The Perfectionism Wheel part 1
Yeah, thanks a lot, FB.
I thought I had completely overcome my life-squashing addiction to perfectionism. That’s right. I had “perfectly” overcome perfectionism, which is right up there with Moses claiming to be the most humble man on the earth. (Numbers 12:3)
Just how did Facebook do it?
It all started on Tuesday. They announced the birthday of one of my besties early that morning. I sincerely wanted to write her a birthday poem that would clearly communicate that I love her to pieces and think she’s amazing. A simple “Happy Birthday!” just wouldn’t do. But Tuesday was crazy, and it never got done.
“Okay,” I thought as I went to bed that night. “Tomorrow I’ll write her an even BETTER belated birthday poem.”
On Wednesday morning, Facebook announced that it was the birthday of yet another one of my besties. This friend is near and dear to my heart as well, so now the goal was an even better belated birthday poem, PLUS today’s friend’s birthday poem. The poems never got written.
Then Thursday’s announcements brought ANOTHER sweet and dear friend’s birthday to my attention. Well, SHE deserves a poem too!!! So now the pressure was on to write one really good poem and two even better (to make up for them being belated) poems.
I still “owe” 3 birthday poems, and the longer I wait, well of course, the better they’re gonna need to be. 😉
Lately, I’ve been desperately asking God to speak to me. I just never imagined He’d do it through Facebook.
So what exactly is perfectionism? A guy named David Seamands describes it like this:
“Perfectionism is a constant and all-pervading feeling of never quite measuring up, never quite doing or being enough to please. To please whom? Everyone—yourself, others and God.”
This week and the next few, I’d like us to explore this “need to please,” that often disguises itself as “healthy striving,” or as “not being a lazy bum.” Today, we’ll touch on the need to please yourself.
Ever been on this hamster wheel?
Mental healthcare counselor Tressa Borchardt describes the vicious perfectionism cycle this way:
1. Setting unattainable expectations
2. Failure to reach those expectations
3. Internalization of the failure and falling into depression
4. Experience of lethargy and low energy with a deep sense of failure
5. Developing high self-blame/doubt and lower self-esteem
6. Increased anxiety and focus on “improving”
7. Repeat 1-6
Okay, so I’m not exactly drowning in depression over failing to deliver 3 birthday poems that 3 dear friends in no way expected, but if I let them (the key word being “IF”), these three unwritten poems will write their own poems in my mind – something like:
What kind of loser
can’t write some simple birthday rhymes?
It’s like your diet, financial, and Bible-reading goals
you’ve failed at so many times!
Where does this spirit of perfectionism come from?
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jesus)
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (Paul the Apostle)
“When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun, and fear is the annoying back seat driver.” (Brené Brown)
Maybe it comes from the devil.
Maybe it comes from performance-based relationships in your family, your social circle, or your workplace, where—at least in your mind—you never seem to “measure up.”
Maybe it comes from an overdose of pride or insecurity (AKA, pride in reverse) that feeds our need to be in control.
Maybe it’s a combo of all three, where fear of “not being good enough” is the pervading and paralyzing factor.
We know it DOESN’T come from Jesus.
Signs of Perfectionism
Should-itis (When should is the most common word in your mind and on your lips.)
“I should be better at this by now.”
“I should have done that in college.”
“I should be faster at that.”
“I should know that.”
“I shouldn’t feel this way.” etc., etc., etc….
“What if there’s a better way to do it?
“What if I mess it up?
“I’ll ask 10 friends what they think.”
“God, You made it crystal clear for Gideon. How about making it clear for me too?”
“I’ll get serious and start my diet on Monday.”
“I’ll start writing that book when we’re on vacation.”
“I’ll study the Bible once I have an hour a day to dedicate to it.”
“I’ll start telling people about Jesus once I’ve memorized the Bible.”
Eccesiastes 11:4 Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. (NLT)
Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
“What if I never get my business off the ground?”
“What if my kid fails in school?”
“What if I fail in school?”
“How could I be a whole year behind in getting that done?”
Put perfectionism in the past. How?
#1 Assess your mess.
Like, often. I truly thought I had put perfectionism behind me, and there it was, so plain and obvious in way more areas than just the birthday poems. Ask yourself what’s causing your perfectionism and take time out to see what it’s doing to you. Ask:
“Why did I really decide that I needed to do that?”
“What am I afraid of?”
“What am I missing out on while going crazy to be perfect?”
“Is it worth it?
“Am I trying to please Jesus, or someone else?”
Pray Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”
#2 Call your fall.
In what area are you most apt to be perfectionistic? For me, it shows up most in writing or speaking opportunities. For you, it might be in your physical appearance, your career, your relationships, or your spiritual life. Perfectionism tends to show up in the areas where we feel most to susceptible to failure or embarrassment, or as Brené Brown puts it, “most vulnerable to shame.”
#3 Roll your goals.
That’s it. Roll them over and inspect them. Are the goals you’re setting, or the things you’re saying “yes” to really what you want most?
More importantly, are they what God wants for you?
For example, I want to be the best writer and communicator I can be. But is that what God wants for me? Maybe He has something even better for me, and I want to keep my ear tuned to Him so I don’t miss it.
#4 Crawl away from small.
Perfectionists tend to make big deals out of small details that in the end really don’t matter.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if:
Someone came to my house and it wasn’t squeaky clean?”
My kid wore mismatched clothes to his school concert?”
I didn’t have perfect attendance at church this month?”
#5 Train your brain.
This one just might be the most important. We fall into the perfectionism trap either because of a need to please someone, or because of a fear of not measuring up. Our heads mess with us, and tell us lies (or remind us of lies we’ve been told) that feed the need to please and fuel the fear of not measuring up. The only cure is to replace the lies with God’s truth, and live in the freedom and “enoughness” Jesus already won for us on the cross.
Together, as those dearly loved by God, let’s soak in His truth this week, and let that truth be what dictates and motivates our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
You are loved!
1 John 3:1a See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (NLT)
John 15:15 (Jesus speaking) I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (NIV)
2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (NLT)
Hebrews 10:14 (Regarding Jesus on the cross) For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (NIV)
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. (NLT)
Colossians 2:9-10 For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (NLT)
1 Peter 2:9 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. (NIV)