I’ve heard it said that “realizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.” I used to think that idea was limited to addiction and alcoholism, but as it turns out, “realizing you have a problem” is actually pretty close to saying, “Humble yourself and examine your heart.”
My story of dealing with perfectionism is a long-running one, and I don’t think it has an end in the near future. Truthfully, it may not end until my life has been lived, and I enter the Kingdom of God. Yay, lifelong sanctification…?
But, even though the end of my journey may not be on this earth, I can point out a distinct starting point. The part where I had to “realize I had a problem.” It looked like this:
About a year and a half ago, I started a second round of counseling with a Christian therapist. After about three weeks, she pulled out this book.
“Now, I’m not sure if this will describe you, but maybe take a look at the description on Amazon and see if it sounds relevant. If so, maybe that’s a good starting point for unpacking some of the struggles you’re telling me about.”
I did read the description, and I thought it was a pretty good match. So I stuck it on my iPad and started reading. The beginning was a lot of technical research (which was interesting, but not really helping me).
A few chapters later, though, the phrases “academically gifted children,” “controlling,” “exhausted and exhausting,” “craving approval,” and a bajillion others came up.
I had to put it down. Opening the book felt a bit like opening the door to a haunted house and praying that something doesn’t come flying out at your face. Except, things did come flying out at my face and I couldn’t take it. Once I hit the “types of perfectionism” chapter, it was exactly like seeing myself through a microscope, and I was scared to look at myself that closely.
At that point, I was not at all ready to “realize” my problem. But, surprise– it wasn’t going away. A couple months later, I finished school, and I finally made myself read through the rest of the book. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was step one on the road to healing from the stronghold that Satan had on my mind and on my heart.
This book was the exact thing I needed to “realize I had a problem,” and I’m writing this very post because I think it could help others, too. To name a few symptoms that it really nailed for my own heart:
Performance anxiety, fear of failure, depression, indecisiveness, procrastination, all-or-nothing thinking, overactive conscience…
I could go on forever. Essentially, I’m convinced that this book was written about me.
I don’t pretend to be an expert by any means, but I’m finally starting to recognize my own negative thought patterns and false beliefs about myself. In the weirdest way possible, it’s freeing to be understood. It’s simultaneously terrifying and refreshing to read something like this book and think, “WAIT. You mean other people have thought that, too? You mean, I’m NOT the weirdest human on the planet?!”
For fear of sounding like one of those lawsuit infomercials (“if you or a loved one have suffered an injury from X drug, call the number on your screen”), I hesitate to say this. But, if you’re struggling with perfectionism, or with a lack of self-grace, don’t sweep it under the rug. That voice that keeps pushing you is Satan. And there are resources out there to help you. And there are people (Like me! Let’s talk!) who can lift you up and encourage you and help you identify your own darkness and lead you to light.
I’ve been floored by the responses I’ve gotten since I posted my initial “when things don’t go according to plan” story, and that’s why I feel the need to keep declaring that there’s HOPE.
So, if you find yourself in a dark place similar to mine of self-hatred and shame, don’t settle for living like that. “Perfecting yourself to death” will (quite literally, sometimes) lead you to death and destruction.
There’s hope, and His name is Jesus. I feel like I’m a living example of how His hope can change a life and a heart, and I’d love to share all of that with you if perfectionism is in your life, too.
You’re not alone, and you’re also not called to live a life dictated by Satan’s voice. Reach out, and Living Hope is there to pull you out of the darkness.
**A side note– If you want to read the book I’ve talked about, you can find it by clicking here. Also, I’m completely serious about talking to you about perfectionism if you think it’s something in your heart. Satan can’t thrive when we find healing community, so let’s chat!**
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