• Marty Lythgoe

Adjusting Perfectionistic Attitudes

The Psychology Today website says this about perfectionism: It is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation.

There are four types of perfectionism that I have experienced:

  • Perfectionism toward ourselves resulting from a deep rooted fear to not appear to look like a failure.

  • Perfectionism toward others that results in criticism, judgment, and some level of hurt in our relationships.

  • Societal expectation perfectionism resulting from the influence of the media, advertisements, social media, and other forms of peer pressure.

  • Christian commitment perfectionism resulting from legalism, a Task-Master-God concept, and an inability to understand Christian growth is a process.

All of us battle perfectionistic tendencies to some degree. The teenage years are often the time where this limiting stronghold can take root. Regardless of how much you battle perfectionism, you will find these five powerful keys,supported by Scripture from the Bible, helpful to your freedom from perfectionistic tendencies:

  1. Focus on improvement, not what people think of you. Perfectionists tend to be obsessed with what people think of their looks, their possessions, their intelligence, etc. Hebrews 10:14 gives us insight on how to overcome this. "For by one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." When we receive Christ as Savior, we become spiritually perfect in Him. We are perfect in righteousness, in protection, in blessing, in having a sound mind, and in every other way. Sanctification is the process of getting into our experience who we already are. It is the divinely empowered process to "improve" into who we already are. Healthy people focus on improvement instead of trying to present a perfect image to others.

  2. Do something and celebrate progress. The religious mindset of performing for God's approval and the approval of other perfectionistic-minded individuals can only be joyful and celebrated when perfection manifests in them or around them. This hinders them and those in their lives from trying new things. The Apostle Paul had a different attitude about this, saying "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me (Philippians 3:12).

  3. Recognize that those who succeed most also seem to fail most. When toddlers are learning to walk, they "fail" greatly before they walk well. Some might think they do not have the gift of walking because of how difficult it is for them. Rarely does anyone immediately become outwardly successful in anything. Those who understand the process of growth will not let struggles in learning stop them. If you refuse to let your struggles shape your beliefs about your potential, then you are ready for great increase and transformation. "Let the weak say, 'I am strong.'" (Joel 3:10).

  4. Redefine success. Success is not a goal to be attained, but it is a state of being. God's method of moving us forward in life and increasing our influence is to lead us to become successful on the inside when we don't look successful on the outside. I have heard it called soul prosperity. "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." (3 John 2).

  5. Embrace authenticity. When we open up to others about our struggles in life, it creates grace in us and around us. It is this authenticity that builds intimate relationships. James 4:6 says, "But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'" This is especially important for leaders, parents, and teachers. If we are not authentic, and we present a facade of never struggling, then that will create crippling perfectionist attitudes around us.


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© 2018 Marty Lythgoe