What if the lump in my breast is cancer? I better start researching my treatment options now. Can I even trust the doctors? I wonder if it’s too late to buy a life insurance policy.
Did I lock the deadbolt when I left? What if somebody breaks in? If they steal our computer they’ll have all our bank account numbers and passwords. We’re already struggling and that could bankrupt us.
What if the boss rejects my proposal? Will I get fired? How will we pay for Jordan’s braces if I lose my job? Would anybody else hire me or will they pass me over because I was fired from my last job.
How is my husband going to react when I tell him how much the plumber cost? He’s always mad at me for spending money but I don’t have time to figure out how to fix the leak. Why can’t he take care of it?
Have you ever experienced thoughts like these? You can’t explain where they come from and they just don’t stop! They may start out seemingly innocent but they go from bad to worse and start a downward spiral of negative thinking.
Your head is filled with so much noise about the past or future that you can’t focus on what you’re supposed to be doing right now.
As anxious thoughts take your mind hostage, your doubts and fears grow. When your thoughts become a demanding tyrant that attempts to control your mind, you’ll likely start behaving in ways to try to relieve the pressure.
It is not sin to experience such thoughts coming into your mind. But if you start dwelling on them and adding fuel to the fire, you will lose the peace and joy of your salvation because your sinful thoughts break your fellowship with God and others. Your body will suffer as you bottle up more and more anxieties about the daily concerns of life.
You may not have thought that trying to live up to your responsibilities could be defined as perfectionism. But if you’re struggling to do your best and your efforts to be perfect, to be approved of or to control your life are weighing you down, then you need to keep reading because you are a perfectionist!
Perfectionism is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, otherwise known as “OCD.”
- An obsession is an involuntary and undesirable thought.
- A compulsion is a voluntary and willful behavior resulting from the obsessive thought. Many times the behavior is irrational and seems unassociated with the thoughts.
Although people with these disorders recognize that their thoughts and behaviors are problems, they feel driven to obey them and are in bondage to their anxiety.
- Perfectionist has recurrent and persistent thoughts or impulses that cause anxiety. They experience patterns of fearful thoughts and rehearse thoughts in attempt to regain control, but it only intensifies fears.
- Perfectionist has excessive drives that push them to go beyond normal concerns about life.
- Perfectionist tries, but cannot control thoughts.
- Perfectionist admits thoughts come from within and are not caused by outside influences.
- Perfectionist has self-appointed rules they must keep to eliminate distress or prevent undesirable conditions.
- Perfectionist needs certainty, which causes them to seek exhaustive knowledge thinking if they have life sorted into black and white they can stay on the right track.
- Perfectionist needs control. They do not like a life of uncertainty and do not trust others.
There are many possible reasons why people may experience these thoughts. Many are often related to some trauma (or perceived trauma) from their past. Although we are all totally depraved and responsible for our own sin, we are influenced by our experiences.
My parents fought for years, then divorced when I was eleven years old. I had an absent father, who was uninterested and unconcerned about me. Because my mom had to work to support the family, she was gone many hours each day and as the oldest girl, I was expected to pick up a lot of household duties that Mom had normally done. The chores were divided amongst the three oldest kids, but my older brother was involved in drugs and often didn’t come home.
Because I loved my mom and felt bad for her, I always tried my best to pick up the slack and help keep things going. But it was never enough. The pressures she felt were pushed onto me. She was demanding and critical and I felt as if I could never please her. Yet I didn’t stop trying.
I was trying to meet her expectations, but was reminded that I never could. I became a people pleaser. The truth is, I was driven to please her just so I could escape her condemnation and feel good about myself. I didn’t want to be perfect. I just wanted to be “good enough” to silence her criticism.
The cause of perfectionism doesn’t matter as much as knowing the harm of it. When a person lives in a cycle of obsessive thoughts leading to compulsive behavior, yet never finds relief from the thoughts, they are going to experience problems in every area of life. In their relationships, jobs, and in their bodies.
