Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Are you performance-based?

We'll be talking here about perfectionism this week - corresponding with chapter 7 of the book we're studying together. You may not think you are very perfectionistic, or very performance-based, but stay with me this week and I think you might be surprised what you find.

Today I’m going to lay out two ways our perfectionist attitudes start frustrating cycles in motion.

The Stress Cycle:

First, perfectionists set unreachable goals based on unrealistic expectations. Second, naturally, they fail to meet those often well-out-of-reach goals. Third, they become stressed, anxious and self-critical over their failure. Finally, rather than realizing the true problem – unrealistic expectations – they demand a more perfect performance next time, or else avoid the pursuit entirely.

And that’s why procrastination isn’t always tied to laziness as people assume. Often it’s tied to perfectionism. If you can’t do it “right” – or don’t have time to, or don’t have the time to do all of it right now – then you just don’t do it. Which, of course, leads to more stress and self-condemnation.

Another issue may be feeling that it is already ruined so why bother. We perfectionists have lots of quirks based on our notions of what is a “perfect state.” Like, what do we do with clothes that have been worn once, and are not soiled but are not “perfectly clean” anymore either. We can’t hang them back in the closet with the perfectly clean clothes (that will contaminate the clean ones!). Or if the carpet has stains that won’t come out, why bother taking care of it now and vacuuming it often because it’s already ruined. So we abandon it’s care, lament it and hate it. Some of us have done this with our bodies/figures. All of this is stress-producing!

The Relationship Cycle:

Sometimes without even realizing it, perfectionists can apply their unrealistically high standards to others, becoming critical, demanding and difficult to please. Those who live or work with perfectionists regularly feel they can never do right, never quite measure up. The perfectionist’s frequent lack of grace, or unwillingness to cut any slack to themselves or others, damages their relationships.

Children often take on their parent’s perfectionist thinking – causing the stressful, self-defeating cycle to perpetuate through generations. Meanwhile, co-workers, spouses or friends may simply “check-out” of the relationship as much as possible after growing tired of trying, or of being fussed at.

Because perfectionists often lash out at others - in their stress, frustration and unrealistic desire for everything to be just so - they frequently wind up feeling guilty or bad about their relationships. But they get in the habit of controlling and criticizing, of nagging and nitpicking, and can’t seem to stop themselves. Their desire for perfection wins out over their desire for love and peace and fun. When they look back on it, they usually regret that priority.

Furthermore, perfectionists avoid letting people see their mistakes, not realizing that self-disclosure allows others to perceive them as more human and thus more likeable. Because of this, perfectionists often have difficulty being close to people. Keeping people at arm’s length, they only let people in when they are confident they can control the situation and the other person’s perceptions of them. This results in unsatisfying relationships – which only confirms in the perfectionist’s mind their lack of value or their need to strive harder. It’s a giant self-defeating cycle - a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Are you maybe more perfectionistic than you thought? Marybeth Whalen and a few of her kids are coming by the house today to visit us - I'm looking forward to seeing her. So I've got to scoot off of here (resist the urge to clean like crazy) and make the kids some brownies. But later this week I'll post about what we can do about these cycles.
Meanwhile, think and pray through this post – realize what your perfectionism is really costing you. And realize the extreme gift that GRACE is. Let's aim to be grace-based today.


  1. Thanks Rachel When I read this this morning and the perfectionism as it relates to others. I had to stop and examine myself ( and I haven't gotten to the chapter yet) but instantly I switch to how I want to change hubby and how wrong that it, and this came to me before coffee , maybe that helped cushion the blow of a truth revealed.


  2. Good morning Rachel :-)

    Oh, this chapter is sooo me! I really enjoyed you describing what happens every morning when I hop on the scale :-) Without a stitch of clothing...after I go to the bathroom...before I can even truly focus on the numbers...that's the only time I'm going to suffer to read what poundage I am currently weighing in at!

    But, better yet was the rest of the chapter and your post this morning. For the longest time I thought I was lazy because my house is a mess, my carpet is dirty, dust adds texture to all my flat surfaces, etc. But, it really is me giving up because I can't have my house perfect. I have three men and two cats doing their best to ruin any effort I make in that regards (oh, don't get me started on them! :-)).

    Fortunately, I have realized this about myself and will now clean well (but not fanatically) and am satisfied that I've done it and realize that it won't stay even "good enough" for long.

    What I need to work on is my dissatisfaction with my lack of spiritual perfection. This will definitely be a week of prayer and using my devotional outlet!

    Thanks so much for digging in deep and exposing the tough stuff for us!


  3. Oh, and I forgot to mention...Jonah and I have already been introduced (http://mydevotionaloutlet.blogspot.com/2010/11/gods-word.html), but it was amazing what new insights his little book brought me this morning. Morning by morning new mercies I see!

    Thanks again!

  4. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. Ever. I just like things a certain way (my way) and usually fall short of how they should be in my head. I read chapter 7 last night and it started sinking in that I am a perfectionist and need to address this. thanks rachel

  5. its interesting to see what happens when we give Him control and change us isn't it. I have been seeing parts of me fall away little by little since the intro of this study...

  6. What a great illustration of my behavior. I have always had this attitude that an unattainable goal was a waste of time. If I could never reach the goal why keep trying? I never realized the goal was unattainable because I expected perfection. Thanks for the wake up call and for relieving some of the pressure I put on myself.

  7. Oh how this spoke to me today! My house is so full of clutter because I am the perfectionist....If I cannot do it right now or if I cannot do it all at one time then I just don't and then boy oh boy the condemnation that I am lazy comes from both myself and my husband! I so need prayer for this!!


  8. oh my Rachel.. WHHAAA is all I can say..Where is the tissue? You hit is dead on with me and my husband..Imagine that:/. I don't want to pass this on to my children as both our parents did to us.So please help!! I will be looking forward to your post along with praying about this and askign God for direction. That you because It is a big issue that has been revealed to me!

  9. I have to agree with Savannah...Whhaaa!
    You touched a nerve. It's one that isn't as raw as it used to be, thank God, at least not when it comes to my house and my inability to welcome people because of my perfectionistic and then when I don't rate, shame tendencies. Some progress there. However, when you address the impact this has had on my family. Well my feeling that I don't measure up has left them feeling the same about themselves. Dear God do your redeeming thing here, in Jesus' powerful name, Amen.


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