The Torment of Perfectionism

April 17, 2012

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Christian Living Sin Worship
Rick Thomas

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Rick Thomas

Ever tried to be perfect? Is it hard for you to let others know you messed up? Are you tempted to present yourself in ways that are not exactly true to who you are?

Maybe when you think about others learning the real truth about you, it strikes momentary fear in your heart. Suppose your spouse brought a friend home unannounced. Does it matter what your home looks like at that moment?

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If you answered yes to any of my questions, you might struggle with perfectionism. Here is a more important question: Can you embrace the Bible’s testimony that you are imperfect and all that being imperfect implies?

Striving to be perfect is a problem, but what makes it worse is that it’s not an isolated issue. Like all our sin problems, the perfectionist collects other bad habits that attach themselves to this core heart problem. Here are six possibilities.

A Form of Lying – Whenever a person tries to be something they are not, deceit is happening. The so-called perfectionist is not real with himself or with other people that he wants to impress.

Worship Dysfunction – Rather than finding his identity in Christ’s perfection, he hopes others will accept him for his accomplishments. Financial status, well-performing children, and a good reputation are some of the self-worship idols he erects.

Self-Deception – As he continues down this unattainable path, his thinking begins to harden his conscience, which creates separation between where he is and the power of the cross that could change him. Any sin held onto will deaden the conscience.

Lack of Integrity – His character becomes tarnished by his unsavory loyalty to himself. Nobody could trust him ultimately because of his willingness to deceive people, even though it’s not his overt intention to be deceptive.

Insecurity – The perfectionist will always be insecure around those he wants to gain acceptance. He is only secure when the individuals he wants to please accept him. A person like this will have ongoing frustration and disappointment in his life.

Secret Sins – One of the side-effects of the striving perfectionist is a “need” to find relief from the stress of the pursuit of perfectionism. It is not unusual for him to find pressure release through secret lusts like sexual problems, overeating, or anger patterns.

The so-called perfectionist is a slave to an illusionary idea. He may be a believer, but he does not know what freedom in Christ means experientially. He will always fall short of perfectionism as well as the freedom that Christ has called him to enjoy.

What Does It Mean?

The bottom line for the wannabe perfectionist is his unwillingness to trust God. His striving for perfection is a loud commentary on how he thinks about God. Rather than finding acceptance (and rest) through the finished work of Christ, he continues to strive for the perfection that only Christ can deliver. This tension puts him in a tug-of-war with God.

It is as though the Lord is saying, “I fully forgive you for all of your past, present, and future sins. I give you my Son’s perfect righteousness. I do not see you as a sinner but as a righteous child. Please enter into my rest.”

The perfectionist says, “I affirm in my mind what you are saying, but it is still important that others think a certain way about me. To satisfy this craving, I have to control certain situations. I cannot let them know the real me, which is why I try to perpetuate a slightly altered image.”

Solution

The perfectionist needs to repent. But that creates a problem. For him to repent, he will have to let others know that he is not perfect. He will have to let some of his friends in on the charade. Being transparent and honest are impossible for a proud perfectionist.

Path Forward

If you struggle with perfectionistic tendencies, find someone you trust and is competent enough to walk you through your problem. You will have to “spill the beans.” You’ve got to let someone know you are a sinner-in-hiding. Transparency will be hard for you because you crave approval and fear anything that smacks of criticism.

Secondly, come to terms with the gospel. The gospel means many things, but there is one thing for certain: you are perfectly perfect in Christ. There is not one iota of any amount of work that you can do to make yourself more acceptable to God. The truths of the gospel must be your truths. You must own them today and every day from this point forward while repenting of this illusionary notion that you need the approval of others.

A note for those working with perfectionist: You must humbly, love, care, and serve them because they are in bondage to the gods of approval, respect, honor, significance, and acceptance. You must know and understand their sinful tendencies and be able to come alongside them in a non-condemnatory way. They do not fully trust God (or you) at this point. They need to lean on your faith as you carefully and gently show them the way to God.

Prayer

Dear Father,

I am not perfect, and I can never be perfect. I need a perfect Savior. I have been born again by the power of the gospel. I am regenerated. Today, I am adopted by and positioned in Christ. When you see me, you see your Son in me. Father, I pray you will break the bondage that has ensnared my soul. It haunts me and teaches me that I need to perform for others to be accepted by them.

I can never adequately serve others if I live as though I need them. I want to properly serve them, not be controlled by my perception of their opinions of me.

Though I am not an overt hypocrite, there are certain individuals and situations where I want to impress or be impressive. When I do this, I obscure the work of the Savior in me. Help me to rest in this singular truth: I am perfect in Him, and I do not need to perform for others. Make this prayer practically real to me, Father. Change me from the inside out. Transform me by the power of the gospel. May that which saved me also sanctify me. Help me to have satisfaction in you alone.

Thank you.

Amen


This post was originally posted on RickThomas.net.


6 thoughts on “The Torment of Perfectionism

  1. Well said! The tug-o-war with the perfectionist signing off intellectually on truth, but still holding onto the need to impress others, and therefore needing to control situations to maintain an image – wow. Well said. I can so relate! 🙂 I am going to be praying for greater transparency and less self-focus today!

  2. Tug-o-war hits it on the head!  Your points reveal the heart of the problem, repentance, acceptance and worship.  Thanks for the post!

  3. The Lord is soooo GOOD; He will not share the glory with another.  Perfectionist can try to rob that glory for themselves, but God is ever faithful and watchful and will bring one of HIS children to their knees at the most “inopportune’ time.  God really showed me when a short script “I” was working on for Easter totally unravelled in front of an entire church audience; this being the ONE day when ALL people go to church!!!! Isn’t God awesome,?   I thank Him for the humbling experience, and with the JOY of failing;  It released me, and unleashed the TRUTH about MY imperfections.  Now Dear Lord. YOU SHINE through ME, and all that see His WORK will know that it IS THE LORD”S DOING and IT IS MARVELOUS in THINE EYES!!

  4. Pingback: The Torment of Perfectionism | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs | Redeemedography

  5. Thanks for this helpful article. I’m a recovering perfectionist. In my case, perfectionism leads to lack of assurance of salvation. I’d like to hear more on that sometime.

  6. Thank you for this post!! My only comment would be about the perfectionist’s prayer: “Therefore, I have accepted Him.” It is not wrong to put it this way… but it might be more fully stated as, “Therefore, I plead His blood on my behalf, and humbly ask Him to save me!” You might also include: I acknowledge that He is the King of the Universe and the Lord of my life.”

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