Are You in an Abusive Relationship with Perfection?

Published Aug 27, 2019
Are You in an Abusive Relationship with Perfection?
The world is filled with battered victims of perfectionism. Here's how to break free from trying to keep up with perfect.

It was a hideous cake.

Worse than that, it was 11 p.m. the night before the party, and I had no time, no energy, and no ingredients to make a replacement.

My daughter was turning one, and I had taken on the idea of making a doll cake to go with the homemade mac'n'cheese and fried chicken dinner for 15 people. No big deal, right? Except frosting colors turned, icing dripped, and the proportions were almost as ghastly as the sickening skin tone I had concocted.

My daughter couldn’t have cared less. I wept.

See, perfectionism and I go way back. We have a long, sordid history of scrapped plans and crumpled papers, and plenty of shared boxes of Kleenex over test scores and I'm-not-good-enough moments.

It's an abusive relationship.

Maybe you know what I mean. The world is filled with battered victims of perfectionism, and no shelter in sight. Perfectionism is a relentless dictator. There is no resting, no enjoyment, no just be still and know that I am God moments, because…well, it’s flat out exhausting trying to keep up with perfect.

Perfect says you're never good enough.

In motherhood, it bubbles up when the baby won't sleep. Of course, if we could just do what the book said...and do it perfectly...then she'd sleep.

And when they're toddlers, if we just do it right, he will be potty trained in three easy steps, in one painless weekend.

And when they're preschoolers, if we follow this program, she will read when she's 3, and be a child genius by kindergarten.

How about the wife role? When you're not perfect, and he's not, and (big surprise here!) marriage isn't all you thought it would be. Should be. June Cleaver had it all what's so terribly, horribly wrong with you and your man?

What if you're not married, but want to be?

When life itself just. doesn't. go. as. planned?

What then?


Time to bury your head in the ghastly colored frosting bowl.

You miserable mother. You can't even get this right. See all those other moms? They aren't wearing a three-day-old pony tail and crying over a laundry commercial. They look rested. Happy, even.

Look at those 18 month olds. NO DIAPERS. Look at your almost-three-year-old tugging at his Huggies. Lazy. You must be lazy. Or maybe there's something desperately wrong with your kid. If there wasn't, you'd be in the potty club with every other good mother.

Hope you enjoy being the mom of the next high school drop-out. Yep, your 4-year-old would rather stuff peas up their nose than even pick up a book. Failure, failure, failure.

If you were a better wife, you'd still meet him at the door with stars in your eyes, and have a clean house, and a cold drink, and a soft chair, and be in the mood all the time, and wear satin negligee under your perfectly coordinated sweater set and tailored slacks, and have homemade cookies and handwritten love notes in his lunch.

There must be a reason I'm single. A terrible reason. I must have a sign on my forehead. That's it. It says "STAY AWAY." Or "TROUBLE," or something equally awful. It must show how imperfect and unlovable I really am.

Perfectionism sadistically toys with our minds, turning every situation, every opportunity, every day into a no-win situation.It taints our memories of the past. (If only I had done this differently...) It warps our anticipation of the future. (Hope I don't screw it up!) And it messes with our present, second guessing and criticizing every stinkin' step of the way.

Perfectionism is an equal opportunities parasite, sucking the joy out of anyone, any situation, any relationship it can sink its fangs into.

You know what I say?

I say that as women made in the image of God, perfection isn't good enough.

We were made for more. More than joyless living. More than endless shame and frustration at “failing” again.

Perfect isn’t good enough. Only grace is.

Perfectionism wants us to forget that by grace we were saved, and that it's all a gift. All freely given. The abundant riches we now possess in Christ is not just for our good days, the days we try hard enough and do well enough and measure high enough...they're for the days we can barely lift our heads up. The days when grace is the only thing worth salvaging, when our heads overflow with undone and unfinished and our hearts hemorrhage unworthy. When our homes are an epic disaster and our family's needs are unmet. When the only thing higher than the laundry mountain is the pile of guilt on our shoulders.

Perfectionism slaps hard and hisses, "You're not enough. You'll never be enough."

Jesus, the face of grace, holds us tight and whispers, "I am enough. I will always be enough for you."

It's shocking, this "unmerited favor" of God. After a life of measuring short and face plants, grace reminds us that we are already accepted. Already beloved. The weight we've been piling on our shoulders isn't ours to bear. It's never been ours. It's a smoke screen, an illusion, a dirty trick of the mind, this so-called perfect. It distracts us from the joyful truth of the Gospel:

Jesus died for us.For all the poor choices, and the not-enough moments, and all the imperfect baggage we tote around. And yes, He calls us to live different. Not perfect.

No, perfect isn't good enough for a girl who knows her Bible.




Those are the adjectives that define a woman who knows her worth in Christ. Nowhere on that list is "Cake Maker Extraordinaire, or "Test Taker Titan" or "Diaperless Diva" or "Woman of the Year," or "June Cleaver the second." Glory!

I can now laugh at the cake fiasco. The next Cake Boss, I am not. I've made my peace with that.

We will never be good at everything...but no one is better at grace than a woman finally freed from perfect.

No one, that is...except Jesus.

Grace and peace, friends.

Related Video: How can I stop myself from comparing myself to other moms? - Jessica Turner from ibelievedotcom on GodTube.

Saved by grace alone, Kelly Canfield is a stay at home wife, homeschooling mom, and recovering perfectionist.  She is a passionate Jesus-lover, married to her best friend and hero, Joe. Together they are raising 3 lively children (ages 5, 2, and almost 1). She enjoys strong coffee, great books, and quiet time (a rare commodity.)  At nap time you can find her over at, where she blogs about the trials and triumphs of marriage, motherhood, and following Jesus.  Her first eBook, Tired: Living Fully Engaged Through The Weary Season is coming out soon.