Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Causes of Perfectionism

First off, I’m not a counselor or a psychologist.  I’m a woman who sometimes wrestles deep-seated perfectionistic tendencies. A woman who seeks God’s perspective on things. A woman that researches a lot. And that prays. So that’s where I am coming from on this series on perfectionism.

Pop over here and read the devotion that started the series if you missed it.

Yesterday you shared some of your struggles with perfectionism in the comments – and could I ever relate! Thunderstorms knocked out my internet for most the day so I had to head to Starbucks to read your posts.  The other coffee addicts would pass by me on the way in and see me giggling and smiling in agreement as I read.  They’d get their order and pass me two minutes later on the way out – and I’d be clutching my heart, salty water pooling in my eyes, shaking my head in agreement and prayer. I went through 2 lattes, 200-some comments, and 2 napkins as tissues.

Yesterday we also defined this thing we wrestle as:  a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors driving you to set, and to expect to reach, excessively high or unrealistic goals. Zero in on the phrase “self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.” It’s key to note both parts of that hyphenated word.  First, they come from self/our flesh/Satan and not from God.  And second, they defeat us rather than help or perfect us.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." ~ Gal 5:17 (ESV)

I could tell from your comments, as you read the devotion and spelled out your perfectionism’s particular brand of crazy, that you were seeing the truth of that.

So today we’re looking at some of the causes of this self-defeating thinking and behavior. The clinical experts in my research say a number of negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can drive our perfectionistic tendencies. Such as: fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, fear of disapproval, all or none thinking, and belief that others are effortlessly great.

Fear of failure. Perfectionists often equate failure to achieve with a lack of personal worth or value.
We sometimes equate failure – on something like a math test or an attempt to keep our closets organized  - on par with sin.  Like something that deserves condemnation, punishment or isolation. Messy closets do not equal murder, a crooked sewn quilt is not slander, cellulite and typos are not stealing.  God offers grace to murders, slanders and thieves!  Why can we not offer ourselves or our family a little grace on the math tests and closets?
Fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often equate mistakes with failure – and therefore, with a lack of personal worth. In orienting their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow.
Seriously - how many times have we missed out on something fun or enriching because we weren't certain we could pull it off well, or look good doing it? And how many things have we started and not finished because we felt we weren’t good enough at it?
Fear of disapproval. Perfectionists often believe if they let others see their flaws, they will no longer be accepted.
In reality, authentic transparency usually brings people closer. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to avoid criticism, disapproval, and rejection. I think its also a way of protecting our pride - rather than letting it die with Christ on the cross.  By the way, Christ was criticized, disapproved of, and rejected – and He was truly perfect!  So it will happen to us too.
All-or-none thinking. Perfectionists frequently believe they are failures if their accomplishments are not perfect from start to finish. Every part must be flawless.   
We deny the existence of a learning curve, and discount the process of “failing forward.” 
Belief that others are easily successful. Perfectionists tend to perceive others as achieving success with a minimum of effort, few or no errors, little emotional stress, and maximum self-confidence.
This is a powerful one.  Maybe the most powerful of them all – that’s why it was so freeing to read everyone’s confessions yesterday. And that’s why even though we know what our perfectionism does to us and those close to us, we keep trying to be “perfect like them.” We compare our reality to assumptions we make based on their appearance. And sometimes “they” don’t exist anywhere but in our minds, myths or magazines!
Several of you commented that you learned your perfectionistic ways from your mother. And some of you said you can see it rubbing off on your children. (I have as well.) So we’ll keep talking about this.  Look over that list again and think about which one of these issues cause you the most trouble. And pray about that today. Feel free to share it with me and I’ll pray too.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.
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  1. Oh my, Rachel. All of them on the list give me trouble. I am a perfectionist and I need to let it go and remember to be gentle on myself. I have been battling with self-confidence a lot lately. Someone gives me constructive criticism because they care and I burst into tears thinking I am a failure, because I didn't do it perfectly. Please pray for me on this. I will take this perfection to the cross and leave it there. God has freed me from this sin.....I need to let it go and be free!! Thanks for your powerful words to me. In him, Amy

