Perfectionism. The overwhelming desire to get everything just right….perfect. Most of my life I’ve struggled with unrealistic expectations I’ve set for myself. I would judge myself too harshly when I felt I didn’t measure up to some ideal. I was consumed with it and many times I didn’t even know I was doing this to myself until thoughts like these would pop up…
I should be better at (fill in the blank)
I thought I would be (fill in the blank) by now
Why am I not (fill in the blank)?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great at something or striving to be the best person you can be. The problem comes when you don’t allow yourself the grace to be human because we are all flawed people. If I did something that I considered out of character or beneath my standards, instead of accepting my faults, asking for forgiveness when needed, forgiving myself, then moving on, I would beat myself up over it for days, weeks, or months at a time.
My earliest memory of struggling with perfectionism was when I was 8 years old. I had always been a pretty smart kid – mostly A’s, a few B’s here and there. But in third grade I got a ‘C’ on an assignment. I remember thinking…”There must be a mix up! Maybe the teacher handed me back the wrong paper!” I looked and the name at the top of the sheet was mine.
I had a complete meltdown. I began crying and could not stop. My teacher tried to console me, but she ended up having to call my mom at work. My parents assured me that it was ok and gave me the ‘you can’t win them all’ conversation. But all I kept thinking was how could this happen? What is wrong with me?
This mindset has plagued me my entire life. Events this past year have forced me to face this issue head on and though it’s a painful process, it’s very necessary. I’m desperate to learn how to have a healthy balance of reaching for the best while giving myself room to grow.
When I would set goals in the past, I wanted to achieve it with the least amount of stumbles along the way. For instance, I’d be okay with one or two setbacks per goal, but what if there were 20 along the way? In achieving that goal, instead of being happy that I accomplished it, I would dwell on my shortcomings and the obstacles encountered trying to get there.
I would critique myself for not performing at the level I thought I should and/or I would be stressed and upset if the process didn’t go as smoothly as I would have hoped…even when the circumstances were beyond my control.
This caused me to suffer from “paralysis of analysis” – over thinking so much about a situation that it keeps you from moving forward. I wanted so badly to be my acceptable version of perfect in any endeavor, that I was not making any progress at all.
Perfectionism goes against everything my Christian faith is – grace, mercy, hope, love. If we could achieve perfection on our own God wouldn’t have sent his only Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of the world [John 3:16]. Trusting in who He is and accepting His sacrifice is what bridges the gap between imperfect mankind and God’s righteousness.
Even God knew we couldn’t be perfect so He provided the perfect solution!
When I realized that my issue of perfectionism was a crisis of faith, my whole perspective changed. I have to renew my thinking [Romans 12:2] and how I view myself. I’m shifting my focus from what I lack to the fact that Jesus makes up for everything I am not and everything I could ever hope to be.
With God’s help I’m reminding myself:
- The Creator loves and accepts me unconditionally
- Failure is not in making a mistake, it’s in giving up
- Let go of the need to feel like I have it together all the time
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- Strive for progress instead
And honestly this is only a fraction of positive thoughts I have to remind myself of. The entire list could be a whole other blog post entirely! I’m committed to this process of renewal. If the first step of recovery is admitting that you have a problem, I think I’m off to a great start and well on my way to healing. 🙂