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Perfectionist’s Shame & the Miracle Cure

"Don't worry if you make a mistake. Just worry if your heart's in rebellion." I was talking to a new friend when she shared this advice given to her by a mentor (y'all know who you are!) At the time, I thought, wow–that's great. Very comforting. I'm going to have to save that for when I need it. Apparently, it wasn't wait around–it had work to do immediately. The words have coursed through my veins, healing and repairing, like perfectly prescribed medicine for a very sick patient. See, I have an auto-immune disease: Perfectionist's Shame.

"Don't worry if you make a mistake. Just worry if your heart's in rebellion." I was talking to a new friend when she shared this advice given to her by a mentor (y'all know who you are!) At the time, I thought, wow–that's great. Very comforting. I'm going to have to save that for when I need it. Apparently, it wasn't wait around–it had work to do immediately. The words have coursed through my veins, healing and repairing, like perfectly prescribed medicine for a very sick patient. See, I have an auto-immune disease: Perfectionist's Shame.

Now, to regular readers, friends, and the waitress from Chili's last Tuesday, my unhealthy perfectionism is not a surprise. Unlike the "cool" perfectionists who actually use their sickness to get things done impeccably, I have the less glamourous strain that has symptoms including hallucinations (unreal vision of what I MUST accomplish), dizziness (from spinning out of control with stress), paralysis (when I'm frozen in the shadow of unachievable goals), and stomach pains (gut-wrenching shame when I fail).

Now, for those of you who don't have Perfectionist's Shame Disease (PSD), you need to know that it's different from Sinner's Guilt Condition (SGD). SGD is a healthy response to sin that drives you to the grace of Christ–it's the white blood cells attacking the threats to your body, the things that shouldn't be there.

But PSD? Not so healthy. Auto-immune PSD doesn't differentiate between what's bad (sin) and what's normal (mistakes). It turns on you, and starts attacking indiscriminantly, like white blood cells attacking your own body. The helpful pain of SGD (guilt) is distorted into the deadly pain of  PSD (shame).

Deadly? Isn't that a little dramatic? Nope, death is the ultimate symptom of PSD. Death of dreams that you don't chase. Death of relationships when you avoid people out of shame. Death of the opportunites you don't take. It slays your freedom, your sure-footedness, your boldness. It kills the certainty of who you are in Christ, as you try (and fail) to recreate yourself into someone you're not.

Thank God there's a cure for this horrible condition: grace. Grace of God. Grace from others. Grace from yourself. And that's where the healing words come in. "Don't worry when you make a mistake. Just worry if your heart's in rebellion." It was like she was telling my white blood cells, "Only attack the disease. Stop attacking her body."

Grace is a miracle cure, but one you'll have to take daily for the rest of your life. It prevents further attacks, and resurrects what has died. Sometimes severe bouts of PSD will come, but dosage of grace can always be increased. There's no supply shortage, and there's no such thing as an overdose.  Best of all, it's already been paid for, in full. 

Just set up an I.V. for me, please. And don't worry, it doesn't have to be perfect.

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Laura Singleton

Laura Singleton’s passion is the transformation that happens when women get access to God’s Word and God’s Word gets access to women. She was twenty-five when her life was turned upside down by an encounter with Jesus Christ. With an insatiable thirst for scripture and theology, she soon headed to Dallas Theological Seminary to learn more about Jesus, and left with a Th.M. with an emphasis in Media Arts. She, along with two friends from DTS, travel the nation filming the independent documentary Looking for God in America. She loves speaking and teaching and is the author of Insight for Living Ministry’s Meeting God in Familiar Places and hundreds of ads, which pay the bills. Her big strong hubby Paul is a former combat medic, which is handy since Laura’s almost died twice already. She loves photography, travel and her two pugs.