BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 1 of a three-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series by Amy Baker on perfectionism. These posts are adapted by the author from Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up. Copyright © 2014 by Amy Baker. Used by permission of New Growth Press.
I Love Perfection! I Hate Perfection!
Taylor could feel her frustration level rising. This was the fourth time she had taken the car to the dealership to get the damage corrected. Before purchasing the car, a hailstorm had created multiple dings in the car’s surface. As a condition of the sale, the dealership had agreed to remove all the damage at no cost to Taylor. While almost all the dings had been removed, one stubborn ding remained. Taylor had returned the car to the dealership four times now to get it removed. Each time she had brought the car in, the dealership had said they had the problem fixed. Now the service manager was acting like Taylor was making a big deal over nothing.
Taylor’s husband told her to quit being so picky. He kindly pointed out that the remaining ding was practically unnoticeable and that the dealership had done a good job on the car. From his perspective, the dealership wasn’t obligated to do anything else.
Taylor didn’t think she was being too picky. For Taylor, it was simply a matter of doing things right. The car dealership should remove every last ding because they said they would do that for her. And, if they said they would do it, they should. They shouldn’t act like it was the customer’s fault when they didn’t live up to their promise. What was wrong with wanting things done right?
Taylor doesn’t just expect this of the car dealership; she expects it of herself as well. She expects to deliver flawlessly when she commits to something. Flawlessly! No shoddy work. No half finished product. No neglected detail. Picture perfect. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
I’ve been there. Taylor’s story could be (and often is) my story. Perhaps you’ve been there too.
Taylor doesn’t really think there is anything major about her life that she needs to change. She wishes a whole lot of other people would change. In fact, although she wouldn’t say this out loud and may not even realize she feels this way, Taylor wishes others would be more like her. If others would change, life would be better. If the people at the dealership would just be more committed to doing things right (like Taylor) she wouldn’t be having this problem.
From Taylor’s perspective, she cares about doing things right, even perfectly, while others don’t seem to have the same commitment. In Taylor’s eyes, a whole lot of problems would be solved if other people would just do things right.
Perfectionism’s Trademark Characteristics
How about you? You don’t have to be exactly like Taylor to have a struggle with perfectionism. Do you want things done right? Does it annoy you that others seem so easily satisfied with what appears to be mediocre performance? Do any of the following “perfectionistic” tendencies resonate with you?
- You want to be the best in everything you do.
- You have very high expectations for yourself and others.
- You are very upset with yourself if you make a mistake.
- You feel guilty for relaxing. You feel like you are never doing enough.
- You’re very particular about the details of tasks.
- When you perform well, you analyze your performance for the weak spots and quickly gloss over the things done right.
- You want something done right or not done at all.
- You are perceived by others as a role model.
- You feel like others are never satisfied by your performance.
- You compare yourself to others. If you perceive someone is better than you, you analyze that person to see how to measure up.
- You don’t attempt things you know you can’t complete with excellence.
- You are frightened by the thought of failure.
- You procrastinate.
- Your relationships are often strained or difficult.
- You feel like you won’t ever be perfect.
- You rarely experience joy.
The list identifies some traits that are positive, but it also points out characteristics associated with perfectionism that are clearly troublesome. Traits that make it hard to love God and to love others.
A Source of Tension
Would it surprise you to learn that Taylor is often frustrated and unhappy? One barely noticeable ding has become a source of strain in Taylor’s relationships. Her high expectations have resulted in conflict.
Taylor’s relationship with her husband has been strained, even though he only disagreed mildly with her. Other people in Taylor’s life have had to listen to her complaints. Their concerns have been minimized while Taylor’s have been maximized. At the dealership, the service manager has begun to view Taylor as unreasonable. He is no longer interested in keeping her patronage because who wants a customer like her? Who wants to do business with someone who can’t be satisfied?
On the flip side, Taylor isn’t interested in giving the dealership her patronage. It’s an easily broken relationship, just one of many in Taylor’s life—relationships strained or severed because of unmet expectations for perfection. That story has been repeated hundreds of times in Taylor’s life. She has wanted things done to a high standard and others haven’t delivered.
There is nothing in and of itself wrong with Taylor’s desire to have things done right. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with asking dealerships to honor their promise. There’s no law against having great-looking landscaping, keeping your car washed and shiny, putting your shoes neatly in the closet, having an organized desk, making sure you always use your blinker when changing lanes, looking your best, living by a strict budget, preparing sharp-looking reports, avoiding junk food, etc., etc., etc. Most people would agree these are good things.
What creates the frustration and unhappiness that comes with perfectionism is what lies under the surface and drives these behaviors—the motives, beliefs, desires, fears, anxieties, and goals that live in and rule the heart and mind. These beliefs and desires interfere with loving relationships with God and others. Happily, our beloved Savior offers to rescue us from these passions that create so much tension in our lives, and offers us instead joy and peace that are given in such abundance that they overflow.
The Rest of the Story
While that may seem almost unimaginable, the God of truth is ready and willing to give us this beautiful gift. In the next posts, we’ll take a closer look at making the most of this present from God. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at Taylor’s thoughts about her own performance. In Part 3, we’ll discuss exchanging this heavy burden for a light one.
Join the Conversation
How has perfectionism—in your life or those you love—impacted your life and ministry?