From Perfectionism, Performance, and Pride to Peace
By Norma Miller
January 1, 2020
As I sobbed to my friend on the phone, I shared with her that I just wanted a good life. I wanted everything to be okay. I wanted to be successful—but it felt like everyone was fighting me. I cried and told her I was a perfectionist and that I tried to do everything just right. I used to be able to do it, but it was getting harder and harder, and I was getting more and more overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed! That was a big word, and I certainly knew what it meant! Life was becoming so very hard and I was so bone weary. Even my body was utterly weeping from the strain. It had succumbed in a weary heap and could no longer carry the load I had placed upon it.
But how did I get to this place? How do I get out? Well, I have to tell you it took more than two more years for me to wake up and realize what was really going on, and it was a very gradual awakening. In fact, I had to find quite a bit of healing and revelation before I realized I had been rescued from a sure death, not only emotionally, but also physically.
Now, regarding how I got into this predicament: well, that, my friends, is a very long story, but I will shorten it drastically for you—and for me.
I love much about my upbringing, home, family, and community; but as we all are very aware, life often doesn’t go as we would choose, and sometimes deep disappointments and devastation occur. There were several such factors in my life as I grew up, one of them being that my dear mother, whom I love so very much, developed a mental condition called bipolar disorder (my mother has since gone to be with Jesus). This is not something you ever want to deal with, and it is difficult to understand what it is like to not only live with someone like this, but the horror and emotional agony these dear people experience.
This situation and other surrounding factors played into a deep-seated insecurity and fear in my heart. Through the years I developed a security blanket, which was performance. I thought if I did everything just right, everyone would be pleased with me and life would be perfect. And if it wasn’t perfect, I believed it was somehow my fault.
When you are on the outside looking in, it is easy to see the tremendous load this puts on someone. But when you are caught in the web of confusion as I was, you don’t see it at all; you only feel its devastating and suffocating effects as you get sucked deeper and deeper into the web of lies the enemy entrenched into your brain. I figured if I try harder and always do what is right, eventually everyone else would as well, and we would have our perfect world.
Well, as we all know, most people don’t cooperate with those “amazing” plans, nor do they remotely want to. I was middle-aged and had grown children before I realized, to my horror, that this was no guarantee that others would do the right thing! In fact, it seemed the opposite was true! They all seemed to be fighting me! What was wrong with them? Couldn’t they see I just wanted peace and rest and order?
No, they really probably couldn’t. They probably did see me madly grasping for straws to grab on to as my life careened wildly out of control and dizzily dipped around the next bend in the road where my poor heart broke just a little more, as the axle on my crazy wagon decided to crack.
Let me shorten this story. After years of searching and crying and praying, after layers of my soggy onion were peeled, I finally came to a startling but crisp layer of truth: the only person I could fix was me. I couldn’t fix anyone else—not that they were going to let me, anyway! I had to love myself, the very person I thought was most unlovable of all. I could love the unlovely and I could help the broken. God knows that I would even let them abuse me and run all over me because I thought my needs didn’t matter at all. I figured I didn’t even have a right to have needs. That’s how I felt treated, anyway.
How stunned I was to realize that the only reason I was being treated this way is because it was how I taught people to treat me! What? That’s right—because I believed a message I picked up as a young child. Actually, let’s stop and identify a few of these:
- I wasn’t good enough.
- I was evil.
- I wasn’t lovable.
- My needs and voice did not matter.
- If I was perfect, my world would be safe.
Because I believed these lies and many others, I tried to help everyone else, fix everything that wasn’t right, work harder, be more right, be better and more perfect. In other words, I tried to control my world to make it safe, and through this defense mechanism, I hated myself, and I taught others to also put themselves before me and to push themselves into me and control me by expecting me to meet their needs when my heart was crumbling in sadness and defeat, and my body was beyond bone weary.
One day, I couldn’t do it anymore. I laid in bed at night, crushingly exhausted and unable to sleep. I knew something was terribly wrong. My mother had died, leaving me questioning my own mothering abilities. My heart rent in grief. No one seemed to be there for me when I needed them most. Instead, because I found myself unable to communicate my need for support and love, they seemed to expect me to continue being the rock for them to lean on and toss their burdens upon as usual.
I found myself angry and without hope. I cried out, “Lord, You have to show me what is wrong. I can’t go on.” In my heart, I heard Him say to me, “Hope deferred makes the soul sick.” I knew that was a verse in the Bible. I said, “Lord, You need to show me where to find hope.” He pointed me back to Himself. Of course He is my hope! My eyes were on my circumstances rather than on the One who has the power to overcome all things!
The battle wasn’t over in one night. No, it took weeks and even a few months of looking to Him, the lover of my soul, each time I was afraid or confused or hurt. Whatever I went through, He was there. He was a Faithful Friend who saw me for who I was—not for how well I was able to perform for Him.
It took many times of choosing to lay that huge, heavy burden at His feet and choosing to enter into a yoke with Him before I realized that it was not in the doing, but in the “being” in Him that made my world go round. You see, the more we know how loved and valued we are, the more we can trust Him through the difficult times and with the difficult people—and the less we need to prove anything or fix anything or control anything. We suddenly have strength to take responsibility, when before we sighed in weariness at the insinuation that we would possibly need to take the blame for one more thing. When we are free from self-inflicted burdens, no longer does responsibility suck the life out of us. It becomes a joy.
It is my hope that in sharing a small segment of my journey to hope and joy, someone will find answers they are looking for, and they will find their way out of the web of perfectionism, performance, and pride to find healing, peace, and freedom in the One who loves them always, right where they are— imperfect, but oh, so very precious and loved!
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