This is my school project that turned into a passion project. For years I struggled with toxic perfectionism, and when I learned it was okay to not always be okay and to slow down a little, I began to see the world in a new light. Now I'm just talking to people about how they became okay with not being okay. I hope that one day we can have a culture where people feel safe and respected when they are open about struggling. And hey, if you want to see change in the world, you got to start with yourself!
Many of us raised in the church may feel that a particular pathway is paved for us. We expect it, our parents expect it, and we believe the Lord expects it. It’s the idea that we’ll all earn our young women’s medallion or eagle, for young men that they will go on a mission and serve for two years and if a young woman serves it’ll be for eighteen months, that after we will attend college when we return, get married, have children, and while there’ll be bumps along the way, nothing too extreme will occur, and we will live happily ever after.
Of course, life never goes that way, and we know that, but when life falls short of this “pathway to perfection,” it is easy to feel that we are the ones falling short. In our tears, we may cry out to the Lord, “What lack I yet?” We may wonder if our past actions or decisions are to blame–maybe if we had gone to a different college or moved into a different apartment, we would have the blessings we desperately crave.
About a month ago, I was reading in 2 Nephi 3, where Lehi is giving counsel to his youngest son, Joseph. In the first verse, Lehi says, “Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions; yea, in the days of my greatest sorrow did thy mother bear thee.” This stuck out to me because Lehi had made the right choice in leaving Jerusalem, it is the reason we have the Book of Mormon today, but the days after he chose the right and continued to, were still his most sorrowful.
I think that sometimes we may all feel that way. We may go to college and wonder if it was the right choice because the stress and costs are taking their toll. Perhaps we wonder if our commitment to marry in the temple is worth it because it seems that no recommend holding individual is interested. We could doubt if we really received revelation on our decision to marry when we find ourselves fighting with our spouse rather than being a team. After all, if we follow Him, aren’t we supposed to have joy and peace?
Other times, doubts can shift from our choice to our character. We may wonder what we’re doing or have done wrong to have the blessings we desire to be withheld. We may search for what contingency is the blessing predicated upon, and while asking “what lack I yet?” should be a common practice, we should also keep in mind the rest of Lehi’s discourse to Joseph.
He talks about Joseph of Egypt, whose father had the highest of expectations for him. I picture Joseph, years after hearing those expectations, in that dark and lonely prison, perhaps imagining the life he expected. He might shake his head and say, “If only I had been a better brother,” but little does he know that he was fulfilling what his father saw for him.
Joseph of Egypt also prophesied of another Joseph, one who would restore the gospel of Jesus Christ. This Joseph, Joseph Smith, would endure heartaches that I cannot begin to comprehend. I’ve often wondered, if, one day knee-deep in the dirt of an infant’s grave if Joseph ever asked if he was the cause for his family’s sorrow.
Like them, you can be striving to meet the expectations and righteous desires of your heart and feel that the heavens have closed. You may think that your prayers only go as far up as the ceiling. But know that this is undoubtedly not the case. In the chapter previous to Lehi’s counsel to Joseph, Lehi told his other son, “thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”
I certainly do not always love to hear that counsel because sometimes it means that I need to, in the words of Elder Holland, “be strong and drink.” Drinking our bitter cups is not always easy, but its bitterness is not a sign of our unrighteousness or that we are on the wrong path in life. We need to remember that when Adam and Eve made the choice to leave the garden so that the plan of salvation could progress, things only got harder. And surely, for our Savior, things only got more difficult for Him as He suffered for our salvation.
So, if you feel like the heavens have closed, remember that sometimes the blessing of obedience is change. There is no other reason why we are on this earth, so if you don’t check every checkbox in this life or meet every expectation, know that you are not failing, and as long as you are striving to be more like Jesus Christ, you are succeeding gloriously. The wait may be tremendously hard to endure, but through Him you can endure the burdens placed on you, and the day will come where every right will be made wrong, every injustice made just, and you will recieve those blessings which your soul is aching for.
“Our Perfect Father Does Not Expect Us to Be Perfect Children Yet.” – Neal A. Maxwell.
About 5 months after I turned 19 I was diagnosed with toxic perfectionsim. In LDS Living’s article, “Nobody’s Perfect: A Look at Toxic Perfectionsim and Depression in LDS women,” they quote pyschology today that desribes toxic perfectionism, saying, ” “For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A one-way ticket to unhappiness, perfectionism is typically accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance.”
My perfectionism was accompanied by anxiety–this fear that I was never and would never be good enough. Of course, I didn’t know that my thinking differed so much from others. I thought everyone felt like being loved was this endless marathon, and that if you stopped or fell, everyone would be dissapointed and no longer love you, even God.