Through my unmet desire to achieve my own unrealistic goals, I turned into a tyrant who was hyper-critical. I could never measure up to my own desire to be “good enough.” I ended up with adrenal problems that affected the whole endocrine system. Because the emotional stress was so great, it finally took a toll on my physical state. And I have nobody to blame but myself.
Regardless of the cause, the best news is to know there is a solution. Unless a physiological problem can be found in the body, the cause is most likely emotional. And for the believer, emotional problems lead to spiritual problems.
Having emotions is not wrong. We are made in the mage of God who has emotions. It is how we deal with emotions that is either right or wrong. If we let our emotions rule us, rather than the Holy Spirit, we will hinder spiritual growth and invite chastening from the Lord. It is better to acknowledge the problem and take steps to resolve it.
STEP ONE – Repentance
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9
The first step is to repent of the sin of thinking you are able to make yourself good and make God approve of you. And you must repent of being a “man pleaser”, one who desires approval from others, including self-approval. You must also repent of trusting in yourself to control all the details of your life and make it work the way you want it to. God alone controls everything and to attempt to make yourself a “god” is to commit idolatry.
STEP TWO – Replace
(The gospel) “taught you to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” -Ephesians 4:22-24
The second step is to stop dwelling on anxious thoughts and replace them with truth. You should rehearse thoughts about God–that He is a wise, loving, sovereign, caring, merciful God who is able to care for you and wants to! And to focus on biblical truth about what God does expect from you…not perfection, but faith and obedience.
STEP THREE – Remind
“But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” -Romans 4:5
The third step is to preach the gospel to yourself.
- You will never be good enough to merit God’s favor.
- You will never be able to make yourself a better person.
- You will always be a sinner who misses the mark.
- You will never be able to win everyone’s approval.
- You will judge, instead of love those who don’t approve of you.
- You will never be able to control all your circumstances.
- Christ died for sinners.
- You are a new creation.
- You have peace with God and do not fear man.
- Christ’s perfect righteousness is accounted to you.
- God is at work in you to transform you into the image of Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit dwells in you and sets you free from fear of others to love others.
Once you remind yourself of these truths, you can then appreciate God’s mercy in saving you, caring for you, and transforming you.
“The gospel encourages me to rest in my righteous standing with God, a standing which Christ Himself has accomplished and always maintains for me. I never need to do a moment’s labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God! Freed from the burden of such a task, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness and ministering God’s amazing grace to others.
The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God will always hold firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me. On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine.” -Milton Vincent
As a perfectionistic believer, you must grow in the knowledge of the gospel because you are uncertain of your salvation. You must fully grasp the gospel and how it assures you of two things:
- You can never do anything to gain God’s approval except trust in Jesus Christ.
- You can never do anything to lose God’s approval once you are a born-again believer.
- Uncontrolled thoughts that consist of trying to force life into a perfect mold lead to perfectionism.
- Perfectionism is a form of OCD and is detrimental to your mental and physical health.
- You rehearse (turn ordinary fears into obsessive fears) anxious thoughts without trying to and it makes you more anxious.
- You then take action to alleviate the anxious thoughts but the actions do not change your situations or perceived danger and therefore, you grow to be even more anxious.
- It is a vicious cycle of thinking, doing, thinking, doing, etc. and never finding relief.
- It may or may not be caused by a medical condition in the body.
- If it is not caused by a physical problem, it can be overcome.
- Repentance, replacement, and reminders are the biblical solutions to the perfectionist’s problems.
Why you must stop being a perfectionist before you go crazy
The biggest problem about being a perfectionist is the self-centered view of life. Anything that diverts your attention away from God is a threat to every aspect of your life. You’ll lose the mental stability of peace, the emotional stability of joy and physical stability of a healthy body.
You can refocus your attention on God and all He has done for you through the sacrifice of His Son and train your mind to think about all He is currently doing for you in the here and now:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
And meditate on the truth that NOTHING can change your standing with God:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39