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Why do I feel like I need to be perfect?

My sister has asked me to write an article about perfectionism… and I am going to write it entirely from my perspective.   I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do have some thoughts. Before I go any further, I will tell you think I generally consider “perfectionism” a type of “life rule” or “survival rule.”  Before reading on, you might want to read about those here.

Now, let me connect the neurosis of “perfectionism” and the biblical concept of “legalism” in a particular way.

Both are winked at.

Legalism is something we wink at in the church.  Perfectionism is nodded at in our society.

Ok, honestly, sometimes it is even rewarded… In both communities (but that is probably another article someday)…

But both are deadly – especially in relationships.

Legalism is deadly heresy that teaches us that our righteousness is based on the value of our performance – that God’s love for us is conditional and based on our usefulness alone.

Ok, I better get to terms before I get off on a rant about the evils of legalism – if I do, then I will end up writing a rant, not an article.


I am going to define perfectionism as the mental and emotional need to have things a certain, generally arbitrary, way…  or there are strong negative emotional consequences.  Really, in order for it to be actual perfectionism, the perfectionist needs to act out their emotions on others around them.


Why do I feel like I need to be perfect?

There seems to be a morality belief about the perfection attitude as well, as though getting things done the way the “ought” to be is morally superior.

This, as I think about it, must be the crossover into legalism.  Legalists believe that following their own way of thinking that things should be done brings them more into God’s approval.

This is so destructive that its destructive power almost cannot be overestimated.

It defies the very most basic teaching of Grace – the truth that our love from God is not based on our performance, but on His.  A free gift.

Also there is also  is a fundamental error in thinking that will be so difficult as to be nearly impossible to break free of.

Much, if not most of what we think are “common courtesies’” … or the way things ought to be… are entirely and strictly arbitrary and subjective.

Most of us are so inured to them that we cannot step outside of them.  We are so entrenched and so invested in them that we are willing to hurt other over them.

Let me offer a silly example, but a real one.


Perfectionism and play-doh

My close and dear friend, Kevin East ( was playing “play-doh” with his sons and one of them began to mix up the colors.

Of course, he did what I had done dozens of times with my kids.  He told them, in no uncertain terms, “don’t mix the colors!”  One of them asked “why?” play-dough


Let us ask:  What “right way of doing things” do we have that we use to take away the expression and freedom of others only because it is “the right way of doing things” –  a way that we cannot really defend…

Whatever that thing is, it is a hint of perfectionism.

Do we then arbitrarily make it a morally superior thing?

Then beware, we are headed toward legalism.

Here is the second part of our discussion on perfectionism.