Sunday, August 5, 2012

Taming the Trap of Perfectionism

Recently I spent some time with a friend who does not seem satisfied with what she has. Everything she touches has to be perfect, or she gets really upset. It really bothered me, since in my eyes she has it pretty good, a beautiful house in good repair, a recent success in her career, a husband who tries to help her, and enough money for extras, like nice vacations. Yes, she struggles with some things. Who doesn't? But being around the negativity and perfectionism has been a real downer for me. After I spent time with her I wondered if I should confront her. Would she even listen to what I say? Probably not. She's really hurting.

But the perfectionism in my friend has pointed out to me the perfectionism in my own life. Now, you wouldn't think that I am tempted in this way if you spent some time with me. There are a couple of dozen of repairs waiting to be done in my house. I don't have the perfect family, perfect looks, perfect house, perfect career, perfect car, perfect garden, or perfect anything.  Life has pushed outward perfectionism out the window long ago, and slammed the window shut when we took in foster kids.

But the hidden perfectionism is still there. It bubbled out when the leaky pipe messed up the wood floors in my daughter's room two weeks ago. It seeped through when the car repair bill earlier this week almost doubled and I realized that I would have to wait even longer to enroll Ms. D in a PSP and get her evaluated for the coming school year. I had wanted to do it on time and on budget, but it just hasn't been possible. And perfectionism burst forth when I told a friend about the park incident earlier this week and she seriously told me that Ms. D probably was smoking pot with her friend and the creepy guys. I then beat myself up, because Ms. D and I had made some mistakes that day. I focused on the negative things, and not on the positives in each of these situations.

To me, perfectionism isn't just doing something well. It isn't doing your best. It isn't aiming to keep things in good repair, being organized, or surrounding yourself with beauty and order. Perfectionism is having a fit, either outwardly or inwardly, when things don't work out as well as you had hoped. It is not being thankful for what you do have, and focusing time and energy on the things you don't have. I am being a perfectionist when I am not grateful. I am a perfectionist when I insist that others around me look and perform to unattainable standards, and become resentful when they don't. Perfectionism is a wall that separates me from others and God, and leads me down a path of unhappiness.

Now I realize I can't really confront my friend's perfectionism until I deal with the perfectionism in my own life. I need to concentrate on the good things I am given, to be truly thankful and appreciative. I need to put relationships above performance, in my own life and in others. I'm still going to be honest and real. The phony, "everything's fine" line doesn't help relationships and can become outward perfectionism and be prideful. But I want to be the kind of person that says, "Yes, I'm having a hard time with this, but look at the good things God has blessed me with." I want to be grateful. I want to have a heart that sees beyond the trials of this life and that sees the good in this world and the world to come. I want a heart that can forgive, both myself and others. I want to extend the grace that has been given to me to others, and not condemn them, even if they fail me. I want to see the beauty in everything and everyone around me, and not focus on the flaws. I want to live a happy and fulfilled life.

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