Perfectionism

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Perfectionism breeds depression.

The "angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14) can torment us by encouraging us to set absurdly high expectations for ourselves and for others. The enemy of our human nature takes Jesus' words out of the context of learning mercy and uses it to beat us up when we fall short of our goals: "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).

A friend of mind decided to start reading the Bible and putting God's Word into action every day. By March 11, she was suicidally depressed and was only saved because she could not figure out how to write the perfect letter to explain to her oldest child why she killed herself on his birthday. After she began to recover from depression and learned more about herself, she and her husband sent me a sweatshirt that read, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be good."

Antidotes to perfectionism

Trust God

God loves us as we are right now.

God's love is perfect. We cannot increase it by anything that we do.

We are not God.

We cannot perfect ourselves by self-will. That is the sin of Pelagianism.

We cannot "be perfect as God is perfect" (Mt 5:48) by relying on ourselves. That is not what Jesus meant to teach us when He command us to enter wholeheartedly into God's compassion and mercy for His children.

Learn by doing

"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

"We claim progress, not perfection" (AA's Big Book).

We learned how to talk by talking poorly at first.

We learned how to ride a bike by biking poorly at first.

We learned how to swim by swimming poorly at first.

The disciples were far from perfect when they started following Jesus. By following Him, they learned how to follow Him.

We can learn. A man with Down Syndrome said to me, "I'm a slow learner--but I learn."

"Love, and do what you will" (St. Augustine).

"Sin bravely" (variously attributed). This is a dangerous maxim, of course. It is not, in fact, recommending sin, but points to the kind of confidence in God's mercy that we need when it is time to make a decision and we are filled with doubt about where the right path lies.

Avoid introspection

Being scrupulous is not a sin.

It is not something that can be healed by absolution.

Saying, "I am scrupulous" is just a description, not an indictment.

You can't get into your right mind by plunging into the Niagara of your sick mind.

Doing the same old thing, hoping for different results, is not going to set you free.

When you recognize that you are going around in circles, stop. Focus on something real outside of yourself. Don't focus on the river of insanity. Look for solid ground, and stand still on it.

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