Friday, January 13, 2012

The Problem of Perfectionism

Do you feel not quite good enough much of the time?

Avoid starting projects for worry you’ll fail? 

Miss deadlines because you’re still working to get it just right

Fear others seeing less than your best? 

Is "average" an ugly word?

If so, it's likely you are plagued by perfectionism. I talked about this some in my devotion today published with Proverbs 31.

PERFECTIONISM = a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors driving you to set, and to expect to reach, excessively high or unrealistic goals.

As I pointed out in the devotion, it usually causes us to hyper-focus on our appearance and performance rather than our motives and character. Plus, it often adds emotional instability to our lives.

Sometimes it only manifests in one area of our life like our job, our craft or the cleanliness of our home.

Other times it runs rampant, causing us to be super-controlling. Or, on the flip side, to slack off and procrastinate because if we don't think we can do it perfectly, we don't want to try.

And when perfectionism comes to church, it sets us on a misguided path of achieving righteousness with our works, or earning God's favor.  Talk about setting excessively high goals!

Our perfectionistic striving often leaves us feeling like we come up short. Like we just don't fully have what it takes. So 2 Peter 1:3 has some good news for us:

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (NIV) 

That's the Bible telling you that you have what it truly takes. You are fully capable - in Christ you have access to everything you need - to live the life that God creates for you.

Maybe not to live the life you want to create for yourself, but for the life He wants to create for you. Which, trust me on this, that is the life you really want.

Leave a comment telling me how perfectionism usually raises its ugly head in your life, and I'll pray for you in this. You can pray for me as well to focus on my character over my performance.

And if you want more on this topic, I elaborate further and give a short Bible study on it in chapter 7 of my book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know. I'll pick a random winner from today's comments to receive a copy.

Have a terrific day - without sweating the small stuff. (wink)


  1. Oh Rachel, you could have been writing about my life today. I have struggled with unhealthy perfectionism for as long as I can remember. I, too, have made my family crazy with cleaning frenzies when I expect company (which isn't often because it is overwhelming to think about getting things perfect in order to invite anyone over!), take forever to write reports for work, come up with the "perfect" lesson plan, pick out the "perfect" card, plan the "perfect" dinner, etc. The list goes on and on. Now I see the same tendencies in my daughter, and it breaks my heart. I would be honored to have you pray for me and my family, and I will pray for you!
    Thank you and God bless!


  2. I could echo Kim completely and felt such relief after reading your meditations today - especially since I am preparing for a phone call with my mother who is the ultimate perfectionist. I love her but never feel as if I measure up to her expectations/standards which makes me so sad. I've been trying to stay focused on the fact that my first responsibility is to please my Heavenly Father and He has promised He loves me without conditions. Praise God! I'll also be praying for you and Kim.

  3. Dear Rachel, I feel exactly like Kim. I've been striving for perfectionism as long as I can remember, because as a child, nothing was ever good enough. I was criticized mercilessly. I've struggled with performance so I could be valued and have worth. I not only sweat the small stuff constantly, but am also super-controlling, which I hate! And just like Kim, I now also see the same tendencies in my 6-yr old daughter, which also breaks my heart. I would greatly appreciate your prayers and will lift you up as well. Thank you so much for a great word.

  4. Aaaaahhhhhh.....freedom! Definitions!!!

    I love the definition of perfectionism here. Thank you! I don't think I qualify!

    And the definition of "perfect" from your devo where God is concerned more about spiritual maturity. So great because the Word says HE brings the growth!

    How freeing that we can desire and labor to serve Him with excellence and yet not be suffocated by perfectionism.

    Thank you Rachel!!!! You are HIS vessel of encouragement and confirmation today!!

    Psalm 119:45 ~ I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts.


    PS - we have snowflakes here in Newtown PA

  5. This is exactly what I needed to hear this morning! Like the others, I too have been a life-long perfectionist, and struggle with it daily, still. I am seeing it in my 5 year old daughter now and fearful that I am the one who is making her this way (and have lots of guilt about that). I would be grateful to have you pray for me and will pray for you and the others. I have already ordered your book!

  6. I just realized over 20 years ago that perfectionism is not a "Good" thing, it can be so life controlling and debilatating. I was in a counsel class with 10+ people learning to facilitate to "help" others with life controlling probs, how we all put on the "mask" for churchiness....
    Since having oral cancer removal-- then, 35 radiation treatments 2+ years ago... I almost seem to have gone the total opposite direction, with not really caring, because I can never get caught up now.....the house is a mess, and so is everything, no order in anything at all.
    I too, need prayer and will be remembering these others in my requests, as well as, you!

    God bless 'n keep each of you, giving strength 'n wisdom in raising Godly children in 'n for Him!! I have 2 daughters who I also see these characteristics in, they are truly blessings from above, my best friends, ever! (22 &16 yr. old) I have a son, 10, but since he has been raised in the midst of my cancer woes-- he doesn't seem to have this same prob...? Just very protective over me, and for 2 years he needed me hold his hand to go to sleep.

  7. My perfectionism drove me to the doctor. He flat out told me I was over stressed. I started going to a class at my church designed for stess related to women. God revealed what my problem really was...perfectionism. I have started to give it to Him but it is something I have to consciously do every day or I will swim in it. Thank for you for bringing it to my attention again. I NEEDED it today!

