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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Perfectionism - at it's worst

It's been a while, a long while, since I have blogged. But a few weeks ago God sat me down at the computer one day and made me write this...seriously I just had to put into words the transformation that is happening in my life. So, I am going to step outside of my usual self and post something very vulnerable. The funny thing is that this blog is the perfect place to do it, because I created this blog really wanting to be perfect. To show others that I am a perfect mom and wife, haha! So, now I will break open my heart and show you the real Emily, the raw Emily.


Perfectionism - at it's worst
I have been a perfectionist my entire life. As a child I would get physically sick, if things didn’t go the way I planned. In some ways it was a good thing, because I set really high expectations for myself. I had goals I wanted achieve and for the most part, if I set my mind to it, I did it. However, there were some things that I just didn’t do well, and in those cases, I would quit. See, I felt that I would rather not do something than fail at it. This proved true when I began playing softball as a child. I was not very good, I probably could have been if I had stuck with it, but since I was seeing no progress I wanted to quit, rather than fail. My dad did not want me to quit, but I was not going to be made a fool.

As a teenager, my perfectionism continued. Again, in some ways it was a good thing. I wanted to be the perfect Christian, student, daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, etc. But another way that it proved to be a problem was when I would correct other people for their mistakes. One area was correcting others grammar…I loved English, and I used to correct my friends and family, all the time. I did it partly because it annoyed them, but also because it really bothered me when they used improper grammar. But I wasn’t actually teaching them anything about the English language, I was only making them feel foolish and stupid. I realized this when I myself had my grammar corrected by someone and it hurt my feelings and embarrassed me in front of a crowd of people. I tried to do better, but still found myself placing my high expectations on others at times.

In some areas, the perfectionism really paid off. I wanted to be the perfect Christian and daughter (not that it’s possible), but I did make it through my adolescence without ever really rebelling or turning away from the Lord. I had set high expectations, and for the most part had lived up to them. One thing that had always bothered me was that I had people tell me at times, “Now that I’ve gotten to know you, I really like you and think you are really nice, but before I knew you, I thought you were a snob.” I chalked it up to being shy, because I didn’t really like to talk to people I didn’t know, etc.

Okay, fast forward to my adulthood. I am now married and have two children. I have a wonderful family and a couple of really close friends. But, that does seem to be the one area that I am really lacking. For some reason, I have been having trouble making friends as an adult. My good friends that I have are friends that I have been friends with for a long time, since I was a teenager. But I just can’t seem to connect with people. I would say to myself, or my husband, or my mom at times…”I don’t get it, I think I am a nice person. What’s wrong with them that they don’t want to be my friend?” I have made friends in the past, so clearly I am not incapable of cultivating friendships. On the surface, people seem to like me. I began to pray about it. Saying, Lord please send me a friend. But nothing really changed. I continued to pray. Finally I got to a point of desperation.

God had really been doing some awesome things in my heart and life at this time. I had been going through a real growing period. Around this time my mom and I were heading to Indianapolis for women of faith. On the four hour car ride there, I opened up to my mom about my struggle. I was at the point where I was desperate for friendship. I self-analyzed and self-diagnosed. We laughed and cried. Then we made it to women of faith and sat down for the opening session Friday night. I opened up the program booklet and began flipping through it. I stopped on Lisa Welchel’s page because I noticed that at the bottom of the page it showed her new book, which was entitled “Friendships for Adults”. I showed it my mom and said, “I wonder if that’s what she’s talking about?”

Boy was she! She spoke that night, and no more than 5 minutes into her session, the tears were just pouring out of me. She was sharing her struggle to make friends as an adult and I could relate to so much of it. After a couple of attempts at friendship that ended badly, she went to a Christian counselor. The counselor said, “If you’re at church and you see a woman who looks like someone you want to be friends with, ya know, she is really happy, and has a great husband and her children are so well behaved. She has a beautiful home and she is very involved in ministry. She’s looks great and is always in style……Run as far away as you can!”

I was taken aback because it sounded like a pretty good prospect to me. The counselor went on to say. “She has such a high expectation for herself, that she would expect you to live to that same expectation, and no one is that perfect.” As she said that, a still small voice whispered to me, “That’s you.” What? I thought. But then it hit me. I am a perfectionist. I have extremely high expectations. Could it be? Was I putting that off on other people? Was it true? Maybe they didn’t want to be my friend because I was expecting them to be too perfect. Or honestly, maybe I wasn’t even attempting to be their friend because they weren’t perfect enough…Wow. I knew it was true. I knew that God was finally giving me my answer.

You see my perfectionism had continued. I wanted to be the perfect mother and wife. And in that, I was striving to always appear that way. I would meet someone and not long into meeting them I would begin to analyze them. And if they weren’t like me, and didn’t raise their kids like me, and live their life like me then I was not going to try to build a friendship with them. We just don’t have anything in common. I wasn’t really judging them, because sometimes I even wished I could be more like them. Let go of my expectations and not worry what anybody thought. But I kept allowing my fear of imperfection to suck me back in and keep me from building friendships.

Another thing I realized was that all those years that I had said I was just “shy” – I was using that as an excuse. I am not naturally a shy person. I have used that as a crutch. I love talking to people, and have no problem sharing things with others or getting up in front of a crowd to sing. Again, this was my perfectionism – I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, basically not being perfect, that I convinced myself it was better not to say or do anything at all. This saddens me now, because I realize I have missed out on many possible friendships because of this. I also convinced myself that I am person who likes deep, real relationships and most people don't want that. And while that is somewhat true, I realized that it is okay to have friends that you just get a cup of coffee and laugh about the funny things your kids say.

Lisa Welchel’s counselor went on to tell her, to find friends who were messed up. She called them safe Grace friends. Friends who had made mistakes and had imperfections they had no problem admitting to. Because those friends will handle your baggage and not judge you. They will listen and love you and not expect you to be something that you’re not. I do have a few of these friends, so I knew what she meant and I knew that it was the kind of friend I wanted and wanted to be. And it had to start there. I need to be a good friend if I want to make good friends.

So I sit here today, a recovering perfectionist. It is daily surrender to God. God doesn’t call us to perfect works, but only to perfect love. If I love others like Him, and see them through His eyes, I will not need to analyze their faults. I also need to see myself through His eyes, and not analyze my own faults. It really does all come down to grace. Because perfectionism is really fear of failure. And it means that I don’t believe that God’s grace is enough to cover my failures. I’ll just not have any… But I know that His grace is enough. That it covers my weakness as His word tells us in 2 Corinthians, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

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