Confessions of a Perfectionist

What do you get when you mix…
A self-imposed pressure to be the best;
Supportive, doting family with high expectations;
Just enough academic smarts to succeed without much effort;
A desire to serve God the best way;
& a splash of Catholic guilt?

I think it would look something like me. It was fairly easy for me to succeed and even exceed academic expectations, due to the awesome early tutoring and nudges by my dad. I had a devoted Catholic family in which God and faith were an integral part of daily life. I have realized I am generally, and in most casual circumstances, also a people pleaser. Which means I don’t like conflict. Like maybe I avoid it at all costs, like I would the plague.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? No. The issue though, is that I was a perfectionist in the worst way possible. I didn’t allow myself any grace for mistakes (enter the famous Catholic guilt!).

The first time I realized God didn’t expect me to be PERFECT, it was a life-changing revelation that freed me up in the best ways. But I only recently realized that while for years I have understood that in a way that allows me to forgive myself, I have not believed it enough to expect forgiveness from others for my shortcomings. I suddenly realized that I constantly found myself apologizing – and I was tired of it. Tired of feeling like I was missing the mark. I just wanted to get it together enough that I wouldn’t need to apologize for anything. (Well, not ANYTHING- of course I will apologize if I’ve wronged someone- but this was a different kind of apology. Almost like I was apologizing for my failures, to which I could see no excuse except maybe poor time management or wrong priorities.)

I get pulled in so many directions every week. The problem is, since I’m a people pleaser, I want to put EVERYONE first and still be the best at EVERYTHING I do. You and I both know, it just ain’t possible, sister.

What causes me to put this pressure on myself?

Deep down I think it is the belief that if I act, speak, and do everything perfectly, I will elicit the perfect responses and reactions from the people around me – As if I could manipulate them! Psh! What a silly notion. I didn’t do this with a bad heart. Quite the opposite- I thought I was doing what God wanted. But the ugly truth is that I just didn’t trust God enough to do His part even if I WASN’T perfect. (And here I thought I had the whole trust thing mastered! Pride comes before the fall you know.)

So what did I learn? I was actually reacting out of fear instead of acting from an abundance of His perfect love. Fear of people’s responses controlled my actions, instead of love for those people. Some examples?
*Waiting to discuss scheduling or important family decisions with the hubs until the “perfect time”, out of fear of an argument or even just uncomfortable discussion.
*Losing my temper with my kids out of fear they won’t ever listen, embarrass us in public, or fear of people thinking I’m an incapable mother.
*Avoiding discussing hard truth with friends, family, or co-workers out of a fear of their response.

The “love” way to handle these?
* Ask my hubs when a good time is to discuss scheduling/decision making.
* Speak kindly and lovingly to my kids, believing that when they KNOW I love them no matter what, they will desire to be better growing from that love instead of from a controlling angry mom.
* Instead of avoiding discussion, gently mention I’ve noticed something is bothering them; ask what it is, how I can help; and apologize if I was in the wrong.

::: sigh of relief :::

Doesn’t operating in love sound much better and less stressful?

While writing this I just experienced a perfect example of fear vs. faith/love: C, our 18mos old, grabbed my glasses – the last real pair I have since she knocked the lens out of my other, already slightly mangled pair. My first instinct was to have a mini freak out, trying to grab the glasses out of her hand. Mid-grab I realized my motivation was fear that if she broke them, we wouldn’t have enough money to buy another pair. ROOT ISSUE: distrust in God’s provision.

Do you have situations in which you operate in fear?

Here are two verses that helped me:
1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us?
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The latter took on a whole new meaning yesterday when I had a choice to operate out of fear or love. After reading to A, finishing a prayer call with a friend from work, and just about to start a home date night with the hubs, C woke up and wouldn’t go down even after I rocked her for several minutes. Normally at this point I operate under the assumption that the hubs is upset, thereby getting frustrated myself… this nails a wedge between us and starts our night off badly. And I operate out of fear, afraid that C will NEVER go down. But I realized I didn’t have to let the situation control my response. Since God is on my side, fighting for me; since He wants my marriage and parenting to succeed; since He created me to be a Proverbs 31 woman – all I had to do was ACT on it. I chose to (quietly) text hubs, joking about C having a super sense that woke her up every time I tried to put her in her crib – while still rocking her in the recliner. He texted calmly back, and I tried putting her down again. It’s true what they say: 3rd time’s a charm.

I once heard that the woman sets the mood/tone of the whole home and family. This was proof. In two situations yesterday I had the opportunity to test that theory, and found it to be true.

My prayer is that everyone reading recognize any areas in which they are operating in fear, and are able to overcome it with perfect love, through provision from the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name.

The happy truth is, if you pray that God will make you keenly obvious of the situations in which you can choose fear or love, and that He will show you what love looks like, He will. You will feel more peace and less stress. And everyone around you will be much happier for it!

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