Perfectionism: A Book Suggestion

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

Perfecting Ourselves to Death: The Pursuit of Excellence and the Perils of Perfectionism by Richard Winter 

          In an age in which perfect performance is highly regarded as the means to a successful and thereby happy life, Perfecting Ourselves to Deathspeaks biblical truth into an often-overlooked epidemic. The effects of a performance driven culture have permeated the Christian culture as working for Christ and performing for him has become a standard measure of spiritual maturity. Dr. Winter diagnoses and dissects this perspective as unbiblical.

            The spectrum of perfectionism varies from normal, healthy perfectionism, to neurotic, unhealthy perfectionism, to non-perfectionism. Healthy perfectionism is realistic and enthusiastic as it is driven by positive motivation to achieve. Unhealthy perfectionism sets unrealistic standards and bases self-worth on performance; it is motivated by a negative motivation of fear of failure. Non-perfectionism is relaxed and undemanding, sometimes to the point of unreliability and laziness. Defeated perfectionism is a covert form that says, “Why even try when perfect is unattainable?” It has already been defeated before any attempts have been made; success is unlikely or an impossibly, so failure is viewed as a choice to be desired over disappointment.

            All perfectionism is centered on the tension of the gap between “who I am” and “who I should be”:

  •   driven perfectionism: works harder to close the gap
  •    defeated perfectionist: gives up the fight
  •    healthy perfectionist: able to live in the tension

           The healthiness of perfectionism is determined in our motivation to achieve success, and our view of the failure to do so. The ways it can manifest itself are through performance, appearance, interpersonal interaction, morals, and all-around perfectionism. There are also different types of perfectionism such as self-oriented or other-oriented. Other-oriented perfectionism projects the demands and expectations of perfectionism onto those around you. Each of these can manifest in healthy forms and unhealthy forms, at times affecting mental health and personal relationships. Depression, anger, suicidal intentions, eating disorders, worry, and anxiety can all find their foundations in perfectionism.

      So what is your view of yourself or others when success is not achieved? How do you interact when you or someone around you is less than perfect? What drives your desires and demands for perfection, or your fears of even trying? What is your heart like towards who you “should” be? What is your heart like towards who your spouse, friend, child, boss, sister, brother, pastor, co-worker, neighbor “should” be?