Many who unknowingly battle perfectionism, when reading this, would hear a thought screaming, “But doesn’t God want our best?” Of course He does. The problem is that legalism has entered and placed a performance pressure on us that burdens us with perfectionistic standards that torment.
Rather than releasing us into daily rest, we become driven to achieve. That drivenness is never satisfied, so contentment is never cultivated. We have to be very careful that we do not sacrifice contentment and inward peace on the alter of producing what we have been trained see to as “perfect” results.
So how do I know if I am in perfectionistic bondage or just simply being perfected? What helps me to know if I am following bondage or simply walking in excellence? Perfectionism needs to be contrasted from biblical excellence.
The Power of Excellence
Excellence as we often define it is giving the best with what you have and where you are at. Under the mindset of excellence, we give all or ourselves, but we are not under bondage and torment in the process. There is a different spirit behind perfectionism than walking in true biblical excellence.
The Key to Living in Excellence
The difference between these two realities often comes comes down to how we handle mistakes. Processing mistakes is a key issue in our generation. How well do we handle mistakes in ourselves? How well do we handle mistakes in others? This is often where we can see if we are in perfectionism bondage.
We do not really learn the most from successes. Yet we have the opportunity to learn so much through mistakes. The problem is that so many are paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, that when we err, the torment is debilitating. Because of this, we often avoid taking risks or stepping out into uncharted territory. The insecurities within us flare up, telling us to stay as far away from any failure or mistakes as possible, for that would be the end of the world.
In addition, our culture is so infiltrated in perfectionistic standards that we are ready to stone someone in judgment the moment they begin to show flaws. Because of this, so many are held back in life and they are tormented by a fear of making mistakes. In addition, perfectionists see mistakes as defects that make them unacceptable.
Contrasting the Two
Let’s take a moment to understand the differences so that we can discern when perfectionism is in operation in our thinking and behavior. ￼
The Patterns of Perfectionism
1. In perfectionism, the value of a person is dependent upon performance.
In other words, who you are is completely based on what you do, therefore a great deal of pressure depends on how well you perform in life.
2. Under the influence of perfectionism, goals are set for yourself and others that are unreasonable and often impossible.
This opens the door for too much pressure to be taken on at the jump. This is what leads to easy disappointment and anger down the road.
3. The motivation behind perfectionism is the fear of failure.
It drives and motivates you relentlessly.
4. Perfectionism remains tirelessly focused on mistakes and failures while discounting and minimizing successes.
The mistakes become magnified while the good things become occluded from view and unappreciated. Even when huge victories come, perfectionism places a higher burden for the next time.
5. Those with perfectionism strongholds in their life take criticism personally and have a constant need to defend themselves.
They become trained to over-react over issues that should not be taken so strongly.
6. Perfectionism trains us to constantly dread the future, because the pressure alone is draining in itself.
Because of this, we can never enjoy anything.
7. Perfectionism leaves us spiraling in depression when we or others fail or slip up.
8. A person with perfectionism immerses his identity and security in the results that happen around him.
His sense of well being is deeply connected to the results.
9. The end result for a perfectionist = burnout.
They think a vacation will help, but it only provides a temporary band-aid. What they often do not understand is that what they need for change to take place is a complete overhaul. Everything has to change to get free from perfectionism.
The Freedom of Living in Healthy Excellence
In direct contrast,
1. Biblical excellence teaches us that believers are all accepted by God who gave us our value as His children.
We could never earn it. That acceptance fuels us with His grace to walk out a life of effectiveness with nothing to prove. Who we are is not what we DO. WHO WE ARE IS what we do.
2. You put your whole heart into it, but you leave all the results in God’s hands.
We are not in control of the results. We are only responsible to show up and be present to offer who we are to the world.
3. In healthy excellence, we are motivated by the love and acceptance God has given us.
For the love of Christ compels us . . . 2 Corinthians 5:14
4. When we walk in healthy excellence, we learn from our mistakes and put them behind us.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
If you notice, the Bible describes someone who cannot handle correction a scoffer (Proverbs 9:8-9). They are fools that resist correction and not teachable in their ways. Quite often in perfectionistic thinking, we can become blocked from healthy correction that can lead us into greater fruit. Often the correction will involve needing to release ourselves of the pressure that gets carried on our backs.
5. In healthy excellence, we recover strongly from mistakes.
In simple terms, mistakes are not the end, but a step to learning more and growing.
