I’m Alycia, and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
For years, I struggled to connect with people because perfectionism controlled my life. I was constantly working, stressed about the size of my to-do list and the fleeting hours of my day. Desperate for respite, I tried therapy, journaling, reading my Bible, taking long walks, anything I could think of. But they only provided temporary relief.
I remember sitting in yet another therapy session when my therapist told me that perfectionism was the root of all these problems. I stifled the desire to roll my eyes since it felt like everyone had told me perfectionism was to blame. I’d never believed them, though.
Sure, I knew it caused workaholism, but it couldn’t really cause my discontentment and longing, could it? After all, being a perfectionist meant I was detail-oriented, determined, and productive, right? If I kicked perfectionism, what would happen to all those good traits? I didn’t know how life would look or who I would be without them.
But deep down, I felt God telling me to surrender my belief that I could achieve a perfect version of myself by myself. I felt Him leading me to freedom from perfectionism. And I was devastated. Perfectionism had become my identity.
Throughout the next several years, God revealed not only the damage perfectionism caused in my life but also the destruction it wreaks now in the lives of so many.
4 Ways Perfectionism Hurts Perfectionists
Before we can be freed from something, we need to recognize how it binds us. This is true of perfectionism. Let’s examine four ways perfectionism hurts perfectionists.
1. Perfectionism Warps Our View of Ourselves
You know that constant pressure you feel? The stress of being behind at work? The anxiety of working for peace that just won’t stay? Perfectionism is behind all of it.
Perfectionism keeps us in a state of stress, looking ahead, longing for peace, but never getting satisfaction. Perfectionism whispers, “you’re close, but not there yet.” After all, we only need a better plan, better home decor, and better quality of work, right? So, we change our schedule, decorate our homes, edit our work harder, and experience a taste of contentment. But then holidays come, trends change, and suddenly, our efforts mean nothing—we mean nothing.
Perfectionism uses the fluctuations of our imperfect lives to dangle security in front of us while keeping it from our grasp. It convinces us to simply achieve “this last goal” to be happy; meanwhile, we feel alone, desperate, and depleted. What reprieve we do experience just doesn’t last, causing us to view ourselves as perpetual failures.
2. Perfectionism Paralyzes Our Work
For years, “giving a speech” was on my to-do list. I even had several opportunities to check it off. But I was terrified of messing up my words and people not taking me seriously, so I let those opportunities slide.
Fostering a fear of failure and a tendency to procrastinate, perfectionism convinces us we can’t succeed so we shouldn’t try. This lie compels us to spend hours agonizing over an assignment meant to take minutes to complete because it must be perfect. In an article from MindTools.com, titled Managing Perfectionists, the author says perfectionism makes it “difficult to meet deadlines, delegate work, and accept constructive criticism. [Perfectionists]…can be less productive than others, simply because they spend so much time checking and rechecking their work.” Instead of benefiting our work life, perfectionism slows everything down, stunts our growth, and blames us for not “trying hard enough.”
It’s a devious cycle of “you should do this, it’s expected” coupled with “You’re not ____ enough to do this. You’re going to be disappointed.” This vicious mindset annihilates our God-given passion. It degrades our interests into chores and makes our dreams seem like something we must accomplish to find joy. Forget the journey, it’s become all about the end goal.
3. Perfectionism Sabotages Our Relationships
Perfectionism tells us we’re unworthy of friendship, compassion, and love because of our imperfections. It makes us ask, “How can anyone love such an uptight mess like me?” We crave connection, but we think letting people see our mess will mean losing them.
I’m fine with going up to people and starting conversations, but unless I’ve known someone for years, it’s near impossible to get me to share my present struggles. It feels too raw and ugly, but that’s where the truest friendships are born–in seeing each other’s shame and, instead of running, leaning in. Tim Keller said, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is [our greatest need].”
Perfectionism shames us into hiding our imperfections, stopping vulnerability from happening, and separating us from deep relationships.
4. Perfectionism Makes Us Distrust God
Perfectionism not only sabotages our relationships, productivity, and the way we see ourselves, it also creates a wall between us and God. Perfectionism preaches the legalistic lies that our salvation depends on our productivity and our holiness depends on our works, rather than on Christ. This shifts the focus off God and onto us, where we start to distrust our Father and hog control.
Perfectionism once convinced me that my efforts could earn me peace and confidence. Trusting in God felt impossible. I wanted control over my joy and security so badly, and I couldn’t imagine willingly surrendering that to Someone I felt wanted me to work for His love. So, the fight to simply “let go and let God” felt like a leap into a dangerous trap.
I put God on the sidelines of my growth. I was scared to get Him involved in doing His job–authoring my life, prioritizing my goals, sanctifying my soul, composing a more vibrant and fulfilling plan than I could imagine. I believed my inner critic was the voice of God. So, I saw perfectionism’s lofty goals as a holy crusade. I felt I was called to take on this burden and perform well to achieve “good and faithful servant” status.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth of what God asks of me—or what He asks of you.
At the Heart
What every perfectionist ultimately longs for isn’t perfection; it’s unconditional love. We want to know we are accepted even amid failure. Perfectionism will not—cannot—give us that. But we have a God who already has.
“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 8:5 (ESV)
While we were imperfect sinners, Christ demonstrated His unconditional love for us. He both “fully knows and truly loves” us. He doesn’t ask us to manufacture our own perfection but instead covers us with His perfect blood. He is the Fulfiller of the promises perfectionism is too powerless to fulfill.
A life with Him looks like stable confidence amid turbulent circumstances; it looks like arms to sustain you when you can’t do it all; it looks like a dependable source of peace and satisfaction. The products of this abundant life are rooted in one simple thing (which doesn’t hinge on your performance): the unconditional love of a truly perfect God.
How can perfectionism even compare?