neurotic. 

Our day-to-day revolves around neurotic action. We are propelled into a wakened state by a loud alarm set for an arbitrary time designated by our employer (of course, we are the ones accommodating for the day’s preparation, so we can decide the exact waking time to some extent). Our morning routine is timed. We must make ourselves look how our employer wants us to look. We must be on-time after sitting in traffic. Our day must be a certain period of time in duration, regardless of how long our work actually takes to do.

We are made to be neurotic because it helps society to control us. In order for society to run, it requires us to have needs. Those needs are told to us to be material. However, we are often lacking in real needs like a sense of belonging to a community, self-esteem, and a feeling of care and love towards ourselves. Instead, we are often lonely and self-critical (just peek at social media).

Most of our true needs are poorly met by society because they are not allotted for. There is little place in the bustle to sit quietly with ourselves. In fact, it feels at this point to me that the only way that I will be able to gain peace to meet my internal and community needs are to become self-employed. I have come to these strong ideas about the neuroticism of society through observation of the stream of actions that looks to play out in the lives of office workers. To me, the dictated path is off-putting.

The neurosis lives strongly there, where our employers need for us to have needs, in order for us to need them. And the neurosis does not stop once we get off work. We begin senseless toil at home too, weaving in complexities that are unnecessary and time-consuming. We feel the weight of imperfection. We crave the open air and some time to sit in a dark room and quiet our minds. Our souls thrash under the coils we have tangled ourselves in. This is the neurosis of societal belonging.