If you struggle with overcoming perfectionism, please understand: I know how hard you work to be good. I know that you have the highest standards for yourself. . . that you value excellence. . . and that for the most part you are harder on yourself than you are on anyone else. You are cautious, mature, and measured in all things.
And I also know that your quest for perfection is sometimes a way to mask your deepest desires for love, significance, and security.
You’re harsh with yourself, and as a result, sometimes you’re harsh with others, too. . . imposing your own standards on others and getting bogged down in “wrongs” that are not yours to “right.”
Your pursuit of excellence and goodness is admirable. God sees how hard you work. And He also sees the deep fear of criticism. . of being exposed. . . of not being good enough. . .that lurks underneath the surface.
As you begin overcoming perfectionism, He wants to take all that desire for goodness and remove the sting of shame and fear and criticism from it.
He wants you to strive for excellence with the freedom and joy of knowing you’ve already been made whole before him. There’s nothing left for you to prove, you can run that race with utter abandon.
If overcoming perfectionism is what you desire, try these 4 things:
Take some deep breaths when you notice that harsh voice of criticism rear up inside.
The first step toward change is awareness. As you become more aware of that feeling or thought that is driving you compulsively toward perfecting, breathe into it. It sounds simple, but research shows that breathing into any sort of compulsive or extreme thought or feeling shifts neural pathways in the brain.
Cultivate the fruit of patience.
You may be adept at pointing out inconsistencies in yourself and others. This is a gift, and it’s one to steward wisely and with discretion. Not everyone can change on a dime. . . or as a result of your pointing out the fly in the ointment. Sometimes waiting is far more powerful in creating the context for change than anything you might do or say. Take that deep breath, then practice lifting your frustration to God first, before launching into action. In doing so, you’re cultivating the fruit of patience.
Check your motivations.
As you become more aware of the part of you driving you toward perfectionism, get curious about it. Is your desire to get it “just right” motivated out of love for another or a desire to honor God? Part of it may be, sure. But if there’s any part of your drive that’s motivated by a desire to avoid shame or rejection, then pay attention to that. Don’t judge yourself harshly—just name that part of your soul, and invite God to enter into it.
Bring your shame into the light.
If you’re terrified of failing or of having shameful memories or past experiences exposed, talk to someone safe about those feelings. Shame cannot stand up to the light. Don’t let it fester in the corners of your soul. Christian psychiatrist, Curt Thompson, encourages keeping a shame inventory (including writing down how many times a day you feel shame) to interrupt shaming neuropathways and “to pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.” Then write a new story in light of the fact that God cherishes you. Instead of carrying the belief I don’t matter, tell yourself the truth: I can be real because I belong to him. I am worthy because I am a beautiful soul made in his image. My vulnerabilities reveal a part of me that God cherishes.
In her popular TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brené Brown teaches that wholehearted people have the courage to reveal their imperfections to others—and to themselves. They’re willing to let go of who they should be in order to be who they are. Coeur, from which we get our English word courage, means “heart” in Latin. It takes courage to tell the authentic story of who you are.
God wants to transform the bonds of perfectionism into a wholehearted pursuit of excellence. He longs to draw near to heal your shame and free you from fear. He wants to grow in you a joyful serenity. Will you let him? And if you’re struggling, what holds you back?
It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. Psalm 18:32