  8. I am a recovering perfectionist as well- what a hard habit to break! But thank you for your post here on your blog and on Proverbs31. It's something I pray to overcome with God's amazing help. I love how you said we are fully capable to lie the life God wants us to live, not the one we want to create for ourselves, but that God's plan is better! Thank you!

  9. If I can't do it right, then I won't do it at all. Unfortunately, then I'm left with too much to do and feeling overwhelmed. I've learned to let some things go, but I'm still "embarrassed" about most imperfections in my life. I'm going to try to think "work in progress" instead. Thank you!

  10. Rachel,
    Your post today really spoke to me. I let perfection get in the way taking care of my home. If I can't do it right, I put doing something until I have the time to clean or organize. Thank you.


  11. Perfectionism is such a merciless master that always demands and never rewards. Since I was very young, this master has battled against Jesus for control of my life. If anything of mine from makeup to meals to marriage isn't perfect, I start hearing words like "worthless", "failure", and "never going to be good enough". It is EXHAUSTING. Even writing this comment caused me to agonize over making sure the wording was, what else, perfect. Please pray for me in this battle as I do the same for you.


    P.S. I am submitting this under anonymous, because I didn't know how to do anything else. Here comes perfectionism telling me that I should have figured it out :-/

  12. I have been struggling with perfectionism all my life. My siblings still tease me about it. I'm the oldest and was always told I needed to be a good example and I internalized that as perfect. I have avoided doing many things over the years for fear of someone finding out that I couldn't do it perfectly. I am gradually learning that I am missing out on a lot because of this but it is a hard habit to break. Thanks for the lesson today.

  13. Rachel,
    Thank you ever so much. I have struggled and struggled with this. It was a blessing to read your words of encouragement. I find it so strange that I spend so much time on things that don't matter, and don't spend time with the One who can set me free. I am thankful for His patience with me. I must daily lay my frailties at His feet and seek Him first. Thank you again! Jennifer

  14. Rachel,

    Today was my first visit to Proverbs 31 ministries, and my first visit to the Daily Devotional. And, of course, the verse at the top of page was the very verse that I daily have to live in. Romans 8:6 "The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the spirit is life and truth." It's so true!! Sometimes I get so caught up in ME. I think for a lot of us (me, at least), perfectionism and selfishness go hand in hand. I can sit there and think about how I'M not good enough, (for me, it's usually thoughts that I have that I feel I shouldn't be having, and therefore it leads me to fear sin . . .), and those ME ME ME thoughts drown out His voice that says, "I AM the only one who is perfect and can make you right." And, so, in a matter of a few hours I can become so depressed and hopeless. Can anyone relate?? It is then that I have to remind myself that "there is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18) The fear of not being perfect (the fear of sin) is just a lie from Satan telling us that Christ's love is not enough. And it IS! It is the only thing that is enough. That's why it is so important for me to remember to allow my thoughts to be controlled by HIM. Please pray for me, ladies. And I will say a prayer right now for all of you. What a blessing this post was to me today, such an answer to prayer. :)


    I know this is long, but I wanted to add this little tid-bit. I recently read a book called Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman. I highly recommend it to anyone who longs to break free from the chains of "doing" and learn to live freely in His Love. :)

  15. Thank you for your words today. Yes, I totally agree that perfectionism is a problem and have really stuggled with it in my own life. Constantly comparing myself to others, feeling inadequate when I perceive others to be better at me in areas I identify with(especially wife/mom/Christian), wanting the house to be clean and organized when visitors come over...all the while taking time and energy away on what really matters most! Thanks for your prayers and your honest heart to speak truth in these areas!

  16. I needed to hear this also today. I'm still recovering from major surgery that has limited my physical activities and I cannot do most of the housework for another month. This has wreaked havoc on my household because I cannot do things myself and my family does things on their time. You are right - this is a control issue. I am glad that God has put me here to see that some things are not worth getting upset over and he intends for me to grow from this. God bless you!

  17. God's timing is perfect! I needed to hear every word that you wrote. I'll have to re-read it later, to remeind me that I'm a work in progress.
    Thank you and God bless!

  18. I have been reading the proverbs 31 devotions recently as a resolution to spend daily time in the word. It has been such a blessing to me and has interestingly seemed to be covering what is going on in my life right now. ALL of my imperfections. I am a perfectionist and I tend to go the other way with my perfectionism. I try really hard to get everything done the way that I think it should be done, but when it takes me what seems like one million years to get a task accomplished I end up just quitting. I guess I don't have the confidence to see it through and then just end up feeling worse about myself. With that said, thank you so much for the words that you shared today in your devotion and blog. I am trying to give my need for perfection to God now, and definitely need to see my worth in Him and not how others perceive me.

  19. I love that verse...I am trying to come to a place where I can say no to something and not feel guilty...I am getting there...a work in progress...Sue in CA

  20. Great description of perfectionism.

  21. Rachel, reading this was great encouragement. I struggle with perfecting physical appearance, feeling like I have done a good enough job, comparing my single life to people in relationships, and just sitting and relaxing because it feels like I should always be doing something or serving somewhere. The power of prayer is amazing. I believe the Holy Spirit leads in amazing ways. Your prayers would be appreciated. I will pray for you as well.

  22. Reading this was encouraging. I am beginning to write my first Christian fiction book. I will admit I want it to be perfect. Because this is my first book Ever, I am just learning how to write. I know its God will for me to write, I trust him to give me the tools I need. However, as you so clearly stated he already has given me what I need. The encouragement from this blog, as well as other is a Blessing from God.

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  24. It's a gift...
    aaand a curse..


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