3 Signs You’re a Perfectionist

Maddie had a reputation for being exceptionally helpful and cheerful—spreading joy wherever she went. One day, Maddie noticed a boy’s shoe that was untied. He had special needs, so she offered to tie it for him. After that, kids everywhere started saying, “Maddie, will you tie my shoe?” So, she did! She thought, Jesus was a servant, so I should be, too!

During sophomore year, Maddie learned that her parents were getting a divorce. She didn’t tell anyone at school, though. How could she be a light for Jesus if she was falling apart?

In science class, a girl found out and said quietly, “Your parents are getting a divorce? But, Maddie! You’ve been so cheerful and encouraging . . . ” Maddie grinned back, determined to let her happy spirit give the reason for the hope that she has (1 Peter 3:15).

On the day Maddie’s mom moved out, she thought, “My family needs me more than ever!” So instead of letting herself get upset, she went to put in a load of laundry, then got to work packing lunches. She said, “Dad, can you tell me how you like your sandwiches? I don’t want to mess yours up . . .”

Who’s in Control?

Maddie was trying to be the perfect witness for Jesus in her school. She was trying to be a perfect daughter and sister. Even when things started falling apart, she refused to cave in or give up. She was convinced that it was all up to her to make things turn out right. 

But Maddie now realizes that though she was saying, “God is in control! He has a plan! He’s making all things work together for good!”, she was acting like it was up to her (not God) to make everything work out.

Perfectionistic Control Girl

Can you relate to Maddie? Is there some way that you’re trying to be perfect? Perhaps you’re a perfectionist with your schoolwork or as an athlete. Maybe you want to look perfect in the mirror. Or you want perfect relationships.

Often, beneath our perfectionistic drive is a craving for control. We’re trying to control everything and make it all turn out right. But here’s the truth.

God didn’t design for us to carry the burden of trying to control it all! God already is in control, which means we don’t have to be. When we try to be perfect—even in one area of life, we only stagger around under the weight and pressure we put on ourselves. God invites us to lay down our perfectionism and find the rest that comes from trusting in His power and control instead of our own.

Here are three distinctions between perfectionistic Control Girls and willing-to-trust Jesus Girls.

1. A Control Girl says, “It’s up to me!” A Jesus Girl says, “It’s up to God.”

While it’s good to be diligent and resourceful, perfectionists often push themselves to unreasonable limits. Remember how Maddie convinced herself that she had to be a light at school, even when she was going through something horrible? Maddie sees now that it wasn’t up to her to single-handedly bring her classmates to God. And even if she had fallen apart in high school, she wasn’t going to single-handedly destroy Christ’s reputation!

God is in control of the future, not us. Yes, God has promised to work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28), but this is His work, not ours. And “all things” include both the things that turn out “right” and the things that don’t. That’s the beauty of the promise!

Perfectionist Control Girls try to grip tighter and create particular outcomes. But surrendered Jesus Girls work hard and then trust God with the results.

2. A Control Girl says, “I can do it on my own!” A Jesus Girl says, “I need God. I can’t but He can!”

One night, after Maddie’s parents had a particularly vicious fight, her confidence fell. She fell in a crumpled heap on her bed, opened her Bible, and cried out, “God, I need you! I cannot do this on my own!” And what do you think the Lord’s response was to Maddie at that point? Was He disappointed with her? Did He roll His eyes and say, “Fine, then. I’ll have to come up with a Plan B!”?

No. A thousand times, no! James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble” (NIV). So when a girl is gritting her teeth in determination, saying, “I can do it!”, our God is repelled by her pride. But when a girl is crumpled in a heap, crying, “I can’t! But, you can!”, God is drawn to her! He favors her!

3. A Control Girl says, “I’ll be perfect and show everyone that I’m great!” A Jesus Girl says, “In my weakness, I’ll show that He is great.”

Our perfectionism is a sign that we’re trusting in ourselves. We’re convinced that we can get that scholarship, overcome that hurdle, beat that record, or put that broken relationship back together. And if we accomplish our goals, then what? Do we make much of God, or do we make much of ourselves?

Often God gives us what Paul calls a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). It’s something that holds us back or keeps us from achieving perfection. And why does God give us these thorns? Paul said that his thorn was given to keep him from becoming conceited. Often God uses thorns to pull us into a correct position before Him—on our knees.

But God has another purpose for thorns, too. When Paul pleaded for God to take his away, God told him, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Did you catch that word “perfect”? God wants to always be displaying his greatness to the world. And the best way to display his power is not through a perfect person, but through a weak person who is needy and reliant on Him! (Think of Moses, Samson, Esther, and Ruth.)

Giving God Control

Are you a perfectionist? Do you often push yourself, saying, “It’s up to me! I can do it on my own! I’ll be perfect and show everyone that I’m great!”

If so, God invites you to lay down your burden of control, trust Him, and say, “It’s up to God. I can’t, but He can! In my weakness, I’ll show that He is great.”

About Author

Shannon Popkin

Bestselling author and speaker Shannon Popkin loves to blend her gifts for storytelling and humor with her passion for God’s Word. Shannon is the co-author of Influence: Building a Platform to Elevate Jesus (Not Me) and Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible. Shannon is happy to be sharing life with Ken, who makes her laugh every single day. Together, they live the fast-paced life of parenting three high school and college-aged kids. 

HEY, GIRLS! We love hearing from you, but feel limited in the ways we can help. For one thing, we’re not trained counselors. If you’re seeking counsel, we encourage you to talk to your pastor or a godly woman in your life as they’ll know more details and can provide you with ongoing accountability and help. Also, the following comments do not necessarily reflect the views of Revive Our Hearts. We reserve the right to remove comments which might be unhelpful, unsuitable, or inappropriate. We may edit or remove your comment if it:

  • * Requests or gives personal information such as email address, address, or phone number.
  • * Attacks other readers.
  • * Uses vulgar or profane language.