Perfectionism: is it ever healthy?

Patheos post: You will never be perfect by Chris Williams, June 7, 2018

 

Last month, Patheos contributor, Chris Williams wrote about perfection and how we’ll never achieve it in this life. He also suggested that our imperfections can strengthen both faith and relationships:

If perfection was the goal, I’d never keep a friend. I’d be afraid of letting them down. I’d be afraid they’d let me down. I’d let every hurt feeling be a reason to burn a bridge.

He argues that argues that imperfection opens up the door to grace: a key characteristic of a Christian life:

Imperfection opens the door to grace. If we were held to perfection, there would be no reason for anyone to forgive us. There’d be no opportunity for us to forgive others. Imperfection humbles us and allows others to show us grace.

Read the whole article. It’s very interesting. It was a great read for me personally, because I can be a bit of a perfectionist. And of course, I fail. Every. Single. Day. I might start off alright, but if I’ve been awake for more than an hour, then stuff happens. So finding this article last week offered a bit of comfort, I guess.

What about the Bible?

Some readers rejected Williams’ conclusion by alluding to Mathew 5:48:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect

(Matt 5:48 New Living Translation)

Does the verse mean what people think it means? To life a perfect life? It may not mean what others think.

Commentaries on Bible Hub offer various interpretations of this verse, including an extension to the Jewish law demanding that people aren’t just pious, but also courteous to their neighbour, while others refer to the perfection that comes with being complete in Christ. It’s interesting to point out that Matthew 5 is a part of the Sermon on the Mount and only four verses above (Matt 5:44), where Jesus commands his listeners to love their enemies.

 

Perfectionism and psychology

While psycho,ogists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals encourage people to strive for excellence, many warn against perfectionism — the personality trait that’s characterised by striving to make all facets of life perfect, or at least seem to be perfect.  While perfectionism itself isn’t a mental illness, it can be a symptom of a mental illness like anxiety disorder or OCD. Perfectionism can lead to depression.

However, there is debate among psychologists and psychiatrists whether a ‘degree’ of perfectionism is ever beneficial.  ‘Degrees’ of perfectionism’ between healthy and unhealthy can be seen on perfectionism self – screening tools on sites such as Psychology Today and Dr. Jeff Szymanski. Both these self – screening quizzes indicate that there are ‘degrees’ of perfectionism, and a low degree can be beneficial.

Paul Hewitt PhD  from the University of British Columbia completely rejects the idea. Dr. Hewitt, along with Gordon Flett PhD concludes after twenty years of research that perfectionism is hazardous to one’s well – being and relationships. Unlike other researchers from the 1990’s, Hewitt and Flett  don’t buy the argument of adaptiveness. Both Hewitt and Flett, however, do agree that there are different varying extremes of perfectionism that come with various results, none, they argue, are completely positive.

Do you consider yourself or someone you a perfectionist? How has it affected your life, life of another person and their (or your) relationships? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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