Relationships are the stuff that life is made of. They hold us together and keep us going. Some of us have that inner circle of friends that we walk through life with, our encouragers, our confidants, the shoulders we cry on. Others of us feel more alone and sometimes we might find ourselves near the outside of that circle looking in.
I’ve found myself in both of those places over the years, and over time, I realized something important about the latter. In hindsight, I came to understand that in one particular situation I wasn’t really being excluded. Instead, my own broken beliefs and misplaced attitudes were the issues. And I was hiding myself. It was perfectionism at its best.
Today I am so pleased to share an article with you written by my friend Jill McCormick. Jill is a gifted writer and speaker. She breaks inner issues down into portions I can handle and then she points me in the right direction so I can move forward.
This article, which was originally published on her website under the title of “How Perfectionism is Killing Our Relationships” really broke some things down for me. It reminded me of something very important I needed to keep in mind about my relationships.
Jill reminds me that:
When I struggle in a relationship, the first place I need to look is inside my own heart.When I struggle in a relationship, the first place I need to look is inside my own heart.Click To Tweet
I’m telling you, friends, that’s not an easy thing to do. I think you’ll find that this article will help you whether you struggle with perfectionism or not. Inside, Jill takes a look at four ways perfectionism impacts our friendships. The great thing is she doesn’t just leave us holding those revelations and wondering what to do. She reminds us what God says about each one, and she gives us strategies the will help us move forward!
Jill McCormick is the writer behind “An Achiever Goes Rogue,” a blog designed to help high-achieving women lean less on self and more on the God of amazing grace. Jill married her high school sweetheart 17 years ago, and she will tell you that she got the better end of that deal. They have two children who were born 17 months apart. She loves baking and running (so that works out!) and writing about how God’s grace can rescue us from a lifetime of working for our worth.
You can find Jill here. Just click through!
Enjoy Jill’s article!
The year was 1994. I was a college freshman, and I had a thought while sitting bored in my dorm: Does
my pepper spray really work? So I pressed the lever … and the spray quickly filled the room, entered the ventilation system, and invaded the rooms of every girl on the 2nd floor. And because of my decision, everyone was evacuated…blergh.
Oftentimes, one action, attitude or belief can permeate almost everything we do and spread in ways that we cannot control. For me, this pervasive attitude, or the “pepper spray” in my life, is perfectionism.
My favorite definition of perfectionism comes from author and research professor Brené Brown.
She defines perfectionism as a “way of thinking and feeling that says if I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect, and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame or judgment.” Brown says that “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shot gun and fear is the annoying backseat driver.”
And for those of us who have lived it, we know exactly what she’s talking about. But I’m discovering that my perfectionism doesn’t just affect me, it impacts the people in my sphere of influence, especially my friends. Here are the four ways that my desire to be perfect affects my friendships.
Way #1: I create a mask to cover my flaws.
Here’s what I do: Outside of my make-up, I cover up by wearing a mask that says, “Move along, nothing to see here.” Brown says that we carry perfection around “hoping it will keep us from being hurt. In truth, it keeps us from being seen.”
Emily P. Freeman outlines several masks in Grace for the Good Girl:
* Fake “fine”
* Good Christian/rule-following
* Strength and responsibility
* Keeping everyone happy
* “I don’t care”
Here’s how it impacts friendship: I’m missing out on real connection because I won’t ever take off my mask to share a struggle or sin. You may either be attracted to my perfection while I hold you at arm’s length, or you may be repelled when you sense the fake or when you think you’ll never compare with my facade.
Here’s what God says: God is our fortified tower, and I’m safe when I run to Him (Proverbs 18:10). I’m not safe behind the mask I’ve constructed—I’m exhausted. God calls us to be real, not ideal. He calls us to confession and community, not idealized isolation.
How to shift away: I personally started by asking God what mask I’m hiding behind … which is, like, all of them.
