How To Overcome Perfectionism
You don’t have to be perfect.
I know you don’t believe me.
I didn’t believe it either. That was before I learned how to overcome perfectionism.
As a child I desperately tried to be perfect. Longing for affirmation, I modeled my behavior by what I had heard adults praise. I volunteered to help, smiled a lot, and gave a very firm handshake – for after all, no one wants to shake hands with a dead fish!
Childhood experiences taught me safety and value lay in being a perfectionist. As an adult, when I failed to reach standards set for me (by others or by myself) – I felt worthless. Hurtful words felt true. I felt I had no intrinsic value. Driven to be perfect, I became exhausted. Fear of failure eventually caused me to become passive as instead I tried to be invisible.
If we look at Aaron and Jesus, we see two very different paths. Aaron, Israel’s high priest, in his drivenness to be perfect, sinned against God. Jesus, however, was secure in His identity and did the will of the Father. He has become my model, showing me how to overcome perfectionism.
Have you ever felt like a failure
Striving for excellence is a good thing. But perfectionism becomes a double edged sword that undermines our value and our life. Initially, it feels right because we feel valuable. But the more we strive to be perfect, the higher the standard becomes, setting us up to fail.
Originally, we wanted to do a good job. But the need to be perfect grows out of niggling feelings of fear. Fear is a harsh taskmaster; it always brings torment. The mixture of fear, anxiety, torment, and striving to please others has a high cost. We need to recognize perfectionism is not an asset.
I have learned perfectionism skews the sight, robs you of confidence, and smothers creativity and the beauty of who God created you to be. Perfectionism rises out of fear of rejection and drives you to perform. Where you fail to attain perfection, rather than learn from mistakes, you believe you are a failure. Even with new skills, fearing failure, you become captive to passivity.
Wrongful Devotion to Excellence
Have you ever wondered why Aaron made an idol? The Lord honored him in the eyes of Israel by choosing him to be His high priest. But Aaron had been a slave and learned survival depended on performance. Being chosen by the Lord didn’t magically fix Aaron or teach him how to overcome perfectionism.
The Lord miraculously delivered Israel from Egypt, parted the Red Sea for them to escape, and provided their all needs. Ungrateful, their first request of God’s high priest was: “Make us gods who will go before us. As for Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Acts 7:40).
As the shouting people surrounded him, Aaron switched into the performance mentality of a slave. Seeing his moment to shine, without hesitation, Aaron sought to please the people. God had said don’t make any images to worship, but with boldness he used his imagination and without shame, he designed a golden calf to represent Israel’s God.
Aaron had specialized tools in his possession; possibly he had been a skilled craftsman in Egypt. With devotion, he skillfully used those tools to give creative expression to Israel’s hidden idolatry. Aaron would have felt checks in his spirit but he had learned to ignore or override his intuition in his striving to please others.
The people were thrilled; the calf was beautiful so we know Aaron worked with excellence. Happy with their praises, he turned his devotion to serve as high priest to the idol he had created.
The Fear of Man
The problem is the fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25). No sign advertises the presence of a trap. Blind to the reality of the noose waiting to catch them, the unwary are enticed by bait selected to ensnare them. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldeen Lexicon says a snare was a hook used for the nose; once the creature was caught, an iron ring was placed through its nostrils.
Fear of man clouds our mind and we walk into the trap. The enemy of our soul literally leads us by the hook holding us captive to a lie. Like Aaron, knowing what God said didn’t keep him safe. The lie we embrace allows us to rationalize and justify or excuse our choice to disobey the Lord. We can’t just work harder, we have to learn how to overcome perfectionism.
Perfectionism is Not Enough
Aaron worked with excellence and devotion as he strove for perfection. Though physically free, he had a slave mentality and walked in bondage in his drivenness to please others. Sadly, as he embraced a false identity, he rejected spiritual and mental freedom, his true identity as a son, and he failed to please the Lord.
As I studied the life of Jesus, I realized He chose relationship rather than perfectionism. He didn’t strive to please others because He understood His worth and His identity were found in His relationship with the Heavenly Father.
That didn’t mean life was easy for Him. It wasn’t. But He chose to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, rather than voices of people urging Him to walk in the fear of man. Jesus took the hard path where He learned obedience from the things He suffered.
Jesus was also chosen by God, who said, “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.” Secure in His identity as Son of His Heavenly Father, He chose to walk in the fear or awe of the Lord. Even when everything seemed to fall apart in His life and ministry, He placed His trust in Father God and was able to triumph over temptation.
Religion Kills, Love Brings Life
Here’s the catch. Like Aaron, you or I may be devout, even perfectionists. Perfectionism brings fear and the need to hide. And fearing failure, you will walk in the identity of a slave. Driven and self-deceived, seeking to gain value by pleasing others, you will become religious, not righteous. But, there is hope! You can learn how to overcome perfectionsim.
How to overcome perfectionism
Dear Heart, Jesus died to set you free from perfectionism and fear of failure.
Here’s the big secret. Give up your need to be perfect. Let it go. What you do doesn’t define you. This is the key of how to overcome perfectionism.
Your true identity is in Christ. As a child of God, you are seated in heaven with Him. There are no failures on the throne with Christ. Only very precious children.
Sounds easy! Its not! You and I will fail.
But you are not your failure. You are chosen and loved by the Heavenly Father. Jesus turned His face to listen to God. Imitate Jesus. Turn away from the people, thoughts, and words calling you a failure. Turn your face and look at Jesus who calls you His Beloved!
Life is Jesus. Choose Life. And give thanks! Your brain needs to hear you speak words of life over yourself. It needs to hear you give thanks so the lie is broken and you are able to begin to walk in your true identity as a child of God.
Feel free to share either in the comments below or you can write to me. I’d love to hear from you.
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Well thought out and articulated! Perfectionism is a bondage and a robber…one must be intentional about breaking loose! I have discovered a little saying to help me when I’m tempted to wander off,”Move over, Miss Perfect, Miss Freedom is moving in!”
Thank you for your encouragement. That is great. It is easy to fall back into the familiar but what a succinct way to help yourself stay on track. It is wonderful – our new identity in Christ to take the place of the old – that as you said is bondage and a robber. I pray you and your precious family are well. The Lord bless you.
Fear of man, performance, perfectionism, passivity, identity, idolatry… There’s so much in this post to chew on! Thank you for speaking on this topic. I needed to be reminded that my identity is safe in Christ–not in my doings.