Megan (not her real name) told me, “I am strict, but not too strict. Yes, I do expect a lot from my children and can be demanding at times. I push for things to be done right. But my husband says I am a perfectionist and require too much from our family.”

The more I spoke with Megan, the more I realized her husband was right. She is a perfectionist. Perfectionism is based on the belief that I am not OK unless everything is perfect. It involves unrealistic standards for both you and others. Perfectionism usually begins early in life when you learn that you are valued for your accomplishments. It stems from a dissatisfaction with where you are, and who you are. Because of this dissatisfaction, nothing is ever good enough. And you learn to value yourself based on other people’s approval.

While we joke about perfectionism and may even pair it with success, there is a dark side to this thinking and behaving. Recent studies have shown that perfectionist attitudes interfere with success. Furthermore, the desire to be perfect can deny you a sense of satisfaction and cause you to achieve far less than people with more realistic goals.

In terms of relationships, researchers (Journal of Personality) followed 263 seven-year-old grade school children for 5 years. They wanted to assess the impact of a perfectionistic parenting style on their children. Children whose parents were rated as intrusive (perfectionistic) had children who were overly critical of themselves. When parents corrected, took over and did for their kids, these behaviors undermined their children’ feelings of being good enough. And those negative feelings of not measuring up translated to depression and anxiety later.

Perfectionism may produce high functioning people in terms of their skills or talent, but it can also create people who are afraid of making mistakes and then engage in self-blame. Researchers call this “maladaptive perfectionism.” The concern is that this type of perfectionism may result in a person’s negative well-being, with self-criticism, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

So, if you tend towards perfectionism, pay attention to how you translate this tendency to others. Are you pushing too much, overcorrecting, not allowing others to learn from their mistakes?  Are you contributing to negative well-being by wanting things done right and your way?

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by free grace [God’s unmerited favor] that you are saved [delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation] through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving]….” In other words, you can’t earn God’s love or right standing. We are saved by grace, not by what we do. And Christ’s death and resurrection made our right standing with God possible. We didn’t do it. He did.

Don’t look for your acceptance from others. You are already accepted by God. So, take a step back. Recalibrate and allow grace. Recognize that many positive things can only be learned by making mistakes. When you make a mistake ask, “What can I learn from this experience?” Then, adjust your expectations to be more realistic. But don’t tie your worth to being perfect.

The trap of perfectionism