Love Focused Living
Strengthening ourFaith ~ Growing in Love
©2013 Bob and Judy Hughes, Love Focused Ministries, All Rights Reserved
Are You a Perfectionist?
By Bob and Judy Hughes
By definition, perfectionism refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high and unattainable goals-in any area of life. Thus a person may strive for perfection in only one area of his/her life, but he is still a perfectionist. Whether a perfectionist is a perfectionist in one area or many, he still experiences the same relational and emotional cost, although in varying degrees.
When I first began counseling, it didn’t take long to realize how many of my clients were either perfectionists or the children of perfectionist parents. The more I began to understand perfectionism and learn about its negative impact on individuals, families, and relationships, the more I found myself exploring with new clients the possibility that perfectionism was part of the problem. It also became clear that many people who actually are perfectionists don’t recognize it in themselves. Some people do not think they are perfectionists, because they do not pursue perfection in every area of their lives. Others do not think they are perfectionists because they do not fit the stereotypical perfectionist image.
Perfectionism Versus Achievement
Unfortunately, perfectionism is often confused with the positive quality of high achievement. Both high achievers and perfectionists strive for excellence. However, the high achiever doesn’t have to reach perfection. The perfectionist does. The high achiever is motivated by the positive, other-centered desire to do a good job for others. The perfectionist’s motivation is self-focused. He has to achieve perfection for his own benefit. One difference between a healthy person and a perfectionist is a perfectionist is driven, a healthy person has drive.
Making Others Perfect
In some cases, rather than trying to be perfect themselves, the perfectionist just tries to get other people to be perfect. I counsel with many married men and women who believe if they could just get their spouse to do things right, then life would be good. As perfectionists, they believe that the only way to do things is their way. If someone isn’t doing it their way, they’re doing it wrong. It never occurs to them that just because someone sees something differently or handles a situation differently than he or she would, that it is not necessarily
wrong. Because they are not trusting God with their needs, they try to perfect their spouses to get things to be the way they think they should be.
Common Perfectionistic Statements
Over the years, I’ve kept a mental list of the common statements made to me by my clients who struggled with perfectionism. If you can relate to many of these statements, it’s possible you are a perfectionist.
• I tend to procrastinate.
• I often feel anxious about starting a project, so I just put it off.
• I feel overwhelmed and frustrated with not being able to get things done the way they should be.
• My kids never do things the way I tell them to.
• Sometimes my employees drive me crazy.
• I enjoy planning ahead and knowing things are going to go just right.
• I have trouble being tolerant of others, and I’m impatient when others
don't n’t see and do things the right way.
• I’ve arranged my entire closet twice, but every time I look at it, I feel anxious because I know there is probably a more efficient way to do it.
• It drives me crazy when people don’t do things right!
• If you can’t do it right, you shouldn’t do it.
• I get depressed when my house is messy.
• If my spouse would just do things the way I suggest, things would turn out better.
Common Perfectionistic Thoughts
Not surprisingly, there are many irrational thoughts and beliefs that are associated with perfectionism. Some of the most common include:
• It is unacceptable to make a mistake.
• I am worthless and unacceptable if I make a mistake.
• I am what I achieve and accomplish.
• There is no sense in trying to do something unless I’m sure I can accomplish it perfectly.
• The pain and embarrassment of criticism is too great for me to handle.
• Unless I am the best or Number One, there’s no use in even trying.
• There is only one way to do something: the right way.
• The way I see things is the only correct viewpoint.
Hope for the Perfectionist
Whether you pursue perfection in every area of your life or in just a few select areas, there is hope. With God’s help, you can change. You can choose to trust that God's love and grace are enough to meet all your needs. You can learn to pursue a healthy level of accomplishment and stop short of perfection. You can learn the difference between being driven and having a healthy drive. You can pursue excellence without needing to be perfect. You can learn to resist your compulsive urges and trust God in a fallen world. The process is not quick, easy, or painless. It requires a fundamental correction in your belief system, and above all, a repentant heart that is hungry to live a Love Focused life. Once you commit yourself to follow God’s purposes, His power is unleashed.is unleashed.