A Recovering Perfectionist

Growing up, I was such a perfectionist.  I was a good kid with high expectations for myself.  I remember studying & memorizing my notes verbatim. I would spend literally hours doing homework because everything had to be neat and perfect.  I also remember the first time I failed an exam in junior high.  I was feeling sick that day and didn’t get as good of a cram session in before school (I only studied the morning of).  I was both embarrassed and humiliated as I uncontrollably wept and was on the verge of hyperventilation in the lady’s room.  Needless to say, I had a problem!

Somewhere along the way as I got more lazy with my homework and still got high grades, I began to realize that I didn’t need to be so hard on myself.  My first semester at college solidified that understanding.  I worked my tail off reading and taking notes and still only pulled a B in my history class.  Little things like that along the way made me realize that as long as I did my best and still got good enough grades to support my scholarships, that was all I cared about.

Looking back, I see how my perfectionism was largely pride.  I think that is why it is so dangerous.  In fifth grade, a few of us had received so many A+ exams, that we were able to take a pass on one of the exams.  If I was any normal non-perfectionistic child, I would have and should have taken that pass with gratitude and enjoyed a study-free night before the exam.  But in my perfectionism, I enjoyed the pat on the back and attention that I received from getting that A+. I kindly refused the pass.  I said , “I enjoy earning the A+ because I studied hard for it,” which was true, but deep down it was because I thought it somehow made me better than the others.

Perfectionism also put so much pressure on me to have everything perfect–in my relationship with God, in my obedience to my parents, and in cleaning my room.  I would clean my room for hours, and still can, because when I start to clean, I am a perfectionist about it (as long as I am doing it out of my will, otherwise I am stubborn).  My defense growing up when my sister called me a “Perfect Angel” as if it was an insult was that Jesus said to, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Yet, pride and false expectation is not what I think he meant.

Even today I see how perfectionism has affected my life.  Except now my life is riding this perfectionism swing that sways from the far end of being the perfect “Martha & Mary” to barely keeping up with life and letting everything fall apart around me.  It usually starts out like yesterday.  I notice that I need to make changes, and I intend to make changes.  I do really well at first.  Then eventually, I burn out.  I go too hard and expect so much, but, rather than getting back into the swing of doing things right, I let it slip away.  It is like I just fall off the swing but the swing just keeps swaying back and forth until it comes to a complete stop above me usually as my world is in complete chaos.  I came to that realization about myself today as I was talking about it with one of my superiors at work.  I began noticing my MO.

So I suppose here is to once again striving to make myself better, not because of pride or because I have to be perfect (because that is an impossible feet on my own), but rather to striving to be the best God has called me to be, to taking care of myself and my home, and to finding the sense of accomplishment again, a good sense of pride.  I believe that when God said to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” He knew that it would be an impossible task for us to do without Him, especially since it is said in the same paragraph as “Love your enemies,” arguably the hardest commandment Jesus gave us to do. I think He knew the limits of our flesh and it is only by God’s grace that we can rise above our own ability and come close to obtaining that “perfection.” And when we miss the mark and mess up a bit, it is by that same grace that He still lovingly calls us His sons and daughters.  So here is to being a recovering perfectionist in the arms of the Perfect Father.

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5 thoughts on “A Recovering Perfectionist

  1. I loved this. I really struggle with perfectionism, and until I got to thinking that I was not a bad person or stupid for getting a B, I think that it was really hard on my mental state.

    I recently picked up my Bible again after a *very* long time. The first couple of days I had to make myself read it. After that, I couldn’t wait. I went out and bought pretty tabs ^_^. my mom had sent me a Dr David Jeremiah booklet, with very interesting stories as well as devotions. I had previously been burned by religion…I have rather more liberal views than my parent’s church. However, I liked going to Jeff’s parents church, the library of which includes books entitled “The Left Hand of God”. I’ve been frequenting the Unitarian church, which I also enjoy. I’ve been thinking of going to the early Methodist service and then going to the Unitarian church. I feel like I’m having a minor religious crisis, trying to figure out what exactly I believe.

    1. I am so glad to hear that! As long as you are seeking God and the truth of His word, I believe He will point you in the direction He would have for you. I will be praying that you find a church to call home and that God helps you solidify what you believe and why you believe it.

    2. Two wonderful apologetic books that might interest you in your research and give you places to study in the Bible are “Know What You Believe” by Paul Little and “Know Why You Believe” by Paul Little. I would strongly recommend those to you. I am here if you have questions and will answer to the best of my ability. Here is a link to the Paul Little books:

  2. This is something I have struggled my entire life with, especially since my parents placed a lot of perfection pressure on me (a 98 was not a good grade because it meant I got two wrong). It took getting a B in Dr. Danny Alexander’s speech class for me to begin the long journey of realizing that perfection is not expected of me, only my best; if my best is a B, then a B is perfect.

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