The Two Sides of Perfectionism
Researchers have discovered that not all perfectionism is bad. In fact, a level of perfectionism is preferred in highly specialized work. You want a surgeon, airplane pilot, attorney, or software developer to do the very best job possible. A degree of perfectionism can inspire people to achieve their maximum potential.
However, when pushed to its extreme, perfectionism can be destructive. It can lead to relationship problems, depression or worse. A compassionate Christian counselor can help you deal with the dark side of perfectionism so you can manage it at a healthy level.
Portrait of a Healthy Perfectionist
Many people are born with a personality that leans toward perfectionism. A healthy perfectionist will be aware of this. She will know that doing her best feels good. She will gain a sense of satisfaction for a job done right and blessing others with her work.
Healthy perfectionists are out to win, but they don’t need to run others over to accomplish their goals. A healthy perfectionist may welcome a challenge. But he will welcome the successes of others rather than elevating his success over theirs. He will feel validated based on his own efforts, not needing the praise of others to feel worthy.
Portrait of a Maladaptive Perfectionist
The maladaptive perfectionist has a ruthless inner critic. This voice is normally formed in childhood. It tells the sufferer that she is never good enough. It whispers that he will never amount to anything. This voice may develop due to overbearing parents or overreaching authority figures. It can also be present due to a child’s God-given personality.
The inner critic’s negative messages hold the sufferer captive with fear. The perfectionist may swing between two extremes: working in excess or procrastinating and avoiding altogether. This bondage is rooted in anger, which can lead to bouts of depression and anxiety.
Perfectionistic acts can take many different forms. The perfectionist may keep an immaculate home, have a perfect attendance record, exercise for hours every day, dress to the nines, or have a yard that looks like a golf course. Some perfectionists are particular about one area and indifferent to others.
Many maladaptive perfectionists project their desires for perfection onto others. Whether with their spouses, children, coworkers, or committee members, the perfectionist’s desires for flawless work can create significant problems. Others may resist the perfectionist’s criticism and attempts to control. This can leave the perfectionist in a state of isolation, which may lead to mental and emotional problems.
Overcoming Perfectionistic Tendencies
To overcome maladaptive perfectionism, you need to address the source of the problem. A compassionate Christian counselor can help you handle the critical or condescending messages you received from others. Your counselor can also teach you how to deal with the inner critic. By starting at the source, you will overcome unhealthy perfectionism.
You’ll need to reframe your thinking about your problem area. Perfectionists are very hard on themselves. When you hear the shaming voice, you can say back, “I’m doing the best I can today, and that’s good enough.” You can also deal with the procrastination side of perfectionism by refusing to listen to the “never good enough” voices. You can tell yourself, “I’m going to devote ten minutes to this project today and see where it goes.”
Practice letting go of perfectionism with others every single day for thirty days, and you’ll see a difference. For example, if you nag your husband about how he loads the dishwasher, you can tell yourself, “The most important thing is that we have clean dishes. They can always be rewashed; it’s no big deal.”
If you give your kids a hard time about their grades or their messy room, choose to offer a word of kindness each day to improve the emotional climate. You can apply these principles in other situations to repair relationships.
If you have been a perfectionist for decades, it will take lots of practice to change your thinking and habits. Your counselor will come alongside you with practical help and hold you accountable. You can also ask a trusted friend to pray for you and point out when you are going back to your old ways. In time, you can be free from the perfectionism that has held you in bondage for too long.
Verses to Help You Overcome Perfectionism
It’s important to tell yourself the truth from Scripture to counter the inner critic’s messages. As you meditate on Scripture, you can replace the negative messages with the life-giving messages of the Bible. Here are several Scriptures that can help you when you struggle with the desire for perfection.
Come to me, all you who are weary and 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
These words of Jesus provide great comfort. He doesn’t want you striving so hard to achieve, all on your own. He wants to provide you rest. You don’t need to carry a heavy burden by yourself; Jesus will help you carry it. He will do the heavy lifting for you, so you aren’t weighed down by the pursuit of perfection.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9 NIV
You were chosen by God to be his child. You are his special possession. He wants you to walk in the light of his freedom rather than being bound to the dark side of perfectionism. Lean into the grace that is in this verse and let it set you free.
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. – Galatians 3:14
You are redeemed. This means that Jesus paid a high price for you, just so you can be included in his family. Your faith is a precious gift from him. Don’t worry about proving your worth through your actions, because Jesus has already validated your worth.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. – Psalm 139:14
If you struggle to feel worthy, Psalm 139 is a powerful passage to help you overcome your doubts. God made you with mastery and wonder. You don’t have to strive to prove your worth, because he considered you valuable before you were even born.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Because Jesus loves you and gave himself for you, you have the power to overcome. As a believer, he lives in you and gives you the strength and ability to live the Christian life. He doesn’t expect perfection from you but offers his grace, forgiveness, and guidance. Remember that Jesus lives in you and can help you choose a different future.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. – Romans 15:7
Christ accepts you as is, flaws and all. He doesn’t require your perfection, because he is the only one who can be completely without sin. His acceptance of you can help you accept others with their flaws as well.
Need more help in overcoming perfectionism? Contact the caring counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling today. We will help you find the tools to have victory.
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