By Joanna Benson and Lara Jackson
Guest Blogger Lara Jackson
If I had access to a time machine, I would go back 20 + years in my life and change a moment that took 5+ years out of my life. I was a young working wife and mother trying the best of my ability to live the gospel. Having grown up in the Mormon culture, I was well acquainted with shaming perfectionistic standards. While sitting in a lesson in Sunday school, a lengthy to-do list to obtain a place in the Celestial Kingdom was passed out to the class.
This “list” became a great source of sorrow for me, as I unwisely tucked the “list” into my scriptures and reflected upon it, and my many imperfections, for the next 5 years or so. I shed so many tears and prayers over this stupid list! I think I even made copies and handed it out to others, thus spreading the dysfunction! So Sorry! If I could go back into my fantasy time machine, I would snatch those stupid handouts out of the instructor’s briefcase, before they ended up in my hands, and toss them in the trash where they belong! My quest for Toxic Perfectionism only led to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. I later discovered happiness was attainable when I accepted that G-d loved me, even in my imperfect state, and Jesus was my Savior, not some ridiculous list. I had not yet learned to let go of perfectionism, in order to struggle for true excellence. I was not learning how to Follow Him.
While it is unrealistic to assume we can change the LDS church culture as a whole in regards to Toxic Perfectionism. First we must recognize exactly what are toxic behaviors. Most of us are unaware of exactly what behavior is toxic. Once our eyes are opened, we can help others overcome these behaviors in our sphere of influence: our families, our ward/branch, and especially ourselves. The first thing we need to do in eliminating Toxic Perfectionism is: CUT EVERYONE SOME SLACK, ESPECIALLY OURSELVES!
PRESIDENT DIETER F. UCHTDORF said it best in April 2012 General Conference entitled:
The Merciful Obtain Mercy
“This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please
apply the following:
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”
We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy—to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?
Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? My beloved brothers and sisters, should we not forgive as we wish to be forgiven?”
So given that we understand, if the measure of mercy we will be allotted is the amount we show others, should we not be the most forgiving, charitable people on the planet! As an aside, Lara and I speak to our selves in this regard as well.
One point of doctrine we found to be a consistent in Toxic Perfectionism is the misunderstanding over the word “Perfect” and the scripture, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)
The article “Be Ye Therefore Perfect:” The Elusive Quest for Perfection Frank F. Judd Jr. an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University addresses this issue well by analyzing the word “perfect” and how is misinterpreted by western culture. The English word “perfect” is defined as “being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence” and “flawless.” In Greek the word is ”teleios” which means “complete or entire or whole-heartedness”. In Hebrew the word “perfect” is “tamim” which means “whole, sound having integrity” What western culture is calling flawless, is instead wholeheartedness in faith and deed.
“If disciples are completely devoted to applying the teachings of Jesus Christ and if they utilize his Atonement when they make mistakes, they are perfect. If disciples are filled with love that is free from anger, lust, and vengefulness to the utmost degree that they possibly can, they are perfect. Simply put, if disciples are earnestly doing their best to live the gospel of Jesus Christ—including repenting as often as they need to—they are perfect.” Frank F Judd Be Ye Therefore Perfect:” The Elusive Quest for Perfection
This is the correct doctrine of Matthew 5:48 and needs to be taught as such.
“Perhaps the most harmful result of coercion is that children may learn to behave well only to retain their parent’s love, attention, and approval, not because they’ve internalized sound values. “As they focus on trying to comply with a parent’s psychological demands, they have a hard time learning inward control. They don’t learn how to regulate their emotions and their behavior from the inside rather than from external pressure, and that makes for a difficult adjustment to adulthood,” -Craig H. Hart, professor in the School of Family Life BYU.
Passive-Aggressive behavior leads to depression and is essentially “anger turned inward”. The Passive Aggressive person feels the conflict to please others, rather than self. They are often mild mannered, but filled with resentment. Passive Aggressive people are often described as “control freaks”.
Toxic Perfectionism and Passive Aggressive behaviors keep us from becoming “teleios” and “tamim” or “perfect” in G-d’s eyes. These behaviors bind us up so we are not free to be honest and brave, and thus keeping us from becoming our true selves. Both Enos in the Book of Mormon, and Jacob in the Old Testament, are examples of men who ”wrestled with G-d”. It is in this “wrestle” we, like them, can find our faith and our true selves.
Our spirits crave this “wrestle”. It is while in this “wrestle” we gain a greater testimony. In the case of Jacob (Genesis 32:24–32) he encountered G-d or Jehovah or a representative of Christ, and “wrestled” with this being all night. This “wrestle” was in the form of prayer as we see in Enos 1:2 (1–12); Alma 8:10. These examples teach us when we have difficulties we take our troubles to Christ. In our sorrow, depression, and grief we should not be afraid of the “wrestle”. As we pray to Him in a familiar form, humbly, talking to Him as a close friend, we lie out all our troubles, all our sins, imperfections, and all hard questions and ask for His help. Jesus stands at our door knocking, and we need to heed his knock and open the door! Revelations 3:20
Knowing He has suffered and died for our sins, gives us the confidence that He understands us like no other and will help us gain strength and heal. To do this, we have to let go of Perfection. We have to acknowledge we are weak without Him, not in a self-shaming way, but with honesty. None of us are perfect, and Toxic Perfectionism is a form of gross pride. Letting go of perfectionism will humble us, and allow us to gain a stronger testimony of G-d, and a better relationship with our Savior.
Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher, speaker, and author encourages individuals to “seek excellence versus perfection”. Brown wrote, “perfectionism keeps us from showing our true selves and living in the “arena“.
Man in the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”- Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Living as the “Man in the Arena” causes us to reach beyond our perceived abilities, allowing ourselves to let go of control and make mistakes; developing a personal relationship with G-d and Christ, and as a result, we strengthen our souls in a way we would have otherwise not known.
Also see: http://www.millennialstar.org/nobodys-perfect-a-look-at-toxic-perfectionism-and-depression/