For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. Proverbs 24:16
6. We become excited about future challenges, knowing that God has our back all the way through and will empower us to grow and overcome. ￼
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31
7. We receive the comfort of God and choose to hope in God in all things.
Therefore we have no need to constantly spiral in discouragement.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance. Psalm 42:5
8. We learn in all ways to be content.
Contentment creates a gratitude within us whereby we can never be defeated by discouraging events or occurrences around us. We are also not thrown by what is or is not happening in our lives. Contentment is always joyful for everything God has done!
for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content Philippians 4:11
9. The end result = rest.
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest . . . Hebrews 4:11
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
You Must See the Spiritual Battle
We cannot see perfectionism simply as a psychological defect, but a spiritual battle waging over our peace and freedom. Too often we see battles in our mind, without any regard to the invisible work of satan’s army that may be at the source of our thoughts and behaviors. This is the reason we need to know who is talking in our thinking and take every thought captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Perfectionism is the enemy’s way of distorting our desire to walk in holiness. He perverts it so that we become religiously bound and hindered from freedom. We cannot just see this as a mind battle, but also as a spiritual assault to keep us free.
I am passionate about eliminating this perfectionistic burden from the body of Christ for two main reasons. The first is that this counterfeit is operating heavily today and needs to be address. The second is personal: this stronghold owned my life for far too long. ￼
For years, it robbed me of peace and kept me from being able to enjoy life at its fullest. It took my desire to please God and twisted it into a performance, drivenness and perfectionistic mindset that would not allow me to have peace. I thought that once I achieved a goal, I would experience rest.
Yet nothing I achieved ever brought me peace, because nothing was ever good enough. There was always something better that could be done and always something that was wrong in everything. I had no joy and no ability to appreciate what I had in life. I deeply struggled to be present in life, because my mind was trained to deal to focus on the next thing coming that just “had to be perfect.”
Everything in life needed to be amazing and over the top or else I was in torment. Performance was higher in value than relationship, because my identity was based on performance. The pressure began to build and build, until I realized how it had owned many areas of my thinking. It had literally programmed me in toxic behaviors. This all lead back to the fact that I was not secure in God’s love and acceptance of me. It lead to a poor self-view and sense of identity, so I poured myself into perfectionistic performance to try and find who I am.
The fear of failure along with the fear of being weak and flawed haunted me. If I made a mistake I was tormented inside. If someone saw the mistake it was a dead end street in my mind. I had a hard time not feeling like mistakes were the end of the world. Weakness in my mind was a dead-end failure and unacceptable. To be very honest, those who live with perfectionism have a really hard time knowing how to live without it. This was also true in my life.
For so long I thought I was walking in excellence, but I was deceived. When I came to the realization of the perfectionism bondage in me, I began to see how I was not walking in excellence. Until I really saw how this was damaging me, I still fell under perfectionism’s programming. I had to make a brave decision to leave these chains behind and walk in a new dimension of rest–with myself and with others. When I saw how it was affecting my mind and my health, I made a decision for freedom–a freedom that I thought before would never be available for me.
I have made the decision that I want to live free. I want to live in such a way where the pressure is off and I am free to be me as God sees me to be. It is my commitment to live a longer life and live in greater health. Part of that involves leaving performance, perfectionism and driveness behind. I cannot be a victim of what happens around me. I also cannot live in a prison of my own failures. Christ did not die on the cross so that I would be tormented against myself with inward conflict and self-pressures that bind.
So many today are driven to make a name for themselves, build a large ministry and business–all in the name of God, but driven by a perfectionistic spirit of driveness that is operating at man’s pace and man’s power. The pace of it is killing us. These patterns may make someone successful in the world’s eyes, but it renders us ineffective in our long-term health and effectiveness in God’s Kingdom.
When I put this perfectionistic mindset behind me, I could see the results almost instantly. It has its awkward stages, but I begin to feel like a million bucks in every way. The pressure gets released, the burden to perform is no longer a yoke and the results are left in God’s hands. It is now my responsibility to show up, be myself and grow at each stage. The results are in God’s hands and I must take my peace in that.
I must give room for weakness and mistakes, for they are not the end, but a beginning for change. I need to be ok with flaws in front of people – because people are more touched by our challenges than where we seem to look perfect. As I become less perfectionistic, I am less tempted to put unrealistic expectations on others. Anger loses its hold and stress begins to face as I take my peace in my journey with God. He is OK to walk with us in our imperfect state–so I need to take my peace and rest in that each day.
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