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  • Writer's pictureMegan Estes

Death to Perfectionism

Updated: Feb 5

Death to perfectionism

(Scroll down to see the steps I've taken to work towards killing perfectionism)

While I may not seem like the type of person who would have any knowledge of such a subject (unless you're my family or have known me for decades) let me be the first to tell you that pride, perfectionism, and control have been the focus of several years of recovery for me. Perfectionism is SO much deeper than wanting to have a perfectly clean home or matching outfit. It is a mindset of unattainable goals that you constantly beat yourself up about. I'll never forget my sponsor in recovery saying to me, "wow, you're really creative with new ways to hate yourself." That statement was eye-opening for me, as I had originally thought that wanting to be perfect was a healthy goal in life. In reality, I've learned that perfectionism kills one's spirit, one's relationships, and it's actually a disguised desire for control. Underneath the desire for control is actually unresolved pain, brokenness, and fear.

I'm the classic firstborn child---bossy, strong-willed, natural leader, people pleaser, etc. Somehow, I have this innate tendency to REQUIRE myself to jump over whatever bar is set. That manifested itself into academic performance during my childhood so much that looking back I wish I would have allowed myself to have more fun! One of my major life goals is to be more "type B." Yes, I'm serious. It's something I genuinely laugh at while being completely serious. I once read that Type B personalities actually live longer since Type A personalities are more at risk for stress and burnout! I used to actually judge type B personalities because I thought that they were just being lazy. But the truth is that I have A LOT to learn from them!

Here's a good definition from the APA Dictionary of Psychology about perfectionism.

n. the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation. It is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems. —perfectionist adj., n.

Did you catch all the mental health problems that are associated with perfectionism? Yikes! I didn't realize there was such a connection between perfectionism and depression until I was in college. I went to a small Bible college and part of our entrance exams were to complete different personality profiles and then to meet with a college counselor to go over the results. I knew that I had a high level of "achiever" wired in me, but what I didn't realize was that this could actually lead me down a path of depression. When reading me my results my counselor looked at me and said something along the lines of, "do you see your point right here on this chart? You have a high ideals. Now look how this point could actually intersect with this depression line right here. That's something you're going to need to watch." It was really the first time that I connected my desire of wanting perfect relationships, projects, reputations, and views of myself as potentially harmful. I thought that my desire to excel in everything was purely good, but now I know it had a cost. It wasn't until sophomore/junior year of college that I plummeted into depression and reluctantly took medication for it. I am so thankful for the counselor that straight up told me, "you don't need to read your Bible more or pray more, you need some medicinal help, Megan." Here again is where the sickness of perfectionism had me--thinking I just needed to try harder!

I have not perfectly conquered perfectionism! Ha! I still see weeds of it pop up into my life on occasion and I have to get busy doing some heart gardening. I am no longer feeding the perfectionism monster; I'm starving him. And that monster is slowly dying. Maybe it's a combination of growing older and more mature, having more children, deciding to homeschool, and other things that have helped my perfectionism to fade. One truth I do know is that if I had not surrendered this sickness to the Lord earlier in my life I would have continued to wound those I love around me. I pray you can have eyes to see that perfectionism is actually toxic and deadly to yourself and others.

Perfectionism is poison

Here are some examples I've seen in others and some that I've lived through of how perfectionism can poison yourself and the people you love:

You work hard and give your all in school, yet have no joy unless you have perfect grades. You're missing out on the joy of learning!

You have your children make their beds every morning, but after they leave you remake them every day because you can breathe better. This actually causes shame in your child; why should they continue making them if you're just going to re-do it? How will they ever learn?

You can't work through simple conflicts in relationships because things aren't perfect. (Tip: no healthy relationship is ever void of conflict, conflict is just part of the human race)

You can't enjoy being in your home unless everything is in order. You squander time for rest and are always stressed because let's be honest--there's always task to do in the home. Also, this causes anxiety within your children instead of them feeling like home is a safe place to be themselves, which is sometimes messy.

You can't have quiet time in the morning unless the house is perfect. You keep putting off what's really important--mistaking worldly pleasures for heavenly ones. Order has become an idol in your life.

You take over group projects to insure things go perfectly your way. This trait might be mistaken as someone who loves to give and serve, but it's really camouflaged control. Thus, never allowing others to grow or have an opportunity to excel.

Your children always have to look their best. You may have fallen to pride and insecurity here with this level of vanity. Allowing kids to freely express themselves with their hair and outfit choices is crucial to them finding out who they are and what they like.