I didn’t know that when I left to the MTC five months before. I felt guilty for any thoughts of home, bad for being a little tired, and frustrated with myself anytime I felt any negative emotion. I think my negative self-talk and fear of messing up the work got to me, and eventually I developed ulcers. (And yes, I did feel culpability for being in pain).
When I did get a blessing for the pain I feeling, I felt God’s love sweep over me. (Thank you to Sister McEvoy and Zaugg for urging me to ask for one). Right then and there I knew that God still loved me even when I felt so weak. He loved me through my weakness and shortcoming.
Jesus Christ didn’t just suffer for our sins–it was for our heartaches, sicknesses, and pains. I know that me, He knew I couldn’t always have my bubbly attitude, and that sometimes I would struggle to accept His will. He didn’t atone for the perfect me (you know, the one who is never down, angry, or nervous, and just always wants to go out and serve), He atoned for the real me, someone who needs a Savior for comfort.
So that week I wrote home to multiple people that I learned God loves me even when I’m not an allstar.
2. “Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear.” – Moroni 8:16
After losing a significant amount of weight in the mission field, it was decided it was best for me to seek medical care at home, rest, and recover. As you can guess, coming home early did not mesh well with being a perfectionist.
I thought love was conditional on performance, but the week I was leaving forever changed my mind.
As I trudged down the Salt Lake Airport Stairs I was heartbroken over leaving the people and work I had grown to love. I feared what people would think as well, and my mind had become so disillusioned I even feared what my family would think. I was consumed in my thoughts, but when I looked up I saw my niece running towards me. She jumped into my arms and tears filled my eyes; her innocent and Christlike spirit healed that piece of my mind; I knew right them I was loved unconditionally by my family.
I felt safe with my family, but I still had a fear of seeing anyone outside of them. I didn’t want to be talked about or have people pry, so I hid. Of course, my hiding didn’t last long. One of my childhood friends got the news and stopped by after church. She hugged me and asked me all about my mission: who I had taught, what the people were like, and what things I had loved. I am so grateful that she stopped by that day because she is someone who radiates with charity, and through her I felt my Savior’s love.
So when the time came that I had to go out into the world, I felt much safer knowing a had a solid support system. I went to my homeward for the first time since I had come home (I had been going to a different ward with some of my family). I sat in sacrement meeting and one of the Relief Society sisters came up and said, “Welcome home, it is so nice to see you.” A short phrase meant the world to me.
I felt the love of God and Jesus Christ through all of these people. By their small actions, that love they conveyed to me casted out all my fear.
3. We Should Ask for Priesthood Blessings Whenver We Just Think About Getting One.
The blessing I recieved on my mission touched my dearly, but coming home I fell back into the habits of being too timid to ask for one. Like many others, I don’t want to burden priesthood holders or make a big deal.
As time went on and the doors of returning to the mission field seemed they wouldn’t open, I panicked over what steps I should take next and what I should do. When I hit my breaking point one morning, slowly moved myself towards my parents room. Seeing my state of distress, my mom had my brother and father give me a blessing. It felt a lot like what I imagine it was like to the disciplines when Christ calmed the storm.
After that, I learned to ask for blessings whenever I felt the anxiety in me begin to build. Heavenly Father wants to pour blessings upon us, but we need to ask, so if we get the thought or feel any desire to get a blessing, we should. I also learned that priesthood holders are more than happy to oblige.
4. His Hands on the Earth
While I prayed, read my scriptures, and attended the temple, I learned that those are not the only way that God communicates with His Children. Sometimes He places people into our lives to be His hands.
I do not like asking for help or admitting I’m not okay. I suppose I felt burdensome, weak, and like I was being selfish when I did. (I was mortified over the idea of anyone finding out I had a pretty bad anxiety attack). The thing that helped me become okay with the way I was feeling was talking to other people who had been in the same spot. By hearing people who I admired open up about their struggles of returning home early, I didn’t feel so bad for having a hard time accepting the Lord’s will. They talk me it was totally fine to shed a tear or two.
When I started speaking more openly about my feelings, all those trying to help me had a better understanding of how to. After diagnosis the problem with my stomach and bowels, one of my doctors reccomended that I talked to someone.
I wasn’t stoked about going to therapy, but I supposed I would give it a try. By seeking help, my paradigm of a perfectionism was shattered. It might sound crazy because I didn’t know anything was wrong, but it was like Christ told me I could be done running that endless marathon. This woman was sitting there in front of me, someone who felt a compulsion to hit every ideal, that the pressure could be taken away, like I could breathe again.
