Examining the Real Motives behind Perfectionism and People Pleasing

Posted on April 11, 2014 by


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This is part 2 of my correspondence with DaughteroftheKing, a college student who has been a Christian for about a year. For part 1, please click here. Her words are in italics. I pray that this conversation may be eye opening for you, too. And I thank this precious sister in Christ for allowing me to share her story:

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PW

Many times our greatest fears are the opposite of whatever our idols are. They can reveal to us what our true beliefs and goals in life are and what our hearts are really set on and what we actually are living for.

DOTK

Do you know how easy it is to overlook that? If someone would ask me what my biggest priority was, I would say God or something like that, without even thinking a lot about it. Well, seems like this actually isn’t the case… But it feels so horrible. Right now I stopped practising, anyway I had rehearsals all day long and I didn’t really have a lunch break. MY next test is far away and my violin teacher has no time next week, so seems like a perfect timing. But it feels uncomfortable. Along the fears mentioned above there is another one linked to them: I’m living for the clock, so it seems to me. I’m in a constant worry to be late, to accidentally lose time I could use for practising or learning. Day is very well planned out 😀

PW

I am an identical twin. Everyone compared my sister to me all day every day – and we compared ourselves constantly. No one wants to be the “ugly twin” the “stupid twin” the “fat twin” the “frumpy twin” the “unpopular twin”… I believe that there were several things that drove me to perfectionism and people pleasing. (See numbered points below)

DOTK

I have a similar situation. You know, in my family we didn’t have boys for 2 generations, there are always only girls and even the fathers divorce or are quite unavailable. I could give you a whole list of reasons why it would be necessary for me to be good at school:

  • My aunt was a student of the year, she went to lunch with the president who gave her some sort of medal.
  • My cousin is studying mechanical engineering as one of the best students of the university with an average of grades of 1.2(we have grades from 1-5, 1 is the best and 5 means you failed).
  • My mom has two doctor titles in physical chemistry, my whole family keeps telling her that her life could have been totally different if she had decided to accept the offer to teach at the university instead of getting pregnant with me and staying at home.

So, you can see that I’m not the only one. I often talk with my mom about it(when I’m tired or when I feel like I’m doing something wrong). But she was just like me, learning all the time and being irritable during the breaks. Now she is not at all 😀 She doesn’t think I have a problem with that. The only thing she notices is that I’m often being disrespectful, but she doesn’t care much about it, she says that it’s because I’m working hard. Really, I’m so blessed with my mom. I don’t think anyone else would accept it if he would hardly see and talk to his own daughter.

My family is ok with that, probably because they are/were just like me.

1. The belief that I would be loved and accepted more if I were perfect.

That’s soo true! I often think about it the other way round: if I weren’t perfect, people would accept and love me less. I can’t imagine what would happen if I would change.

2. The belief that I COULD be perfect! I really expected total perfection of myself.

Right now I’m kind of thinking: “No? I can’t? Why not?” Although I know that you are right. But God does demand perfection from us, doesn’t he?

3. The belief that I needed to compete with my sister and not look like a “failure” next to her.

I’m 100% sure that people would label me a failure if I changed. Especially my family. Oh, and I’m holding a merit scholarship. I’m one of the best there, the others don’t seem to care so much.

PW

Actually, I was quite overly responsible because I tried to take on the weight of God’s responsibility and the responsiblities of others on myself as if I were sovereign and as if I were in charge and knew best for everyone. That actually came from a very warped, tiny, wimpy view of God and a LARGE, powerful view of myself that was extremely distorted. So, I trusted SELF. I made myself god. Not consciously. But I actually believed that I was responsible for things that really only God is responsible for and I believed I was responsible for others.

DOTK

I can’t yet see where I’m taking over Gods responsibilities. I mean, if I fail an exam, it’s my fault, isn’t it? Because I learned to little, or I’m just stupid. And if I don’t make it as a violinist, well, that would probably mean that I did something wrong. I do certainly have the feeling that something could go totally wrong all by my fault, and that I would have to bear the lifelong regrets and consequences.

 

  • You are responsible for your studying and your practicing, yes. But if you begin to try to control other people or God or events that are actually beyond your control, that is where the problem comes in. There were several moments in my childhood where I thought I learned I was “sovereign.”  No one ever corrected my thought patterns. We can talk about that if you would like.

 

No one corrects me. I even end up demanding from my mom to correct me if I misbehave and to stop excusing herself when I’m accusing her of something wrong. You know, my father left us 5/6 years ago. In the short time when we are together, he doesn’t seem to want to correct me. Or he is just so happy to see me, that he doesn’t notice :(.

 

  • What happened in your childhood that made you feel you had to be in control and take care of yourself, and maybe others, too?

It is probably the fact that I started planning and organising myself many things from a very early age on. And the feeling I could trust my parents fully, because they didn’t trust each other. If your parents always argue and fight and disagree on the most fundamental things in life, than it isn’t very easy. I felt and still feel like nobody would take care of me if I gave up control.

 

  • What would happen if you were to fail? Spiritually and emotionally, what would that do to you, do you think?

Hmm difficult question. Emotionally, it probably would feel like falling from a high mountain into a dark cave. With no ground under your feet. I once heard someone say, that failure isn’t actually as bad as you imagine. I think that’s true, although I can’t yet implement it. Seriously, I don’t know what I would be doing. How I would present myself to others, how I would see myself as a human being and in the world.
But maybe it would open my eyes to spirituality.

  • What do you say to yourself when another violinist in a competition you are in wins or is better than you are?

