Recognizing the 6 Stages of Perfectionism

I was a perfectionist as a child, and even to an extent I am as an adult. I have realized recently that the root of perfectionism is pride. There is a difference in striving to do what is right and best for yourself and feeling like you MUST do it.  Because when you really look at yourself, you feel like you are better than others because of how perfect you perform.  Your life is a stage that everyone sees and you are judging yourself based on what the ideal lifestyle looks like: perfect grades, perfect health, perfect time management, perfect looking house, perfect habits, perfect everything. And you may even admit that you aren’t perfect whole heartedly, but you take great pride in how close to it you think you are.  And with perfectionism, from my experience, there is a vicious cycle that is emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually unhealthy.

Stage 1: Perfection.  This is that point in the cycle when you spend yourself being perfect.  You work out, study hard, and do everything yourself and in your own strength.  You look at your life and feel like you have arrived at some pinnacle moment where you have almost reached perfection.  You see that there are still small changes that you could make, but you really think you are doing great.  You wake up when your alarm goes off.  Do your devotions, your Jesus time, immediately in the morning, plan healthy meals for the day, and accomplish everything on your to-do list, all while completing a novel you were reading, writing a blog, and watching a movie with those you love.  (Sounds perfect right? I am exaggerating a little, but I am pretty sure this is what we as perfectionists strive for.  The ideal, perfect day.)

Stage 2: Exhaustion.  As you can imagine, doing so much all day, every day, in your own strength, causes you to feel exhausted, poured out and over drafted.  If your life was a bank account, you just went negative. And this is when temptation really comes in.  You fall hard, maybe have a lazy day or decide to not do your devos.  You do something that you consider as “imperfect” because you are just too tired to care… at that moment.

Stage 3: Guilt.  This is the point where perfectionism really becomes so unhealthy.  You can’t just forgive yourself and move on.  You wallow in guilt and shame, causing you to stumble even more.  You feel so ashamed of how you have behaved that you don’t see how God could truly love and forgive you.  You almost become half depressed, as you cope with the reality that no matter how hard you try, you will never be perfect.

Stage 4: Self-Destruction.  After you have gone through the guilt stage, which could last a few minutes, an hour, or even a day.  You almost simultaneously begin thinking self-destructive thoughts.  You beat yourself up about it and punish yourself more than anyone deserves.  You feel humiliated, stupid, and weak.

Stage 5: Dependence.  Finally, you fall to your knees and cry out to God.  You feel so helpless and beyond repair.  You feel so in need of forgiveness, and yet you feel like you have done nothing to deserve it.  Which really is what makes grace so amazing.  We don’t deserve it, it is unwarranted.  After you wallow in prayer and “feel” like you are depending on God.  You pick yourself up, determined to depend on Him again.  (If you aren’t a Christian, this is the point where you give yourself a pep-talk and clean the slate).

Stage 6: Perfection.  You work your way up again, and pride rears its ugly head once again.  So the cycle continues

Perfectionism is a serious problem that causes emotional heartache, horrible self-esteem, and a poor understanding of God’s grace.  It causes pride to build up, even though you stumble and fall and know you are imperfect.  The only cure is Jesus, and even then, it is a battle.  I still will find myself in the stages of guilt and self-destruction because I feel so unworthy.  But that is what makes Jesus so remarkable.  When you get in His presence and seek His face, it no longer becomes a way of life that you MUST do, but rather what you want to do.  It starts to flow out of God’s strength, grace, and mercy and not your own.  When each day, you seek Jesus, He shows you how His mercies are new every day, and to cast your cares on Him.  And it is understanding daily that you are imperfect without God (and even with Him sometimes). Don’t let perfectionism ruin your life–Run to the only perfect one, Jesus!

If you can relate to this, check out a little deeper side of how I still struggle with perfectionism and lessons God has shown me about it.  A Recovering Perfectionist


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