I saw time and time again, and continue to, that our prayers are often answered through others. Sometimes it was a text with a spiritual thought, a blessing, or a simple visit, and it lifted my spirit so much. I also came to realize that sometimes His hands are through the talents and knowledge of others, such as my therapist.
5. “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” – 2 Nephi 32:3
I was filled with hope that one day I would see things as they really are, but I had no idea where to start. I had used the scriptures to solve many spiritual matters and make decisions, but could they really facillitate the retraining of my mind?
One of my friends my mission visited (one of the most amazing people in the world!). We went to Deseret Book and she told me how she liked Hank Smith talks. I thought that maybe listened to a talk would be more helpful then blasting the radio, so I gave it a shot. I began to feast on the words of Christ; scriptures, conference talks, devotionals, books, and any else I could get my hands on.
Things happened like this: I would be reading a variety of things, like my scriptures and then the talks playing in my car, and it wouldn’t always come fast, but as I prayed I began to notice certain themes. I learned line upon line and precept upon precept, almost as if the Savior was leading my through the dark.
I went to see my therapist a month later and told her how I had come to some of the decisions I did from my newly found philosophies. She looked at me for a second and said, “Oh that’s exactly what we were going to work on today.”
This showed me that the words of Christ contain all the answers we need if we will search them diligently. The Book of Mormon is not a self-help book on overcoming perfectionism, but when I was 19 it became one for me.
6. “It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” – Mosiah 4:27
This was the first and most pungent theme I found during my search in the scriptures. For me, it helped overcome my perfectionism by showing me it was okay, even good, to not do everything.
This came up when I decided to go back to school. It helped me plan things from the perspective of what would help me succeed rather than what would seem right (you know, taking the hardest courses, working full-time, excelling in your calling). I planned so that my life would like a good balanced diet, a little bit of everything all within a caloric limit, rather than like a buffet where you try to stuff as much as you can in of everything.
I learned that I couldn’t do it all, and most people can’t. It’s unhealthy to feel like we are failing because we can cannot pick up another ball in our juggling of life. There is more strength in learning to slow down rather than plow on.
Here are some little quotes that helped me a lot(:
7. “Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole.” – Matthew 9:22
Like President Nelson said, sometimes we have to stretch further than we ever have. There were definately days I felt like my prayers were hitting the ceiling, but those around me helped me keep my seed of hope that one day things would be better, that if I could just reach Him, I would be made whole.
One day I was driving and the story came into my mind. I couldn’t get the words, “Daughter, thy faith hath made the whole,” out of my mind. Finally, I realized that it was spirit telling me that I had been made whole.
I still struggle with anxiety and fighting my perfectionist tendencies, but as long as I do my part in seeking Him (which is so small for all that He blesses me with), I know that He continue to bless me with peace and the gift of discernment so that I can see things clearly. The burden isn’t gone, but He makes it bearable.
8. “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” – Ether 12:27
I know my weaknesses brought my closer to Christ, gave me greater faith in His love, and more aherence to His words. I was grateful for how I had grown personally, one day I wondered to what it would like to be His hands again. After that thought the Lord showed to me that it was weaknesses that would give me the strength to be an instrument to Him.
A friend of mine and I went on walk in Rock Canyon to catch up for a little bit. For some reason that day I didn’t completely clam up when she asked me about the adventure of the past few months. I was open about all of it. I told her the way I used to feel and how I had to get help and some of the things I learned; she responded by telling me that was exactly what she needed to hear.
I know that God blessed me to have that experience with her to show me that the truth of Ether 12:27. Since then He has given me even more opportunities to talk with my fellow brothers and sisters on the earth and counsel together. My experience really helped me to have more compassion and to look for those who may need just a little bit of comfort.
I also learned that there is strength in being transparent. No we shouldn’t complain, but admitting that we aren’t always okay humanizes us. I learned then when I got my high horse of “I’ll always dandy,” people were more comfortable talking to me. I’d encourage all of you to, when appropriate, share with others that you’ve been there before and share your testimony of Christ.Here is a little video I like that for some reason reminds me of this. . .
9. “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” – John 14:18
The greatest lesson I learned is that He is always with us and will never forsake us. While at times we may feel like no one understands or alone, I know with surety that He is there and He understands. His arms are outstretched and He is calling us to come unto Him.
I felt Him in spirit, through the love of family and friends, His voice through the scriptures, living prophets, and apostles, in opprotunities to be an instrument in His hands, and His compassion for me as I prayed.