You have to look a certain way every day. While this is on the edge of vanity, it could also be another way you're trying to be perceived as someone who is perfect and in control of your life--though you probably feel out of control and anxious often.

You would rather yell at your family to pick up the house and raise the level of anxiety in everyone before guests come over, versus engaging with your hurting child's heart and letting the mess just "be." You're missing out on an opportunity to let someone see your true humanness. You've chosen performance over presence with the people who love you the most.

You find yourself being critical in your thoughts with others often. Because you've held yourself to impossible high standards and are constantly judging yourself, it's only time before those standards seep out onto others and you find yourself being critical, controlling, and even manipulative.

You have difficulty being genuinely happy for other's joy and success. Everything has become a competition in your mind and you find yourself feeling like a failure when someone else succeeds instead of cheering them on. I've watched watched this play out and it's nasty! Instead of congratulating someone on something someone had created I heard, "you suck" come out of my friend's mouth because they were jealous at how awesome this person's creation was--they were serious about it, too! I've also felt this from friends long ago when I excelled or succeeded at something--they couldn't join me in my joy.

You struggle with procrastination. In situations where perfectionism isn't an option you may find yourself avoiding the situation entirely. You don't have the energy or time to put into this situation to make it perfect, so you procrastinate.

You receive any level of criticism as an attack. Looking at someone with perfectionism from the outside may seem like they are a strong person, but they are often fragile and have low self-esteem. A confident person who is gracious with themself knows how to receive constructive feedback and not let it ruin their week.

If any of these examples ring true to you it might be time to accept that perfectionism isn't actually helping you, but rather it's causing stress, anxiety, and possibly depression in your life and it's for sure straining the relationships around you.

Here are some next steps to take:

  1. Confess your addiction to perfectionism. Admitting that you aren't actually perfect and accepting that you are made in the image of God just as He wants is a great start. It may take time to realize that perfectionism isn't healthy--it has great costs in life. Confess and repent if you've seen your desire for control and perfectionism rob you of joy in motherhood and other relationships. Whether you believe it or not others probably have trouble breathing around you because they know you are constantly critiquing yourself and them. Tell the Lord that you want to relinquish control and that you trust Him to sustain you through the day even when everything doesn't go perfectly your way.

  2. Take inventory of the cost of perfectionism in your life. Ask the Lord to reveal the ways that you've harmed yourself and others because of this. Have you caused shame in your children? Your husband? What other relationships have been hurt because of this? What areas do you not even realize you're controlling or manipulating? Do you have any indicators of self-hatred? Do others actually feel safe with you? Are you in relationship with people who have messy lives, or do others not reveal their true colors to you because they don't feel safe because your standards are so high?

  3. Start showing grace to yourself on a daily basis. You are going to fail. Even when you give your all to relationships and projects it won't ever feel like enough when things are out of your control. Start laughing at your mistakes. Show up somewhere without your hair and make-up perfectly in order. Tell yourself you're loved by the Maker of the Universe! Praise God for your desire for excellence, but ask Him to make sure that your desire for excellence is not a source of toxic pride and control. Write out a list of past failures that you continue to beat yourself up about, and then release that to the Lord! Challenge yourself to recognize the "self-shame" talk that happens in your head when you think about these failures. Forgive yourself and MOVE ON.

  4. Speak grace to those closest to you. One of the things I tell my kids often is, "I don't love you cause you're good, I love you cause you're mine." This reminds myself and them that my love for them isn't based on whether they are a good kid, get good grades, etc. My love for them is because they're MY CHILD. If you struggle with perfectionism it's guaranteed you struggle with controlling those around you and it's time to verbally build up these precious people. Speak an encouraging word to your children about something they did whether they did it well or not. Share your failures with your people, in your home, in your workplace, and other areas you spend time. People need to hear that you have struggles because you've probably advertised that you don't! Start holding your tongue every time you want to make a critique and ask yourself--is it really necessary I say this, is it helpful, or do I just want to control this situation?

I hope this short testimony of my journey with perfectionism inspires you to surrender more fully to the Lord. Surrender your pride. Your control. Confess your fears that are fueling it all! God wants you to live fully, not perfectly. While we strive for excellence we must accept that we CANNOT attain perfection and HAVE to live in an ongoing spirit of grace and gentleness with ourselves and our loved ones. I pray that today you can take a step forward into freedom from perfectionism.

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