Perfectionism is the number one killer of joy in life. Now obviously I just made that up and stated it like a fact, but I’d be willing to bet that if there were a way to measure the amount of life perfectionism has stolen from people, it would be the number one killer of all things good. At least it is for me. Perfectionism doesn’t sound like that bad of a trait or characteristic at first glance. It sounds at first like it’s just something that makes a person do things well and to the best of his or her ability; something that challenges a person to do well in life, whatever he or she may be doing. In reality, perfectionism is a slow, secret killer of souls. Perfectionism has been Satan’s direct line of communication with me my whole life. It has been the channel through which he has controlled me, taunted me, lied to me, manipulated me, held me back, and pushed me away from God and His purpose for my life. I’ve been aware of this nasty character defect of mine for many years and I’ve worked on it hard; but no matter what I do, it is always still there, lurking below the surface waiting to steal my joy, kill my pride and remind me how not good enough I really am.
I think perfectionism manifests itself differently from person to person and even situation to situation. For me, it has changed over the years as my life has changed and evolved; but I am realizing that although it looks different now than it used to, it’s still very much present.
Unfortunately I’m not here to tell you I’ve suddenly cracked the code on perfectionism and learned how to uninvite It from my life. What I do want to do, however, is share some of what I’m learning about myself through this battle with perfectionism and all of its ugly friends.
I find there’s a great deal of irony in the nature of perfectionism. In its entirety, perfectionism is a mentality, a way of life…an ism. “Isms” are not usually good. Racism, sexism, ageism… The list is endless of negative “isms,” but I believe perfectionism may be at the root of many of those. Wikipedia (I know, not the most reliable source but whatever) defines perfectionism as “a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.” Boom! A “striving for flawlessness” and “excessively high standards” both within oneself and others, followed by “overly critical self evaluations and concern regarding others’ evaluations.” In a nut shell this boils down to: death and destruction!
Perfectionism is the lie that says if you run carefully enough, if you plan enough, if you work hard enough, if you strive and prove yourself through enough effort, the world will deem you worthy; and then, maybe you can call yourself worthy too. Perfectionism is self abuse in the highest order. It’s a constant set up for failure and feeling not good enough, which ironically is what all perfectionists fear and try to avoid at all costs. It’s also extremely selfish. It places responsibility on ourselves for our own lives and the lives of those around us, believing, “If I don’t get this right, I and everyone else will fail.” Do you see how this doesn’t end well?!
My particular form of perfectionism causes all kinds of other sub-symptoms like people pleasing, anxiety, fear, food obsession, codependency, self doubt, poor boundaries, lack of self respect/worth/esteem, impulsive decision making (based on trying to please others), feeling responsible for other people’s behavior and life, pressure to answer to people or feeling like I owe people things I don’t owe them and that they don’t deserve, having a savior complex (for myself and others)…I literally could go on for days I’m sure, but I think you get the point. It’s not good. When I’m not careful, even after lots of hard work to be a healthier human being, I find myself yanked right back into the sick perfection dance I’ve been in my whole life. The music and the partners change, but the dance remains the same. I think it’s time to begin a new dance altogether!
It amuses me that even in the effort to become less perfectionistic, I find myself needing to do even that perfectly. I critique every slip and every wrong step along the way. “There you go again. You failed! You can’t even try to work on yourself good enough. If you would just try harder or be better maybe you could get this; but here you are…still you!” I’ve learned to hear that voice and separate it from my own and from God’s, recognizing that it is merely the enemy trying to keep me in a sick downward twist. Satan fights me hard every day; but he fights even harder when God is calling me up and out of that dark, downward spiral. When I get serious about listening to God and following His voice rather than my own, or worse yet, Satan’s; the little devil fights tooth and nail to pull me back. He’s got all kinds of sneaky tricks he uses with me; just as he does with everyone. He knows what works and he pushes those buttons as hard and as fast as his sick, and what I picture to be mangled fingers can push. Good news is, God’s hand is so much bigger and stronger than Satan’s nasty little button pushing fingers.
God says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Perfectionists like to choose the hard yoke and the heavy burden. I think it gives us a sense of validation in a way to walk the hard road. It’s another destructive method of defeat and self deprication that says “I don’t deserve an easy yoke or a light burden. I am a heavy burden and therefore I have to carry a heavy burden.” It also says, “See how hard im trying? See how much im doing? Im trudging the hard roads here!” It comes from the need for approval from people rather than from God, and it’s all lies straight from the pit of hell! God doesn’t want us to suffer and punish ourselves for not being perfect. He knew we would never be perfect and we would never be able to pay for our own sins. That’s the whole reason why he died on the cross for us. We can’t do it!!! We can’t ever be good enough…and we aren’t suppose to. At the same time as we knowingly can’t ever be good enough, God looks at us and says, “I love you! You are beautiful and created in my image. You are enough because I am enough for you.”
Can i get an amen!?
Striving to be perfect and to do life in our own strength is basically telling God that we don’t trust Him and that He isn’t able to handle us appropriately, so we have to do it ourselves. Not smart folks!
God challenges me often to remember this and to continually turn my life and my will over to Him, the only one who IS enough. There will never be a day that I don’t fall short of the glory of God. There will never be a time where I get it and am able to be good enough in terms of a perfectionistic ideal of “good enough.” But I can rest in knowing that that’s not what I’m called to do. I am simply called to fix my eyes on Jesus and run the race that Is set before me to the best of my ability, trusting that God will fill In the gaps where I fall short. Perfectionism twists “you can be anything” into “you have to be everything.” Today I am holding onto that I can’t be everything, but God can. Jesus plus nothing equals everything. He doesn’t need my help! Imagine that! He doesn’t need me to be perfect and to never fall, and step correctly, and do it right, and be enough, and be everything. What a relief to be released from that responsibility through God’s unconditional love! If only I could remember that in the tough moments where I want to fix everything and make it all OK and do it at all perfectly.
I am finally beginning to understand God views me through the eyes of a loving father. The same way I can’t even explain my love for my sons, God’s love for me is ten fold more unexplainable. When I fail, struggle and fall short; He isn’t up in heaven pointing down and laughing saying, “See! I knew you couldn’t do it! You’re a failure today just like you’ve always been.” No! He looks at me as His beloved daughter and says, “I love you. It breaks my heart to see you struggling. When you hurt, I hurt. Take my hand and rest in me. I’ve got you. I’m for you. I believe in you. You are mine and I am yours.” Halelujah!
Change doesn’t come over night and sometimes it takes laying things down over and over again throughout the day. But the goal is progress, not perfection. One day at a time. I can’t fix all my broken pieces, but God can. And He is. And for that, I’m grateful!
“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” (Psalm 18:32)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
“But he said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
(Now let me post this before my critical, perfectionistic voice takes over and tells me to erase the whole thing because it’s wordy, stupid and pointless for anyone to read.) 🙂
Carry on imperfect warriors! 🙂