Overcoming Perfectionism

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A couple of weeks ago, we had a staff retreat at work. And in preparation, they required us to take a personality profile. If you know me at all (or if you read last week’s blog post), you will not be surprised to learn that I tested off the scale as a perfectionist. Over the 58 pages of analysis that I was given on my personality, it all boiled down to one statement:

I am a perfectionist who fears change, conflict, and risk-taking.

I’ve never been good at accepting criticism, no matter how gracious, merciful, or gentle it is. When I was in primary school, my Mom made a comment about my sloppy handwriting. I practiced and practiced and practiced until my handwriting was as close to perfect as I could get it. And all of these years later, it still makes my heart hurt to make a mistake or to be called on it.

Over the years, I’ve realized that I am thoroughly unable to be perfect.

If I can’t be perfect, my next best coping mechanism is to withdraw.

Late last fall, I began having mild panic attacks. They aren’t completely new to me, but at the time, they were fairly uncommon, and so they got my attention pretty quickly. From mild panic attacks, I progressed to severe panic attacks. Add to that an endless cycle of insomnia and nightmares, and pretty soon, I knew that I was what is generally referred to as, “a hot mess.”

And as hot of a mess as I was, I didn’t really know where to go for support because I’m a perfectionist who fears risk, and what greater risk is there for a perfectionist than to admit to anyone that I’m not perfect? And that, in fact, I’m pretty much a total basketcase?

In this week’s chapter of “The Cure,” our authors say this: “I withdraw from my most important relationships – the ones who love and need me the most. I can’t let anyone too close for fear I’ll slip….In my withdrawal, I’m monitoring an ongoing ticker with periodic assessments of damage control. At this point, it’s exhausting.”

I withdrew. It’s how I coped. But healing didn’t begin until I stopped withdrawing, took off the mask, let down the walls, and let people see me. One person at a time. And as each one loved me and accepted me, in their own ways, I didn’t find myself turned away. I found myself taken in. I found myself in a family. In a place of healing.

Am I “there” yet?

Nope.

One day at a time.

This post is part of a weekly discussion on “The Cure” by Lynch, McNicol, and Thrall. You don’t have to read the book to chat with us! If you did write a response to this week’s chapter, link it up below, and then go see my co-facilitator, Jason Stasyszen, to see what he has to say!

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About Sarah Salter

Comments

  1. Thanks for being willing to take the mask off with me to the degree and depth you have, Sarah – you’ve made the trip a *lot* more interesting (I’ve got the book, BTW – just haven’t had a chance to start it yet).

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Rick, I’ve made the trip more interesting? That may be the biggest understatement ever. LOL! And you’re going to enjoy the book, I think. I see a lot of you in it. :-)

  3. I love you Sarah and you have helped me see things/people in different ways.. And I think by sharing things you have that you have probably helped others…Glad you took off the mask too…

  4. I know about perfectionism for sure. It’s why I became a grad-A people pleaser. It didn’t work and I had to learn to say, “no” and fail without hiding. Definitely know about withdrawing as well. What a crazy, exhausting mess it is! And the pattern repeats over and over until we finally receive the grace He intended for us to have all along. What a difference–what a rest He offers. Thanks Sarah.

  5. My husband and I are both perfectionists. It can be frustrating on a personal level and well as a relationship level. There are things we have both have trouble letting go of, and/or accepting.
    But God’s grace is enough and He is teaching us to let go and rely on Him more than our own abilities/talents. It’s a slow growth process but thankfully we have a patient teacher :)

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