Perfectionism with a Sensitive Twist

I’ve read many different theories on perfectionism, but I’d never considered this one from my friend Jessie. What she’s sharing today MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. So, please, take a read and welcome her warmly!

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I’ve always thought I was a pretty strange person.

I fit into many of the categories you ascribe to firstborn children … overachiever, bossy, serious perhaps to a fault. But there was one area where I never knew quite where I fell: perfectionism.

In some ways I am an uber-perfectionist. I worked as a copy editor, which requires an eye trained for detail and rules. When I am serving others my cooking, I freak out if everything doesn’t look like the cover of Southern Living. I read books from cover to cover and never skip to the end, because that would be cheating.

And yet, I struggle with being a major slob. I am disorganized. My apartment is a wreck 95% of the time, I almost never mop the floors, and I find things under the couch that you DEFINITELY don’t want to discover there. I forget appointments, and as my daughter would be happy to tell you, my handwritten chalkboard calendar is still on January – a travesty in her book.

It wasn’t until I recently that I discovered the issue. I had borrowed a copy of The Highly Sensitive Child from a friend, wondering what to do with my oldest child, my daughter Libbie. She is 5 and still gags on vegetables, won’t wear pants that button or snap, and cries at the drop of a hat.

I can’t tell you if Libbie is highly sensitive – maybe in a way, maybe not. But I can tell you something: I SURE AM. Everything author Dr. Elaine Aron wrote made me nod and nearly gasp at its accuracy in my own life. One of the things she describes is how highly sensitive people are often perfectionists, but only in areas where they naturally succeed.

So. Now I know I am not a total weirdo. There is a name for people like me, who felt tears coming on if they made a spelling error on an English essay but could not have cared less about health class. (I think I made a C+ IN MIDDLE SCHOOL HEALTH. Yeah.)

If you’re a struggling semi-perfectionist like me, here are some tips from my own experience.

Love what you love and accept who God made you to be.

I am never going to be a person who naturally keeps my house spotless, no matter how many times I berate myself about it. I can get frustrated, cry, be angry at my husband for not helping, declare that I will be better, whatever … none of it is going to help. What helps me do things that I don’t really want to do? Making lists or schedules and attempting to follow them. Remembering that mercies are new every morning and living in God’s strength, not mine.

Let it go.

Isn’t that a song right now? (I am so bummed I let my mom take Libbie to see Frozen and so I haven’t seen it!) When you sense yourself letting the perfectionist side take over, breathe deeply. Try to see the future. Tomorrow will it matter if your bread burned? Or will you laugh about it, throw it out, and know no one will really miss it. One time I freaked out because my husband and I tried to make a new dish to serve to our college friend and her boyfriend, whom we had just met. It was AWFUL and didn’t make nearly enough for four adults. We went and got Thai food instead, and we still giggle about it, eight years later.

Receive grace.

There are times you are going to make a major mistake. Maybe you’ll let a Beth Moore Bible study go to print with the word majesty spelled with a g instead of a j. (I wouldn’t speak from experience, of course. Ahem.) Maybe you’ll cry because your sister’s fiance is coming over and all the potatoes are sticking to the pan. (NOT ME! Nope!!) Maybe you’ll see the baby eat a crayon or sticker or whoevenknowswhat off the carpet and think if only I were a good housekeeper. Everybody makes mistakes, whether they’re willing to admit them on the Internet or not. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is dwell in grace instead of condemnation. Dust yourself off and try, try again.

Jessie Weaver is a Highly Sensitive Semi-Perfectionist living a messy life in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother to three kids: Libbie, 5; David, 3; and Joshua, 10 months. She and her husband live on campus at a private boarding school, where they also “parent” 30 high-school boys in their dorm.

{Photo by Amber Karnes}

Comments

  1. Hi Jessie. What a wonderfully encouraging post. I don’t know how “sensitive” I am– my house is messy too a lot of the time!!!– but I am a perfectionist trying to let things go and receive grace. My family teases me because I NEVER can serve a meal to guests without disclaimers before anyone has even tasted the food.

    • Oh goodness. Yep, I am the Queen of Disclaimers. My cousin and I yell at each about that and say THAT IS THE INHERITANCE FROM OUR GRANDMOTHER we don’t want to pass along!!

  2. Oh my goodness… you are describing me to a T! (Firstborn, bossy, super organized at work, calendar & list-making queen…and apparently incapable of picking up after myself at home!) I think I need to check out that book. My son sounds a lot like your daughter, too, and they way we’re dealing with his emotional outbursts now just isn’t working.

    • There is a book just called The Highly Sensitive Person as well. I need to grab that one up! It’s been helpful to me just to know I’m not an anomaly!

      • Jessie —

        LOVE your insights on HSP and perfectionism! So glad you’ve discovered this while your children are young. It’ll make such a difference for you and them.

        I read The Highly Sensitive Person a couple of years ago, and suddenly my entire life made sense. I’m pushing 50, which is a long time to have lived without self-acceptance and grace. I didn’t think I deserved them, because I thought I was defective. Now that I know I’m just different, I’m learning to use my sensitivity as the God-given strength it is.

        (P.S. You must must must see Frozen! It’s the ultimate movie for recovering perfectionists. I just dragged my Spock-like hubby to see it last night, and even he was impressed!)

  3. Oh I love this! The stars must be aligning because just yesterday Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy posted about highly sensitive people on FB, and I took the little test and realized I AM one! (At least to a degree.) I want to get my hands on the book, but I appreciated hearing that HSP tend to be perfectionists in the areas they excel in. That makes sense. Thank you for sharing, Jessie!

  4. I needed these words today! Thank you!

  5. oh jessie….its funny how you write as if its from MY perspective…THANK YOU..i DO need to give myself more grace…and ease up on stuff that will not matter..something my hubby says to me often in which i typically get offended by…need to work on that….i would like to believe that i DID not pass on these “lovely” traits to my first born but…i have..both hubby and i are first born’s as well…and typical middle child syndrome is on high alert as well as the “baby” is..well my baby…all 3 girls….LORD help me! :0)

    • Haha. I have said my only saving grace was that my parents are a middle child (4th of 6!) and a baby. I feel bad for our firstborn, being the oldest child of two firstborn overachievers. I hope she’ll turn out OK. :)

  6. Thanks Jessie, yes, I am that very same kind of weirdo!! I was also raised by hoarders so that doesn’t help, especially since I married a wonderful OCD man… He is so very patient with me though!! I guess I better pick up that book because I have heard about it more than once and I am sure it is me. I also get migraine headaches, because ya know – Sen-sa-tive! But I have learned that it has it’s really good points too. And at 49 (next week) I am happy that God made me this way. I generally have a sixth sense about people and their moods and that is truly a GIFT. Ya gotta work it, as they say. =)

  7. joanna n. says:

    wow! i always wondered why i was so perfectionistic in some areas, yet other things just weren’t so much of a priority. now i know why my stomach was so upset every time i had a test in school! thanks for sharing!

  8. Thank you so much for letting me guest post, Mary! I love all the comments and that this seemed to hit home with others!

  9. I think I need to read this book…it sounds so much like me, and I suspect I’m raising one kid who is just like me!

  10. After reading stuff from the Flylady, I realized much the same thing. Perfectionists leave things unfinished when they don’t think they can do it perfectly.

  11. “Perfectionist, but only in the areas in which they naturally excel.” That explains so much! I consider myself very organized, but look around my house and that description is laughable. But my to-do lists, file folders, and manuscripts I’m editing are very precise!

    (Glad to be reading you again, Jessie. You fell off my feedly reader somehow and I just realized it the other day!)

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