As a recovering perfectionist I've learned a lot about the damage perfectionism does to relationships and self-esteem. Culture constantly bombards us with images of the perfect body, marriage, entree, house, car, vacation, children and holiday...NONE of which are attainable, perhaps not even desirable. We expend extra effort, extra work, and extra hours to say or do just the right thing to please God, ourselves and others. I've found that to be a surefire way to drive a dagger into happy hearts--mine and someone else's.
So it was a good day when I decided to just be a good version of me, not a perfect one. I sensed a smile from my heavenly Father too...and from those closest to me. I came down from the Cross as well; I figured the world only needs one Savior.
Life's been better since. Birds seems to sing more beautifully, breezes seem gentler, people are funnier, driving's more enjoyable, politics seem less earth-shattering, and my previous obsession with setting the whole world straight has diminished markedly as being "right" gradually lost its luster. Seems that perfectionism destroys most everything--especially initiative, relationships and happiness. It also fosters codependency and leads to a rules-dominated life. Not a pretty picture.
Looking back on my addiction, I notice a key factor that was causative: I wasn't validated much as a kid. Children who aren't validated often grow up and enter the helping professions--pastors, counselors, nurses, etc. Not a bad thing, unless we expect our careers to validate us, which I've learned is an unhealthy pursuit. In fact, it's a pipe dream. God's unconditional love is what validates me these days. My job is what I do, not what I am.
Here's a quick summary of steps I took to exit the perfectionism squirrel cage:
1. I admitted I had a problem. We can't get to where we need to be, until we know where we are. We only experience healing in our lives to the degree that we're aware of our need for it.
2. I lowered my expectations of others. When I decided that others don't have to be perfect, I was able to grant myself the same blessing. Quit demanding that others meet your lofty and unrealistic expectations. It messes with your mind. It creates a lot of anger too.
3. I accepted the reality that I matter to God and nothing in all the universe can change that. The most contented people I know realize that God deeply and unswervingly loves them, and they matter to Him. The resulting contentment deals a death blow to perfectionism.
4. I chose an others-focused life. Some people seem to think that happiness is attained by sitting on a hill beneath a tree somewhere, strumming a guitar, and contemplating one's navel. Not so. Better to forget ourselves altogether and focus on others. A simple thing I've learned is that if I make up my mind to be kind to at least three people every morning before ten o'clock, the rest of the day usually follows along quite nicely.
There was a time when I looked at others and saw nothing but blemishes. Blemishes everywhere...head to toe. Then I decided to love more and judge less, and I learned something I hadn't known before--that what I'd thought were blemishes--were actually scars. Big difference. Perspective changes a lot of things, but most of all...it changes you.