Monday, December 4, 2023

Deconstructing Perfectionism

Myth: (5) an unproven or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.

The myth of perfectionism can make leaders and their communities havens of toxicity and control, instead of freedom and growth.  In groups espousing Christian faith, the perfectionist myth is sometimes referenced by an imperative of Jesus: "You shall be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect." *

For me, perfection is an ideal and exists only in the eye of the beholder. It can project an image of being in control and in-touch. But the the dark passengers of the perfectionist are fear and self-disdain. 

Aspiration and idealism are worthy attributes. Self-improvement and pursuing excellence are not perfectionism. The core belief underlying excellence is that I am created and equipped to better myself and my world.  Not so with perfectionism. 

Perfectionism is older brother to hypocrisy. Clergy fulfill a necessary role in communities of faith. But if image management is my default, I may be overlooking a rotting spiritual center. The perfectionist as a spiritual leader is a positive hindrance to the flourishing of others.

Perfectionist Myths

1. "I'm a lot harder on myself than I am on others." Really? However, we end up treating others as we treat ourselves (or worse). Claiming the perfectionist tag can be a red flag for self-delusion and grandiosity.  

2. "They would like me if I try harder." Is living to impress others a worthy goal, and is it really possible? Being and doing your best is not the same as people-pleasing.

3. "I am not enough." Instead of being created in the image and likeness of God, the perfectionist is not enough. Resources like God's love and peace are scarce. 

Recovery from Perfectionism

1. Deconstruct the myth of perfectionism.
   What is the source of perfectionism within? Fear, shame, guilt?
   What does perfectionism promise and are these promises true?
    In what ways do I benefit from image control?
    In what ways has perfectionism drained, hurt me?
    How is it affecting my family and friendships? 
2. I can affirm that I am created in the image and likeness of God. Can I begin to learn  compassionate love of self and neighbor? I deal with my self- hate without projecting it onto others.

3. I accept that I am capable of a God-relationship that doesn't diminish or hinder others. In light of this, all labels are constructions of the ego, the false self. 

Things I have found helpful

1. Find a helpful psychotherapist who is a good fit. The objective here is too explore my own perfectionism, without fear of judgement- or "fixing." 

2. Recovery from perfectionism requires my ongoing inner work- learning a new way beginning with honesty and self acceptance, and self-love. Perfectionism is a core issue for recovery groups, such as Workaholics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families

3. A spiritual director helps to explore my God-relationship and God-image. Why? Because I often treat myself and others in the same way I envision God treating me.  A spiritual director can listen to me in a way others close to me- or others I serve- can't. 

*See Matthew 5:48, NRSV. Another translation of "perfect" is helpful too. New Testament Greek scholar Clarence Jordan translates the same verse this way: "Now you, all of you, must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature." The text can be found online at 

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