Ronda Rousey, Identity, and Perfectionism

Trigger/content warning: discussion of suicidal ideation


Recently Ronda Rousey appeared on “The Ellen Show”, where she discussed losing one of the biggest fights in her career and how awful she felt afterwards. Rousey said,

“I was down in the medical room, sitting in the corner, and I was asking myself, ‘What am I any more if I’m not this?’”

“I was sitting there thinking about killing myself, thinking, ‘I’m nothing, what can I do any more? No one gives a s*** about me any more.

“Then I looked up and saw my man Travis [Browne, a fellow UFC fighter], and I thought, ‘I need to have his babies, I need to stay alive.’”

Now, I’m not a huge fan of Rousey because of her cockiness and transphobic comments, but her frankness about considering suicide after being defeated earned some of my respect. There’s a huge stigma in sports regarding mental illness and always having to appear tough. Ronda Rousey is one of the most well-known UFC fighters in the history of the organization and she was probably well aware of the internet tirade the people were going to go on after she talked about wanting to end it all after a loss. Yes, she has been cocky, but she’s also human. Her foundation and identity were shaken when she lost a fight, which could have ended her career or at least changed it forever. People have been so callous and calling her “weak” because we live in a society where showing anything aside from baseline emotions is worthy of criticism and there’s such a huge negative stereotype regarding people who have had suicidal thoughts or made attempts.

I can very much relate to Rousey’s mentality in more ways than one. I competed in Tae Kwon Do for many years. During that time, I was the number one ranked competitor in my weight class/gender in the state of Pennsylvania and trained for 3 hours 4 nights a week to prepare for National Junior Olympics. I was a year away from getting my black belt and a few years from being eligible to try out for the Olympics. The freaking Olympics!  Then all of that crashing down in a matter of 5 minutes. While I was helping my Tae Kwon Do instructor teach a class a few weeks before Nationals, he threw me over his shoulder, which he had done many times before, but I landed in a way that caused me to break my knee. As I heard my knee crack as it hit the floor, I had no idea that everything I had worked for and built my life around was gone.

I was young and already having an identity crisis. As someone who was much smaller than her peers and viewed as an easy target, it was so hard for me to lose what made me feel powerful. I was harassed on a daily basis at school during this time and I felt like life was throwing me blow after blow and I could no longer block the punches or hit back. My life consisted of focusing on my academics and Tae Kwon Do, so since I lost the latter, I obsessively worried about school.

You don’t know this, but I’m an only child/the only grandchild in my  family. Being from a working class family and the only person to have the opportunity to go to college after graduating high school, I feel am immense amount of pressure and responsibility to do well in school. It led to me comparing myself to peers, breaking down into panic attacks once I got home from high school, and giving up when I felt like I wouldn’t get anything but 100% or an A. Even know as a college student, so much of my identity and anxiety is tied to doing well in school.

As someone who grew up in the competitive environment of “gifted” learning since second grade, much of my value and self-worth comes from maintaining being on the honor roll/Dean’s List. I feel almost euphoric when I see the look of surprise and pride on my family member’s faces when I tell them how well I’m doing still. But with all that good comes panic attacks, worrying about where I’m going to be career-wise and mentally after my many years of schooling comes to an end in less than 10 months. It’s scary when every moment of failure makes you feel like you’ve justified the beliefs of everyone who has criticized you or put you down.

Society tells us that we have to be the best and that anything less that great is unacceptable. There are high school students who discover groundbreaking medical treatments and toddlers learning how to code and create websites. It’s easy to feel average and unremarkable. What’s even worse is how many people (myself included) have thought about suicide after not feeling like they earned the right to live because they feel like a failure. My goal this year is to work on not being so hard on myself and I hope I can inspire people to do the same. I’m my worst critic and have been pretty much since birth (I have report cards from kindergarten with my teacher’s comments about me being a perfectionist to prove it), so this might be my biggest emotional undertaking to date.

I want to break up with toxic ideals ingrained into my mind. I would never put up with a guy who says the things that I think about myself, so why should I be okay with subjecting myself to that. A few weeks ago I heard this phrase, “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good”, and it really made me think. I have let the idea of perfection ruin so many moments. I have overcome so many expectations regarding my life, my relationship, my friends, and my family, but the biggest ones I have to let go are the ones for myself. After all, I’ll never deny the fact that I’m a constant work in progress.

Do you also deal with perfectionism and meeting society’s standards? If you have overcome these feelings, what helped you do that?


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