Perfectionism

I really don’t want to write this blog.

I mean, I really don’t.

I’m thinking about a sermon we recently heard where the speaker said he didn’t want to give that sermon.

It was just so personal.

He wanted any sermon but that one.

Yet I think if I do not write this one, I will be being dishonest with myself and I do not wish to do that.

I’d like to talk to you about perfectionism.

As you’ve guessed from the introduction, I am a perfectionist.

So what is that?

Now some of us might think that it’s simply the goal to reach Christian perfection. That is a godly goal, but that is not the same thing. In fact, it could be that the perfectionism I am talking about is the twisting of that good perfectionism that we are to seek for. When I speak about perfectionism then from now on in this blog, unless otherwise stated, I am speaking of negative perfectionism.

This is the insistence that everything that the person does must be perfect. This is the kind that if one flaw is found in something the person does, it is cause for deep regret. Mistakes are not allowed. It is a constant critiquing of oneself. Now in a sense, we should all critique ourselves, but when the perfectionist does it, it is rarely if ever good.

Friends who come to see me and discuss apologetics with me are often quite stunned to see this tendency show up in me. It is the tendency that downplays everything positive about oneself. If there is anything good, “Well anyone could do that”, or “Anyone knows that.” If there is anything bad then, “Well that just confirms my fears that I’ve had.”

And yet, I’ve also found that many that I respect the most have the exact same tendency. The constant self-examination is hard especially since we are usually terrible at realizing things about ourselves. We are so caught up in the drama that we fail to see obvious fallacies in our thinking about ourselves. We can think well about things external to ourselves, but not things internal to ourselves.

I suppose this is one reason why one I know in this field and respect has told me about the value of marriage in that his wife is great at keeping things in perspective. It is one reason I believe my own counselor has told me that I have some issues in my own life that will not be resolved until the day that I get married.

And yes, let’s hope that day comes soon.

Perfectionism involves an inferiority complex as one constantly compares oneself to others, and it is, of course, rarely good. Everyone else is seen as normal and having a grip on reality and giving the “perfect answers” and not having any flaw in what they do. It is the perfectionist that is the lone freak of nature. Rationally, a perfectionist knows this is crazy, but perfectionism is not rational. Many of us are more emotional than we admit.

My own thinking many times can be hard even when studying a book. I can think “I won’t understand this” which results in my sometimes reading things and having no clue what I just read. Or something like, “I’ll never reach this level,” which results in my simply wanting to run away. The tendency to run is always there for the perfectionist.

It is very hard to be in a conversation and have someone say “I need to tell you something,” or say anything along those lines. The immediate thought is to prepare oneself for a threat. Whatever coming up will not be good. Ironically, I’ve had times where I have had such feelings before and what came up next was in fact very good.

The receiving of compliments is also hard for a perfectionist. On one hand when I receive one about, say, my intellectual ability, I will be thinking, “Darn right. You’d better believe it.” The other side though says “They’re just saying that to be kind. They don’t really believe that.” Unfortunately, I realize that saying such is often calling my friends liars. I’ve had to take the advice of Glenn Miller at the Christian-Thinktank and say accept the compliment and then say “Let’s go. We have work to do.” You can bask in the glory later.

It also involves this strange view we have today that feelings tell us about the external world. I feel inferior, therefore, I am inferior. I feel like X is looking down on me, therefore X is looking down on me. Feelings are magnified and every feeling must be examined. If you feel that you are not any good, well you must examine that feeling. What if that feeling is true? Of course, examining the feeling doesn’t make it go away.

What is the cure? I wish I knew entirely. One thing I have found that helps though. Good friends. I have several friends who know me well enough and give me a firm proverbial slap in the face whenever I get into a down mood and I finally let it out. (Sometimes, that can take months.) Little events can cause a huge ripple in the pond of the psyche and those must be worked through. It cannot be done alone. We perfectionists are not prone to share but it must be made known. This cannot be done alone.

Why do I state this also? Because like I said, it can’t be done alone. Also, because I believe there are some out there who do respect me in this field and have the same problem and need to know the truth. They are not alone. In fact, that is one of the lies of perfectionism as I’ve said. It is the belief that you are alone.

Fellow perfectionist if you are one. You are not alone. If you’re not, be kind to those of us who are. We want nothing more than to believe you. Please help us on the way.