Hi, my name is Veronica, and I am a perfectionist. (Hi, Veronica!)
I’ve been a perfectionist almost all of my life . . . or at least as far back as I can remember. I was the kid who would start all over if my name didn’t look just right on the top right-hand corner of my paper or if my handwriting wasn’t as pretty as I thought it should be. I was the over-achiever in science fair projects, the straight-A student who couldn’t stand the thought of an 89, and the busybody who had to get it all done, enrolling in every possible club and organization available.
It was a stressful existence, one that led to health issues even in my early teens, but it also was very much a rewarding one. Let’s be honest–who doesn’t like a perfect little child? A perfect, hard-working student? A perfect, self-driven employee? Or at least one that appears perfect? The truth is, the world LOVES a good little perfectionist.
The world showers perfectionists with medals, trophies, opportunities, accolades, prestige, and money. It’s a race to the top where only the creme of the crop thrive, the high flyers, the over-achievers. Perfectionists tend to congregate together, lifting each other up (or competing with one another) to climb higher and higher . . . and higher. There’s always a better status, better degree, better house, better car, better salary to attain.
I know, I was one of them. You never stop climbing . . . regardless of the cost.
I’m not sure it was all bad; it all depends on what you value. I accomplished a lot, made a lot of money, enjoyed the accolades. It was the price I paid for it all that became dangerous. It was the relevance I gave it that became overwhelming. It was the state of my heart that made it something I had to let go of.
I identified myself with what I did. My worth was centered with how well I performed. My very existence was centered on how many “likes” I obtained, how many clients I had, how many words of praise I received. Perfectionism had become an idol to me, and the worst part of it all? I brought it home with me.
Perfectionism in a marriage can be troublesome. Perfectionism in a family can be devastating. It compromises your time, resources, relationships, and even spirituality. These were some hard lessons I learned as I began to break free from its grasp.
1. Perfectionism is all encompassing. It can literally take hours from your life as you re-work and re-work that one tiny detail that you feel just has to be done. Although details may be important in some projects, perfectionism can truly lead to many wasted hours at the hands of something that may not be all that important. It can become addicting and an idol, something that strips you from time with your loved ones. It makes people a distraction from the work at hand and reverses priorities without reservations. It truly can consume you and leave shreds of relationships in its path.
2. Perfectionism leads to constant irritability and frustration. When you are working toward the perfect house, the perfect backyard, the perfect kitchen, the perfect vacation, you will easily find yourself frustrated with the reality that stands before you. Perfectionism forces you to compare yourselves with others, other things, or an unrealistic idea. It leads to the sin of coveting and the heartache of constant disappointment. If the schedule wasn’t met, the vacation didn’t go as planned, the baby decided to poop right before the elaborate dinner you prepared, or life just happened, striving for perfection will only lead to irritation and strife.
Nothing will ever be perfect this side of heaven, and so, the perfect anything will always be out of reach. Worldly values add to the problem as you are told you deserve better and should have more. It soon becomes a never-ending cycle of consumerism and frustration that ultimately cultivates a selfish heart.
The Lord, on the other hand, calls us to have hearts of thanksgiving and gratefulness. When our hearts are full, we can have peace and overlook the messes and what is supposedly lacking in our lives and focus our efforts on Christ, others, and what is truly important.
3. Perfectionism puts unfair expectations on those around us. When you’re a perfectionist, you tend to push the expectations you have for yourself on others. You expect your spouse to act a certain way; you expect your children to perform accordingly. You push for the star athlete or the academic over-achiever and do not let up until they succeed. Your intentions may be good, but the constant frustration of not meeting specific goals can be devastating to children and a marriage.
Perfectionists will always harp on the negative in their efforts to reach the “perfect”. They will notice the spilled milk before they see the crying child, the unswept floor before their tired spouse. Life becomes a set of projects that needs to be addressed rather than the relationships that need to be nurtured.
The children begin to learn that their worth is based on their ability to perform, and they soon grow used to seeking the approval of others in order to feel validated. The worst part of all, however, is you miss God’s purposes for their lives, for their future. In trying to push your agenda on those you love, you push them further away from who they were created to be.