Then I asked Him to show me a new way because I really didn’t know what to do without my mask. I trust that He is good and faithful to take the mask(s) that we offer Him and to comfort and show us who we really are.I’m not safe behind the mask I’ve constructed—I’m exhausted. -Jill E. McCormickClick To Tweet
Way #2: I’m so self-sufficient that I don’t need your help.
Here’s what I do: As an Achiever, I believe that asking for help is weakness, so I don’t do it.
Here’s how it impacts friendship: Not accepting help fuels our pride, and it robs other people of the joy that they could experience by helping us. Friendship is designed to be a give-and-take. So if I only give, I create an imbalanced and unhealthy dynamic between us.
Here’s what God says: At His core, our God is a generous giver. He gives life (Psalm 18:35), the desires of our hearts (Psalm 31:4), grace (Ephesians 1:7–8), love (Jeremiah 31:3), and His only Son (John 3:16).
How to shift away: This one is both easy and hard—we have to ask for help and then receive it. It starts with naming our need, and recognizing that we have limits. Need a deadline extension? Ask. Is the thought of cleaning the house leaving you overwhelmed? Hire a housekeeper even if it’s just for one clean.
Way #3: I believe that my perfectionism only impacts me.
Here’s what I do: I say that my perfectionism only pertains to me, but if I’m honest, it leaks out to others. I assume that my friends hold the same expectations that I do, and I think that they should always meet our standards.
Here’s how it impacts friendship: When our friends fail to meet our arbitrary (although very real and important to us) expectations, we can struggle to forgive them. When unmet expectations happen consistently, we can shut down altogether.
Here’s what God says: Friends, read this verse as if it’s a guide on how to treat yourself: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Did you catch it? Be kind to yourself. Be compassionate to yourself. Forgive yourself if you made a mistake. Remember that your expectations drive you, but your Good Shepherd leads you. If your expectations are practical and reasonable, but your friend still lets you down, forgive. I didn’t say to be a doormat, but your job is still to forgive.
How to shift away: Take those expectations to Jesus, and ask: Are these Your expectations of me and my friends or are they self-imposed? Where did they come from? Do I still need to hold on to them? God may tell you that those expectations are all on you, and it’s time to let them go.
Personally, this is a hard one for me. My expectations define my identity, so letting go of them means losing a piece of me. I must remember that my identity is in Christ. When a self-imposed expectation pops up, offer grace to yourself, and to your friends, when it’s not met.
Way #4: Conditions must be ideal for me to connect.
Here’s what I do: I believe that connection happens when I have the perfect amount of time and a perfectly-clean house.
Here’s how it impacts friendship: We don’t connect because we never have enough time or our house has toys on the floor while the home of our fellow-perfectionist friend doesn’t even have lint on the baseboards. We feel like we can’t compare, so we don’t even try.
Here’s what God says: God will always give us the perfect conditions to do what He has asked us to do, which doesn’t necessarily translate to our to-do list. God can stretch time. Jesus tells us how to have ideal conditions in John 8:28–29: “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” Let’s focus less on having ideal conditions, and let’s listen more to what God’s asking of us—I guarantee it’s loving on His people.
How to shift away: Look for partial solutions. For example, my best friend and I often talk while we’re in the pick-up line for school. We may have only eight minutes, but I’ll take eight minutes of laughter and memories over eight minutes of scrolling through Facebook. Instead of a perfectly-clean house, allow yourself to have a cereal box left on the counter when your guests arrive.
Just like that pepper spray from all those years ago, perfectionism impacts many aspects of our friendships: the intimacy level, our ability to receive, our standards, and our connection. While I couldn’t put the pepper spray back in the bottle, you now have tools to curb your perfectionism so that your friendships become one of the most vital and healthy parts of who you are.
My dear friend Melody gave me this advice, “You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to trust me with your imperfections.” Now that’ll preach.
Join us again next week as we continue our series on relationships. We’ll be discussing tips for how to deepen friendships. Also, if you’d like to be praying over your relationships, find 6 powerful Bible verses HERE with free printables to help you!
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