In a perfect world, all of your birthdays would be a blast and every vacation would be just as relaxing as you’d imagined. The reality, though, is that not every occasion can live up to lofty expectations. And when it doesn’t, it can feel like the entire experience is ruined.
Dubbed perfect moment syndrome by best-selling author Sarah Wilson, this feeling has struck a chord on TikTok. For example, mental health expert Sarafina Arthur-Williams, MA points to the high hopes that many pin to romantic getaways. “You envision perfect weather, intimate moments, and no hiccups,” she says. “But then it rains, you get lost, and the hotel room isn't what you expected.” Instead of laughing it off or focusing on the good, your heightened expectations lead to an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Under creator @youloveandyoulearn’s Tiktok about this phenomenon, one person commented, “I’m so happy we’re talking about this. My bar is so ridiculously high that I’m almost always disappointed” and another said, “I’ve never heard of this before and it rings so true for me! Ah!” Here’s what you should know about this common experience.
What Causes Perfect Moment Syndrome?
“The reason why perfect moment syndrome so consistently leads to hurt and distress is because it's literally impossible for everything to go perfectly all the time,” says licensed clinical psychologist Kamran Eshtehardi, Ph.D.
In fact, “people who struggle with [this] are often scanning for issues or shortcomings because they have a history of feeling like things go badly for them and they expect that to continue,” Esthehardi says. The negative vibes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How To Deal With Perfect Moment Syndrome
There are several ways to cope with an annoying case of perfect moment syndrome, according to Jennifer A. Gray, MS, a licensed professional counselor. Start by considering your priorities before the big day. “If great music, delicious food, and authentic vows are essential for a memorable wedding, remember to avoid getting caught up in whether the decor is hung correctly or if the cake comes out on time,” she says.
It also helps to question why your hopes are high. “Ask yourself whether this ‘want’ is to fulfill a sense of worthiness and flex on social media — or is it coming from a more authentic place of joy within you,” she says. “If the desire isn’t aligning with your values, [try to] nix it from the plan.” While you can’t (and shouldn’t) simply shut off your feelings, examining their origins can lighten the emotional load.
Mindfulness helps, too. When you’re fully grounded in a moment, you can appreciate what’s actually happening instead of feeling sad about “what could have been,” Gray says.
It’s also wise to challenge negative self-talk and black and white thinking (two causes of perfect moment syndrome, per Eshtehardi) that may pop up if your date night isn’t life-changing or your vacation is kind of a dud. Give yourself a break if your plans go awry, Arthur-Williams says. You deserve self-compassion. Consider how you can embrace the gray.
While it can be tough to switch off perfectionism and black and white thinking, little practices like these really can help you enjoy all the good things about your special occasion — even if it rains.
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Sarafina Arthur-Williams, MA, mental health expert
Kamran Eshtehardi, Ph.D., lisenced clinical psychologist
Jennifer A. Gray, MS, licensed professional counselor