4. Perfectionism makes it impossible to practice and teach humility and forgiveness. Raising children is often trying as you strive to teach them how to obey, how to treat others, how to be kind, and so forth. Perfectionism doesn’t leave much room for training and discipleship because it expects perfection and does not lend itself to opportunities for growth. A parent who practices perfection will not have the patience for the idiosyncrasies of childhood and will become easily frustrated with the “little years”, the “school years”, the “teen years”.
These missed opportunities will still teach something, but most likely, it will not be what you want it to be. The children may begin to think that they are not worth loving in and of themselves and/or they may even give up trying. What they need is the same love and grace we hope to have when we fall short of our own expectations.
A perfect person will also never recognize his/her own faults enough to practice humility when he/she has done wrong. A perfectionist will always make it about the other person in order to save face and keep his/her perfect image. Because of this, a perfectionist will never ask for forgiveness from others. In a marriage, this can lead to heartache. When rearing children, it leaves them without a godly model to follow.
5. Perfectionism keeps us from recognizing our need for a Savior. This is the absolute worst part about perfectionism. In Biblical Christianity, we believe that Jesus died for our sins and are therefore saved by His grace when we accept His gift of salvation. We also believe that just as He resurrected from the dead and conquered sin, we should repent and turn away from our sins and become new creatures in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).
A person who practices perfectionism, however, will find it very difficult to actually believe he/she is a sinner. Perfectionists tend to think highly of themselves, believing that they are good people and not as bad as the next person. They pride themselves in their works and fail to recognize that we are not saved by works but by grace, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a dangerous belief that makes them rely on their own abilities rather than on The Lord’s sacrifice.
I personally struggled with this, finding it difficult to believe that I had actually sinned against God. I had read the Bible and knew what it referred to as sin, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that I was a sinner. “I was a good person.” It took a very long time for me to truly repent of my sins and fully embrace The Lord’s beautiful gift. When I did, my life was fully changed.
Yes, I’ve had to trade in perfectionism for a more Biblical approach to responsibilities and work. Doing so does not mean that I no longer choose to excel or give my best efforts; and it definitely has nothing to do with idleness. It has to do with my motivations, my heart, and fulfilling God’s plan for my life rather than my own. First and foremost is God’s calling to love one another as we love ourselves.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. -Philippians 2:3
When I serve my family dinner, it is not to be the perfect wife and mother. It is done out of a genuine love for them, a true desire for their nourishment and wellness. When I iron my husband’s clothes, it is because I care for him and am grateful for the work that he does to provide for our family. When I help out a family member or friend, it comes from a humble place of wanting to do what I can to be there for them and encourage them. My actions are centered around love, not my own selfish ambitions. They come from a pure place that I must constantly keep in check lest I begin to expect something in return.
When serving out of love is even difficult due to a disagreement or my heart is just not right, I then remind myself of the next Biblical standard: we are to set our mind on things above and work as unto The Lord.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. -Colossians 3:23
It may not always be easy to keep a positive attitude in all that I do, but The Lord calls me to work heartily unto Him, and this makes it all the more important. I can keep a smile on my face even when I do the things I wish I didn’t have to. I can still fulfill my obligations and responsibilities wholeheartedly even when I really don’t feel like it. I can still be a blessing unto those who have hurt me. My actions and work are for Him, and I strive daily to bring Him glory in all that I do.
The third Biblical standard calls us to seek perfectionism in holy righteousness, which is obviously a far cry from what we are taught in the world. When we become Christians, we are called to live a holy life, one that brings honor to The Lord. We are called to be perfect in righteousness and good works (Matthew 5:48; 2 Timothy 3:17). What a wonderful opportunity to grow in Him and be a blessing unto others!
I have come to discover that worldly perfectionism is self-seeking, only momentarily satisfying, and oftentimes, destructive in relationships. Biblical perfectionism, however, seeks righteousness and the well being of others. It is loving and kind and ultimately, fruitful. I thank God for the freedom I have in Him to move past myself and live for something beyond myself. With love, I move forward, giving grace to those around me (as I have received grace) and working heartily unto The Lord in all that I do.
I may not ever be perfect but I’ve come to realize that that is perfectly okay.