brian j plachta
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Grateful Humility--The Key to Overcoming Toxic Perfectionism
by brian j plachta on November 1st, 2019

“Here’s a little something I got you for Sweetest Day,” my wife said as she handed me an overflowing gift bag. “Go ahead. Open it.”

I gulped as I looked at the beautifully wrapped present. My face sank.

“Dang. I forgot. I’m sorry,” I said.

In the past, the freight train of shame and perfectionism would have railroaded through my mind because of my mess-up. Toxic perfectionism would have blasted my brain. All my shortcomings would have sounded their ugly “shoulds.” I shouldn’t have forgotten. I should be a better husband. I should  remember the important people and things in my life. I should be perfect.

Instead of rubbing my nose in my blunder, I stopped, took a second to think. I then offered, “How about we go out for dinner this week to celebrate Sweetest Day?”

According to an article in Psychology Today:

“Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often 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. They expect others’ love and approval to be conditional on a flawless performance.”

Wise Mary, one of my mentors, taught me several years ago how to break the chain of perfectionism.

I told her I felt I could never live up to my expectations. I was always striving to be my best at work and at home, but it never seemed enough. I never measured up. The minute I accomplished a goal, I moved on to the next mountain to climb. I was always pushing myself, never taking the time to celebrate what I’d accomplished. And if I failed at something, I beat myself unmercifully.

Mary looked at me with glaring eyes. “Do you realize perfectionism is a sin?”

“What?” I replied. “I thought striving to be the best at whatever we do is a good thing.”

“It’s great to set goals. But when they become the yardstick by which you measure your self-worth, you’ve slipped into pride. It’s as if you say to God, ‘Step aside, I’ve got this one. I don’t need you.’ When you succeed, you claim all the glory. And if you fail, you blame yourself or even God for your mess up.”

I considered Wise Mary’s words and asked, “So, how do we overcome toxic perfectionism?”

The remedy is what I call grateful humility,” Mary said. “Grateful because we know we’re gifted with unique talents and abilities, and the source of those gifts is the Creator. Humility because we recognize we’re in a relationship with Divine Love. We’re co-creators with God. In other words, life is a team sport—God’s the coach and we’re the players. When God and we work together, we’re in the right relationship. Human and Divine become One.”

As a result of Mary’s explanation, grateful humility has become the remedy to overcome my unholy perfectionism. I still slip back into my old patterns occasionally, but more and more I see myself and others from this new lens.

When I’m going about a task—whether at work or home—I invite God into the project. I ask him for Divine help and guidance. If I succeed, I receive it as gift and lift it up to the Creator with gratitude. If I fail, I step back and ask God to help me find a solution.

Grateful humility allowed me to admit my mess up with Sweetest Day. Instead of shaming myself or blaming God for my shortcoming, I asked the Creator for a resolution.

At dinner later that week, my wife and I feasted on a superb meal. We reflected on the gift of our four children and our grandchildren. We toasted God for the way he continually shows us how to shift our perspective from toxic perfectionism to grateful humility.

—brian j plachta

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