  2. Thank you for continuing these posts. They truly are making a difference for me. I am so Type A it would drive even the most easy going person bonkers (my husband). And I have such a deep sense of self loathing and failure that I allow thoughts of death override what I know to be exactly what you said. In Christ I am perfect and in my flesh I am still a work in progress. I am trying very hard to work through this, apply it to my life and allow God to have his way but fear of failure in all areas of my life have me paralyzed. I look forward to continuing to read your posts, the comments of the guests and allowing the Spirit to work on me. God bless!


  3. I have never really thought of myself as a perfectionist but in reading this, I realized that I am a failed perfectionist to the point that if I couldn't do it perfectly I wasn't going to do it at all. I have taken emotional beatings for this mostly from myself.

  4. I'm already grateful for your blog, Its so ironic that as a therapist I help people out with their brand of perfectionism and here I am wrestling with it. I'm sharing with my friends on facebook.

  5. Thanks for continuing this post and showing me the probable reason I do what I don't want to do. I believe mine comes from a fear of disapproval. I think I always have to be perfect or nobody will like me. I was teased as a child by my own brother about my weight and have struggled with my self esteem. Thank you Jesus I can be who I am and I am accepted. It is by grace we are saved! The sin of pride is what I'm struggling with. I bought your book yesterday at Lifeway. Thank you for providing this ministry.

  6. Thank you for your words today. The big word for me is...FEAR of anything actually! Fear is a driving force that can take you places you don't want to go. I didn't even realize I had perfectionist tendancies until I read your post yesterday!

  7. I believe I may be a combination of all of them. I have really come to some eye opening experiences in my life to help me realize that I am not perfect and that failure is okay. Going through my separation/divorce has really helped me realize that no matter how hard I may try at things, some things are just beyond my control. My marraige wasn't perfect even though we may have let others perceive that we 'had it all put together.' Now having to do things on my own causes a whole other series of perfectionism in which I try so hard to try not to fail at...even down to doing my own home repairs. it's not just the lack of money, it's trying to prove to my self and others that everythings okay and that I can do things on my own. Such a curse yet such determination has risen up in me to let this go and let God be in control. Thank you for your powerful words.

  8. Thank you Rachel for these wise words. Reading this makes me take a step back and really look at myself, my past and hopefully improve my future!

  9. Fear of failure really sums me up. That fear is intertwined with the others, It is really hard to separate. It is ironic, though,how many Christian sisters struggle with this, though passage after passage in the Bible tells us perfect love casts our fear, that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of peace and of a sound mind. OH the freedom to practice this. Thanks for these posts and your prayers.

  10. Wow ! I think I'm part of all of those. Thanks so much for the insights. Will definetely share them.

  11. Thanks for sharing on this subject.

    I'm struggling with a huge fear of failure. I have an opportunity to speak to a group of students and Profs at Penn State on the subject of Dementia. Scares me half to death and am soooo tempted to back out. My biggest hang-up is lack of degree in anything. All I have is some experience....what could I possibly offer these intelligent people, some which have studied the subject?? (talk about shaking in my boots, yikes!) One of my friends said that Jesus didn't have a degree either....but He is Jesus!

    If you would care to send a prayer up for me, I'll appreciate.

  12. I learned as much from the comments as I did from the post. It was nice to get to see that I'm not alone in my battle, and that I'm not "weird" for battling it. We all need to pray for and encourage each other, as we are all in this together. :)

  13. Thank you for today's post, too. I read it out loud to my daughter (perfectionist-in-training, although we're trying to nip THAT one in the bud.) and she kept saying, "wow, really?"
    It brought us both hope and healing in an area that (after some discussion) we realized we both needed. Thank you.

  14. Thanks, Rachel, for your kind 'kick in the pants' response =) You are so correct and I need to get over the fear and get moving. I will let you know how it goes.



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