Distorted Perfectionist Thinking - Avoiding Ministry Burnout

Perfectionism can Cause Ministry Burnout While Transformation of Thinking Helps to Heal

A major trap for those continually driven to overdo and overachieve is the perfectionist mindset. This viewpoint is characterized by an 'either-or' kind of thinking that often drives the thinker to be bound by unrealistic expectations for themself and others.

Self-talk moves certain person towards overdoing particular projects or in some cases the opposite reaction, rejecting outright an opportunity based on the fear of being unable to do it perfectly.

This mindset is based on what the Bible describes as the fear of man--a snare or trap. A wise Bible college professor teaches about mental health and said that some things are not worth doing perfectly. He asks, "How good would it have to be to be perfect?" Whatever the project or task or artistic endeavor, it will be produced from an imperfect person. Sometimes one needs to call it good. It may not be perfect but it is adequate to fulfill its function.

Often a person's view of God can be bent and distorted based on wrong thinking about Him and his heart towards His children. Because of past experiences with significant others, there may be an unrealistic fear of rejection. Remember, the cause of the fear of man is rejection. Perfectionists do not measure up to their own expectations. Therefore, they project that same view on to God and to others.

This distorted thinking may be an area for Biblically based counseling. It might also be a good time to read books on letting go of perfectionist behavior, such as Brennan Manning's Abba's Child. In it, Manning makes a compelling case for the extravagant love of the Father for his children. His love is not based on unrealistic expectations...He has no such expectations,knowing what we are made of, yet loving with amazing love each of His unique children.

Another area of distorted thinking is that people think they can have it all and do it all. One must recognize and learn to accept personal limitations. Multi-gifted people particularly may struggle with this viewpoint. There may be a kind of pride that inwardly takes delight in being gifted in so many areas. The focal point driving this mindset is the desire to be recognized and appreciated; therefore accepted.

Defining oneself by what one does rather than who one is tends to drive this inordinate need for recognition. Disciples of Christ must remember Saint Paul's assessment; whatever gift one has received comes from God, so why should the recipient allow pride to reside in their heart?

The person without boundaries needs to learn to set limits on what may be unrealistic demands of others. In some cases, there may be emotional or physical abuse which needs to cease. One must put limits on what one will tolerate (Matthew 18:15f; 1 Corinthians 5;9f). This may be necessary in regards to what one may tolerate from one's own self talk, that harsh parent within that may be the driving force towards overdoing.

Perfectionists must be reminded continually that Jesus said His yoke was easy and light. He offers rest for the weary and over-doers. This change in thinking often requires one to rethink who they are and what they want and like. One can totally lose the memory of who they really are having become the need-meter for everyone else. It is not uncommon to ask this personality type what they want, only to have them answer that they have no idea.

One way to start identifying one's self is to make a list of things valued. This practice can be invigorating and helpful even though somewhat sad for those who have lost their way. Realizing that God has made them as they are is often a step towards becoming free to embrace His original design. It enables one to say “this is who I am, not that” helping one establish personal boundaries.

People with boundary issues often are reactive rather than active, making decisions based on what others may do or not do. One passively embraces other people's choices by not choosing. This really is codependence. Passivity most certainly results in that feeling that one is caught in a never-ending circle of pleasing others, never getting around to setting one's own agenda. Because of this feeling of entrapment, slow burning unresolved anger usually leads to depression.

One can become so out of touch with one's own feelings that the root cause of this depression is lost in the confusion of people pleasing. Everyone else seems happy. The passive person is not passive at all when it comes to making sure everyone else's needs are met. But the motive is self preservation...acceptance. Realizing these mixed motives may be very painful for one who serves tirelessly. But that very realization may be one of the first steps to freedom. When God's acceptance is embraced, it follows that one can finaly accept themselves--warts and all. Finally, it is no longer necessary to neurotically please everyone else. How does one deal with unjust injury? Unjust injury may have in fact caused one's problem, but one must actively pursue positive, healing solutions. Blaming is counter productive. With counsel and God's help, the end result must be forgiveness. Note however, that forgivensess is not saying the injury was right or that it did not matter. It was wrong; it did matter; it hurt. But revenge and punishment is no longer the goal, healing is the goal.

In abuse cases however, continued relationship may not be safe, desireable, or possible. The point is that one must kill the victim mentality before that mentality kills the victim. That is partly accomplished by acknowledging that in some cases, one's own choices may have resulted in harm. In fact, there may be a history of choices that have continually put one in jeopardy. Help may be needed to recognize the pattern. Intervention and counseling may be necessary to break out of this self defeating mindset. However, in other situations such as child abuse, spousal abuse or random violence, it may be necessary to convince the victim that it was through no fault of their own--they are completely innocent.

A person must be willing to challenge their own distorted thinking. Jesus said knowing the truth would set us free; acknowledging that truth would move one towards change. After acknowledging one's need to change and receiving prayer for one's wounded heart, acting in the opposite truth--courage instead of fear or assertiveness instead of passivity will bring continued change towards healthy boundaries.

Written by: Larry Kennedy