Overcoming Perfectionism

By Colleen Corbett

In the Bible it says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt. 5:48 Striving for perfection sounds like a noble goal. Everybody wants to be better. Most of us are very aware of our faults and failings and we desire to improve our thoughts and behavior but is perfectionism the answer?

Years ago my psychiatrist gave me this statement that is still on my refrigerator, “perfection is a wonderful goal but it’s a terrible standard.”  So how do we keep it as a goal without making it a standard? How do we stop measuring our life with the ruler of perfection? To answer that question we first need to answer the question: what is perfectionism? If you are a perfectionist then you already know. You know that if anything you do, say, think, or feel is not perfect then it is unacceptable. It is inferior and you have failed. You hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else. You know said standard is actually unattainable, nevertheless you are constantly criticizing yourself for not doing better. You tell yourself that somehow you should have known better, worked harder, been stronger, felt kinder and the list goes on and on.

Your need for perfection is a need for perfect results and a need for achieving those results perfectly. If the perfect result is achieved imperfectly then the result is negated and no longer perfect. The thought process can boggle the mind of a non-perfectionist. Perfectionism is fear. Perfectionism creates depression, anxiety and poor self esteem. Letting go of this consuming behavior takes conscious effort.

My journey of change began with learning to love myself and forgive myself. I aimed a lot of anger, criticism, and judgment at myself because I never measured up. I hated myself because I always believed there must be something inherently wrong with me because I failed to meet the standard of perfection on a regular basis. Things started to change when I made the decision to be kind. I told myself I would never treat another human being the way I treated myself.

As someone who desires to follow Jesus Christ’s example I reminded myself that I was deserving of compassion. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” took on a new meaning. When I didn’t measure up to the perfection standard I took a step back and reserved judgement while I examined my thoughts and behaviors. Instead of berating myself I chose to look at the situation as a learning experience. With practice I have learned to see myself in a kinder light. I show myself compassion and I forgive myself on a regular basis. I try to be aware of the times when I pull out the perfection ruler and remind myself it isn’t worth using. I also practice looking at life with a glass half full mentality. Looking for the good in every situation lifts my soul and I am more capable of letting go instead of trying to take control. 

My idea of perfection is something I made up in my mind. It is full of judgement, comparison, fear, and irresponsibility. When I make up my mind to accomplish something or create something I become responsible for the outcome. Then perfectionism steps in. It tells me I’m not good enough, smart enough, educated enough. It tells me I’m ugly, stupid, unimportant, and no one is interested in what I have to say. It tells me to give up because I’m incapable of creating anything worth sharing. I’m standing on the brink of success and instead of taking action and stepping over the crack, I turn around and run away from what I perceive as a ginormous chasm. I fail to recognize what I’m really doing and I let my imagination dictate my behavior. I have a dear friend who always tells it like it is. She told me to STOP IT! Oftentimes it’s really that simple. It’s not always easy and it can bring up feelings of fear but the truth is I just need to stop believing all my made up stories and take action. Take the steps that lead toward my goal. Write the paper, make the phone call, talk to the person, and stop getting in my own way. Stop being silly and selfish and careful. Stop believing that everything has to be my definition of perfect before I can take action. Stop worrying about how I look and what others will think. Be aware when my brain tries to hijack what my heart wants to do. Turn off the ticker tape of thought running in my mind by refusing to pay attention to it. Stop believing the world view about how I should behave. Listen to my heart, listen to my intuition.

If you struggle with being a perfectionist, take it from an old hand, it’s not worth it and it’s not what God intended for you.


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Colleen Corbett
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