A few years ago, a friend and her husband were going through a divorce. The husband, who I’ll call Steve, was a talented artist. Earlier in their marriage, he had painted exquisite portraits of himself and his wife. They were like love letters in pen and ink.
Steve never was able to get a foothold as an artist, and he took other jobs to pay the bills. When he and my friend divorced, he destroyed the paintings.
It was such a desperate act—a clear message of “The paintings weren’t good enough, and neither am I.”
My heart hurt when I heard that all those heartfelt creations had been destroyed. It was as though he had turned his back on himself, and destroying the paintings was a corporal act of self punishment.
This story comes to mind as I think about perfectionism because it’s a powerful example of judging ourselves and others for not being good enough. But here’s the thing:
Perfectionism comes from the ego.
Perfection comes from God.
Perfectionism is the fear that you’re not good enough and have to prove your worth by not making a mistake. It robs you of the enjoyment of the process by focusing all your attention on the outcome.
Perfection, on the other hand, is the truth that you’re complete and whole as you are. As A Course in Miracles says, “Nothing you do or think or wish or make is necessary to establish your worth.”
The signs of perfectionism are easy to spot:
- Agonizing over a decision for fear of making a mistake.
- Second-guessing yourself.
- Finding fault with the tiniest things you or others do or say.
- Being unable to finish a project because it’s never quite right.
- Constantly comparing yourself to others.
- Feeling like you’ll never be good enough.
These negative self-messages often are reinforced by a world that shows perfection as the ideal, and even as the norm. Every day we see ads for gleaming cars that clearly have not met the gravel road leading to our house…professionally applied makeup that’s flawless even on the biggest-screen HD TVs at Costco…and bikini bodies that don’t reveal the photo-shopping that made them that way.
Perfectionism is the ego’s carrot on a stick. By constantly moving it just beyond your nose, the fear-based ego makes the goal always unattainable, constantly reinforcing that you’re not enough.
But there’s another way to live.
What can you do to heal the need for perfectionism and experience your perfection instead? Try this:
• Give yourself a break as a human being. There are times, of course, when perfection is the goal. Olympic athletes, for instance, train for the perfect 10. Mechanical engineers and heart surgeons rely on precision, with no room for error. But it’s one thing to strive for perfection. It’s another to diminish your worth as a human being by believing your value is measured only by a perfect performance. Make acceptance and forgiveness as important as ambition.
• Recognize your perfection as a spiritual being. Remember that you’re perfect on a spiritual level—a truth that never changes. Claim the joy in that by taking a moment every morning before you get out of bed to relinquish the need for control and put Spirit in charge instead.
• Allow yourself to make mistakes and see that the world goes on. Make allowances for imperfections. Look for the gifts and lessons in the mistakes rather than the failure.
• Ask for the help of Spirit. Ask for your fear-based thoughts to be healed so you can live your life peacefully—and perfectly as a child of God—at the same time.
Debra Engle is the author of The Only Little Prayer You Need. You can find her on Facebook and at debraengle.com.