I never played in a competition, my teachers don’t like it. A comparable situation: if someone is better than me in orchestra, I first of all think that it’s unfair. The other person certainly didn’t put as much effort in it like me. And I tell myself to work harder.

  • Why do you believe you are valuable?

In a worldly sense, I am valuable because I’m intelligent, successful, …
But in reality my value is determined by God, and it’s the same as for every human being. I’m valuable, because God made me in his image. And because human beings are capable of doing such beautiful things which honour good and bring good to the world.(but only if their relationship with God is right.)

  • What makes you lovable?

Hmmm nothing? I don’t know… In general, people are lovable when they are sweet and quiet and nice and christlike. I don’t think that lovable describes me.

  • What makes it possible for people to accept you?

I guess that it’s some things I do. Being polite for example, or behaving respectfully towards the teachers, being responsible and always a step ahead.

  • So school causes you a lot of anxiety. It did for me, too. I had to have A’s – HIGH A’s.

It’s like that: I feel that I don’t learn something if I have bad grades. And what’s the use of attending school if I don’t learn anything? It all started to be extreme when I started reading your blog last year. I realised I had been disrespectful towards the teachers by not learning much (although my grades were still the same as today), not being interested and disrespectful during the lessons. Before I was talking a lot, I didn’t do my homework regularly, I didn’t participate voluntarily,… And I talked badly about my teachers in front and behind their back. So with the beginning of the last semester (September), I radically changed my attitude, but it kind of went wrong. I intended good, but it ended up in evil :(((. I went into the other extreme instead.

  • In pharmacy, all that matters is that you get a degree and that you pass your boards. NO ONE cares what your grades were in school. No one EVER asked about my grades. Those questions I obsessed over didn’t matter at all.

Haha, everyone tells me so, but I don’t believe them. I mean, if it is now beneficial, why shouldn’t it be later? It opens so many doors for me…
But maybe I’m wrong…

  • What did I gain by worrying, obsessing, making myself sick, being so afraid, freaking out, beating myself up, crying, etc…?

Nothing. Simple answer. I could say that I’m more active and alert and so on… And I mean, I does help to get my grades, doesn’t it? So it’s somehow justified^^

  • I could have studied hard and done my best without making myself sick with worry and stress and I could have done well. Was all of my anxiety/angst/stress necessary?

I think that if I could figure this out while I am still in school, that would be real success. In a spiritual way. Really, I’m serious. It is comparable to a wife, who is able to change her attitude before her husband leaves her and it’s too late.

  • What did my mindset say about my faith and trust in God?

I don’t know, I can’t answer that. 😦 not yet…

  • What were my greatest priorities?

Simple answer: school, grades, success…

  • What does God say my greatest priorities should be?

Him alone.

  • So, people’s expectations of you play very much into your way of thinking, right?

They are a big part of my world. It’s a fact. The better you are, the more expectations there are. And they get higher and higher and higher…

  • So you do all that you can to try to argue your way to get the highest grades possible?

Not exactly. If a teacher corrects something that is right, I respectfully and friendly ask them to explain to me why it is wrong. Usually they notice they made a mistake and correct it. German is a big exception, because the teacher never has an explanation for giving me a B, she says she just does it because I’m good anyway and for me there are other standards than for the others. Obviously her expectations of me are so high that I never measure up. 😀 But that’s ok, it keeps me learning. One cannot learn anything if one doesn’t make mistakes, right? I also value her honesty and courage. Yeah, I would say it takes courage to give me a B 😀

  • What happens if you don’t meet people’s expectations and they are disappointed?

I don’t know how to handle the situation or what to do. It happened a few times, and I was unable to be respectful.

  • How many hours/day do you usually study?

Around 2 during the week, (plus 4-6 in the school. I really use the time there for learning, so it count’s). Saturday and Sunday around 6 hours.

  • How many hours/day do you practice violin?

Usually 4 hours, in case I don’t have enough time only 3.

  • How many hours/day do you spend with God?

0.5 hours. One half of it when I wake up and the other before I go to bed. During the day I read a few bible passages, sometimes your articles.

  • Do group projects make you really nervous? Would you rather do all the work yourself?

They make me nervous because I have to control whats going on. And I would love to do it myself, but I don’t have the time for it, so I have to share the work and cope with the results.

  • How much worry and stress do you have about tests and grades?

I hate the time after I wrote a test and I’m waiting for the results. It get’s worse with the worrying, last year it was much better. And my stomach starts hurting when I think of my calendar or school.

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PW

I am not saying don’t study and don’t do your best.

I am saying, watch your motives and keep God in the right place and don’t kill yourself trying to be perfect with your grades!

Find your worth and value in Christ, not in your performance!

God does call us to holiness. But that is only possible through His Spirit. On our own, we can do nothing good at all.

He doesn’t command us to make the highest grades in school or to be the best violinist on campus. We are to do everything as if we are working for God. So we do our best, but we don’t make perfection, grades or being #1 more important than God.
I would have NEVER known that my fears showed I had idols when I was your age. I thought God was my priority. People told me not to worry so much. But I couldn’t understand how to stop. Now I know why! I had this deeply warped understanding of God and myself and theology and sovereignty and lived as if I was perfect and sinless when I was actually full of sin.

We will continue this discussion tomorrow! Y’all are welcome to comment and chime in. I’m sure these are big issues for many of us. 🙂

RELATED:

The Snare of People Pleasing

The Idol of Perfectionism – Peacefulwife Youtube video

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