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(This is part two of a series on perfectionism. You can read part one of this article here.)


Being a perfectionist with play-doh

I am sure there are some arguments in defense of not mixing the play-doh colors, but they are all ridiculous when you are talking about a “toy” that will have to be replaced in any case soon, and that is outrageously cheap!Mixing-playdough

My friend (going back to the story in the first part of this article) couldn’t think of a good reason, so he let his children mix the colors.

When he told me, I had to laugh because my poor kids had never asked me why so I had never allowed them to mix colors – something I had always wanted to do too!

The commercials even show the colors mixed together and I remember thinking how cool it would be to have different colors together, but how impossible a dream that was!

I had passed on a rule that had no real basis in reason.  In fact, I think I am going to buy some play-doh and mix the #$&^@ colors!


The rules of a perfectionist


We all have these, but perfectionists are so invested in them, and in the need to correct and criticize them out of others, that they cannot allow their hearts to let go.

As a counselor, I have seen clients burst into tears at the thought of either:

  1. letting go of a perfectionist morality or
  2. realizing all of the pain they have wrought through one.

I know I believe that perfectionistic thinking is dangerous.  I know that I can think of virtually no place where it is a valuable life rule.

The more positive expression – the striving for excellence – can be positive… Or it can just be what a perfectionist calls their perfectionism.  If you don’t know, ask someone who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth.  If you are perfectionist, there will not be many of these, I am afraid.

Here is another lethal component connected with perfectionistic thinking:

This kind of thinking…

Divides into winners and losers… and the perfectionist is ALWAYS one of these, it seems.

Loser perfectionists believe that things must be perfect, but they can never live up to the standard, so they are constantly in a state of losing…



And they will either keep trying and failing (a life of constant frustration that is generally taken out on others) or

They will give up.  Why bother?  I cannot do it right, so I just quit.  It is odd to think, but I do sense that many of the messiest and most disorganized people have the same neurosis as the neat freak,

They just respond to it in the opposite way.

They believe in the laws of perfectionism, but they either rebel against it as a guerilla soldier would against the legitimate government, or they collapse into exhausted slavery to it.

Either one accepts that the rules are right and true… so neither offer actual freedom.

On the other hand,

Winner perfectionists are Pharisees.

I had one friend of mine define a perfectionist as someone who “takes great pains… and places them on others.”

This is another way of saying what Jesus said.  “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift their finger to help carry them.” (Matt 23:4).

Cleanliness is NOT connected to godliness.

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing.  IF it can be done well or rightly, great.  If it cannot, then just do it anyway, if it is worth doing.

It is better to love people poorly than to wait until it can be done perfectly before doing it.  It is better to welcome people to a messy house than to fail to invite them because the house is never perfect.


Healing from perfectionism

I will tell you that, as a therapist and pastor, I often wonder if the root issue of perfectionism might not be forgiveness.

In order to forgive, one must accept one’s own and other’s frailty… even if they don’t.

Perfectionism forgets or denies human frailty.  As Henri Nowen once noted “forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.  The hard truth is that all people love poorly.”



If you are a perfectionist – recognize the mindset as the enemy of grace.

Learn to love poorly…

After all, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.

Oh, if you need to think more about forgiveness, check out my article on lasting forgiveness.