5 Keys to Defeating the Crippling Effects of Perfectionism

5 Keys to Defeating the Crippling Effects of Perfectionism

The Psychology Today website says this about perfectionism: It is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation.

There are four types of perfectionism that I have experienced:

  • Perfectionism toward ourselves resulting from a deep root fear to not appear to  look like a failure.
  • Perfectionism toward others that creates some level of hurt in our relationships.
  • Societal expectation perfectionism resulting from the media, advertisements, social media, and other forms of peer pressure.
  • Christian commitment perfectionism resulting from legalism, a task-master- God-concept, and an inability to understand Christian growth is a process.

All of us battle perfectionistic tendencies to some degree. The teenage years are often the time where this limiting stronghold can take root. Regardless of how much you battle perfectionism, you will find these five powerful keys helpful to your freedom from perfectionistic tendencies.  

  1. Focus on improvement, not what people think of you – Perfectionists tend to be obsessed with what people think of their looks, their possessions, their intelligence, etc. Hebrews 10:14 gives us insight on how to overcome this. “For by one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” When we receive Christ as Savior, we become spiritually perfect in Him. We are perfect in righteousness, in protection, in blessing, in having a sound mind, and in every other way. Sanctification is the process of getting into our experience who we already are. It is the divinely empowered process to “improve” into who we already are. Healthy people focus on improvement instead of trying to present a perfect image to others.
  2. Do something and celebrate progress – The religious mindset of performing for God’s approval and other perfectionistic minded individuals can only be joyful and celebrate when perfection manifests in them or around them. This hinders them and those in their lives from attempting new things. The Apostle Paul had a different attitude about this. “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me (Philippians 3:12).  
  3. Recognize those who succeed most also seem to fail most – When toddlers are learning to walk, they “fail” greatly before they walk well. Some might think they do not have the gift of walking because of how difficult it is for them. Rarely does anyone immediately become outwardly successful in life’s various components. Those who understand the process of growth will not let struggles in learning stop them. Here is a big help to this: refuse to let your struggles shape your beliefs about your potential, then you are ready for great increase and transformation. “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong” (Joel 3:10).
  4. Redefine success – Success is not a goal to be attained, but it is a state of being. God’s method of moving us forward in life and in increasing our influence is to lead us to become successful on the inside when we don’t look successful on the outside. It is called soul prosperity. “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).
  5. Embrace authenticity – When we open up to others about our struggles in life, it creates grace in us and around us. James 4:6 says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” This is especially important for leaders, parents, and teachers. If we are not authentic, and we present a persona of never struggling, then that will create crippling perfectionist attitudes around us.

For more on this, listen to my podcast.

Look out for these exciting upcoming events:

  • Our annual online Negativity Fast and Positivity Feast starts March 6. More information to come.
  • Abounding Hope and Joy Conference with Steve and Wendy Backlund in Redding, CA, April 25-27. Tickets available soon!

For more on topics like this, listen to my podcast by clicking the link below.


Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.