Confessions of a (recovering) perfectionist
So I have fallen off the wagon, as they say…but I’m climbing back on! The perfectionist in me is having a heyday with this (“You started a blog and how often are you blogging now? Failure!”). In the last few weeks, when I have even CONSIDERED the possibility of writing, she gives me a fit (“Why even bother? You’ll never reach your goal of posting twice a week!”).
So what am I doing? Writing a blog about it!
I have decided to go FORWARD! I’m looking at the last few months from a more caring (and realistic) perspective. We hosted our first Heartwork conference four weeks ago, which filled up my schedule for the last three months. Our church has nearly doubled in size since last March, which means more phone calls, Bible studies, mentoring and teaching…I’m a busy woman! Doing good things! Not sitting on the couch eating ice cream, or robbing banks…
Why do I share all of this with you? Well, because I don’t believe that I’m the only (recovering) perfectionist out there. That others of you struggle with the same self-condemnation when you don’t think you’ve been productive enough, spiritual enough, hardworking enough….
Why can’t we see all of the GOOD that we’re doing? Why do we focus on what we lack? Why aren’t we able to give ourselves more grace and less guilt?
The expectations placed on us are ridiculous, and hardly attainable. We are expected to have clean houses, manicured nails, designer handbags, perfect hair, handsome husbands, well-behaved (and well-dressed) children, and preferably be a career woman AND a homemaker…and make it all look easy. As Brene Brown (research professor, speaker and author) says in her book Daring Greatly, women are expected to be continually striving towards perfection…but never break a sweat. Be working at it…but make it look easy.
Ha! Is that a joke, or what? It’s unrealistic, that’s what it is!
Not all of this pressure is from society, either. Some of it is just our own stinkin’ pride. Ouch. We put ourselves through so much PAIN, and for what?
Listen to what Brene Brown has to say in an article that she wrote for CNN.com:
“The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting, but as hard as we try, we can’t turn off the tapes that fill our heads with messages like “Never good enough” and “What will people think?”
Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No — the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.
We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”
“Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”
I would argue that most of that blame, judgment and shame comes from inside of us! As a (RECOVERING!) perfectionist, I have always found that the expectations I place on myself are much higher than those that others would place on me. When I don’t meet my own expectations (like not finishing a To Do list longer than the Nile…) I am filled with shame and self-condemnation. Needless to say, this is not healthy for my self-worth, or for any of the relationships in my life. My marriage suffers when I’m sinking in the quagmires of shame. My friendships suffer. And I certainly struggle with prayer and spending time with a Perfect God when I can’t “get my act together”. It causes problems everywhere. No matter where I turn, I can’t find rest, because I don’t believe that I deserve it. I write To Do lists that I could never possibly finish, I work when I should be sitting down…but when is enough, enough? When will I believe that I “deserve” to rest? Well, for the old me, it was only when I couldn’t physically go on. I sat down when I had completely extinguished all of my emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental energies. I felt especially “worthy” of rest when I had spent these energies on others. Sadly, by the time I rested, I was so spent that I barely enjoyed it! Really, is that God’s plan for us? (The obvious answer is no. I will be discussing God’s perfect plan of rest for us in a future post. Rest is an essential part of our productivity and creativity.)
So I began to see that the core of this issue was a battle between perfectionism and worthiness. I only felt worthy of love and happiness when I had worked myself to the bone. This would have been the end of me, but just when I began to unravel, God sent me a lifesaver. I met her on an airplane when I was flying back home from a trip to Montana. A Christian life coach, she walked me through my journey towards healing…and sanity. She taught me how to give myself grace and see myself as God sees me. She reminded me that God didn’t create me for what I can do for His kingdom and how productive I could be…He made me to love Him! He just wants ME.
Brene Brown also played an important role in my understanding of perfectionism. She put words to my inner struggle. When I first watched her TED talks on vulnerability and shame, my jaw dropped and I had the urge to look for hidden cameras in my room. How did she KNOW all of this about me? She helped me realize that I wasn’t the only crazy one out there! Below is another portion of her article on CNN.com:
“We all need to feel worthy of love and belonging, and our worthiness is on the line when we feel like we are never ___ enough (you can fill in the blank: thin, beautiful, smart, extraordinary, talented, popular, promoted, admired, accomplished).
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield. Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.”
Wow. Who else is with me? Lugging around a shield of perfectionism that is NOT protecting us, but holding us back from our God dreams! Keeping us on the ground like mother hens, instead of soaring through the sky like the eagles we were created to be.
One of my absolute favorite quotes from her is,
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
I am imperfect! YOU are imperfect! And it’s okay. Our worthiness of love and belonging is not tied to our performance. We were created to be loved. You were created by a loving God to experience love and belonging and connection. Is that a novel idea for you?
To my fellow (recovering) perfectionists out there…let it go! Let’s agree on this together. NO to perfectionism and YES to grace and mercy!
A few verses for us to help us overcome perfectionism and accept IMperfection:
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103:11-14, NKJV
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
II Corinthians 12:9-10, NKJV
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
Ephesians 2:8-10, NET
It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
I John 3:20, NKJV
Blessings to each of you lovely women on this journey! We’re in this thing together! Stay tuned for MORE on worthiness, rest, and freedom from perfectionism! Remember, you are a new creature in Christ! Throw away that “old woman” stained with guilt and shame. Embrace the newness of life in Christ Jesus!
Therefore if any woman be in Christ, she is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
II Corinthians 5:17, KJV (paraphrased)
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mythoto/8919743173/”>Leonard John Matthews</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>