Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Have you ever thought of perfectionism in relation to your health?

What about the stress your body undergoes when you aim for perfection?

What happens to your physical being when you don’t live up to unrealistic expectations?

I hope my story will make you think twice about trying to live a perfect life.

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

In sixth grade, I used to stay up late at night coloring geography maps for social studies class. The colors had to reflect the culture of the country, the shading and intensity had to be even throughout, and of course, the colors had to be in between the lines. Everyone knows that! I could never understand the kids that colored outside the lines. Who could live with that mistake?

My perfectionist tendencies started when I was young as my personality emerged. I preferred order and neatness, and everyone else to follow my lead. I was good at organizing and seeing patterns. At age five, I was alphabetizing my color crayons, and at age eleven, I was stacking and cataloguing my parent’s collection of VHS tapes. My sport of choice was gymnastics and that only fueled my desire for perfection. At all times, my toes had to be pointed, my chin up, and my feet firmly planted on the balance beam. Falling off, especially at a competition, was an automatic five-tenths deduction. In high school, my high standards required that I get straight A’s on my report cards. In college, I finally loosened up a bit, and allowed myself a few B’s and even a C in my grade point average! My talents in music also energized my perfectionist side. Every note I played had to be the correct pitch, tone, rhythm, and dynamic.

As an adult, I’ve worked hard, often too hard to meet my high expectations. I pushed beyond my physical limits and suffered for it. My body finally said “enough!” under the stress. It was then, I began to ask why I had placed unrealistic pressures on myself for years. (Read more about My Health Story.)

I believe God gave me gifts in organizing, analytical reasoning and music, and they are good. I can celebrate them and use them to help others. But strengths can also become a source of pride. When my goal is to showcase my abilities and seek accolades from others, I’ve crossed the line into pleasing people. This can be quite subtle. I can mask my people-pleasing as helping and striving for excellence. But ultimately, if my heart motive is wanting to look good in front of people, then God calls that an idol. I am worshipping people more than God.

John 12:42-43 talks about men that were more concerned about man’s acceptance than the worship of God. “…they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

Exodus 20:3-5 says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth…you shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God am a jealous God.”

When I aim to demonstrate my “perfectness” to people, I will always be unsatisfied. When I worry about what people think of me when I make mistakes, I will always be unsettled. When I’m concerned about disappointing people, I will never be happy.

Why? Because…

  • Perfectionism is self-serving and prideful.
  • Perfectionism relies on the appreciation and acceptance of others.
  • Perfectionism is dependent on good works, instead of God’s grace.
  • Perfectionism forgets that God can work good in imperfect people and situations.
  • Perfectionism overlooks that the only one who is perfect is God himself.

The final result of perfectionism for our health is that it causes you to ignore your own physical needs. At least, that’s what happened to me. I was so focused on people’s opinion of me and my high standards, that I completely ignored the signs of stress, anger, and bitterness that my body was shouting at me. “Doing” became far more important than “being.” I could never rest because I always had something to prove to someone.

What about you?

  • Have you caught yourself scrubbing the stovetop or floors at 12:30am?
  • Have you agonized over what to wear for a friend’s party?
  • Have you ever corrected your child’s school project, so it’s just right?
  • Do you spend inordinate amounts of time in front of the mirror with your hair or make-up, trying to look perfect?
  • Do you walk around the house picking up after your husband and frustrated at him for not living up to your standards of cleanliness?
  • Do you get angry at yourself for making the same mistakes?
  • Do you get upset when something doesn’t go as you planned?
  • Are you afraid of looking like a failure?

Then maybe you are just like me! Well, the way I used to be all the time. I am a recovering perfectionist. Striving for perfection is a futile endeavor! Life is not perfect. I am not perfect! I am so grateful for God’s grace. He gently reminds me when I place perfectionism above him. I confess my sin, turn away from my idol, and rejoice that I’m forgiven. Admitting that I’m not perfect is a huge relief, because then I can bask in God’s love and grace for me. I’m accepted just as I am in Jesus Christ. I can then focus on pleasing my Lord first and serving people second, with a humble heart attitude.

love God and neighbor armsHow blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! Psalm 32:1-2

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. 1 Peter 5:6

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