Do you ever think it is dangerous to let the real, mistake-making you show? I did, so I fashioned a disguise, a mask called perfection.
Perfection can be defined as an unhealthy pattern of thoughts and behaviors that we use to conceal our flaws. It has two dimensions, relational and personal. On the personal level it serves to compensate rather than conceal. Relationally, it is intended to conceal our flaws.
A perfectionist fears failing in any area of life. And when we do fail it results in self-criticism which leads to loss of self-esteem.
Is it possible that perfectionism is a rejection of biblical truth about our sin-brokenness?
We may look like butterflies to others but for the perfectionist we know we are really just caterpillars, only no one has noticed yet. Shame bound perfectionists live with what I’ve heard described as the Imposter Phenomenon. It’s a name given to the experience of an individual who has the feeling that if they did achieve something of significance or importance, they really just faked their way through it. What’s more, eventually someone is going to recognize it and label them as inadequate and unworthy at any moment now.
Having lived this way for years I can testify that there is hope. The sense of relief and freedom that came once I was released from this bondage was worth the effort it took to change. But change came only as I made new choices.
The kingdom of God is truly a paradox, and being released from feeling shame over my own imperfections is found in embracing these paradoxes and when I do, they are liberating.
The liberating paradox of my worth: I must accept that I am unworthy but not worthless. We may spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are. But our Creator has the truth and we find His answer at the cross and the liberating paradox that it represents.
The liberating paradox of God’s grace: I spent so many years trying to hide the fact that there was anything wrong with me. It’s when I can acknowledge my own sinful imperfection and trust Jesus that I receive God’s grace. Embracing this liberating paradox releases me from shame because it shatters the chains that kept me from being all God plans for me.
The liberating paradox of potential: Perfectionism paralyses. When I can embrace my limited potential it frees me to achieve more of my potential. If I can accept the truth that neither myself or anyone else is perfect it then liberates me to dream, take a chance, dare and be more than I ever could be when constrained by the grip of perfectionism.
As we grow, we learn more about the dynamics of functional and dysfunctional families and that enables us to perceive our childhood experiences more accurately. And as we understand the effects of those childhood experiences we are better able to understand why we make the current choices and relationships. I learned to exchange my “perception”. I had to recognize that I so often attempted to create my own self-righteous perfection rather than accepting God’s way and exchange the truth of God for the lies.
Yet, as believers in Christ we all too often skip over the most powerful resource we have, the indwelling Holy Spirit. He goes unnoticed or unused by us when we so desperately need His guidance and wisdom. Quoting Dan B. Allender, “God’s path is paradoxical. We are drawn to Christ because we want life, and want it more abundant. He gives us life that leads to abundance, via brokenness, poverty, persecution and death. The life He invites us to lead causes us to lose ourselves so that we can find ourselves, to lose our life so that we can have life.”
The work of the Holy Spirit does not lead to sinless perfectionism. That awaits us in heaven. Change is possible but not perfected until heaven.
If we are going to recover from our perfectionist why of thinking and behaving we need to understand that it is a continual choice based on truth. This truth sets us free from the oppression of trying to live up to the impossible, high self-imposed standards we’ve set for ourselves.
I am learning to not fear imperfection realizing that it doesn’t reveal my unacceptable difference from others. It reveals I am human. Choosing to be real instead of perfect is far easier and better for me….it allows me to enjoy life as a journey rather than perfection as a destination.