You’re not good enough. No matter how much you do, you’ll never do enough. No matter how good you look, you’ll never be pretty enough. No matter how little you eat, you’ll never be skinny enough. No matter how kind you are, not everyone will like you. You’ll never be enough.
These words, or something very similar, have echoed in my head since I was a kid. I don’t know when it started, and I certainly don’t know when these words will fade away forever from my mind and heart.
I’m going to be upfront with you; if you think I’m someone who doesn’t feel the pressure anymore, who has conquered the need to be perfect, you are wrong. If you think I can give you a magic formula to make the bad feelings go away, you may as well leave now. I have battled perfectionism for most of my life, and it doesn’t go away in a blink of an eye. Yes, I have overcome some obstacles. I have taken steps toward becoming myself. But I still
have a way to go. And that’s okay.
So what am I doing here? Why am I spouting words if I haven’t overcome it?
I feel that God has put this subject on my heart. Put you on my heart. I want to help you so badly; I want to keep you from doing what I did, so you won’t live the way I have lived for so long. I want to share my story so you can learn from my mistakes. Or maybe my words will comfort you that you aren’t dealing with this alone.
I may not be perfect, but I believe God can still use me.
I was born in a downtown hospital in Budapest, Hungary, almost 22 years ago. My parents are the best parents a child could ever ask for. They raised me to love God from the very beginning. I got saved at the age of 8, and church was my life. I have a younger brother and two little sisters. My parents reminded me many times that I was the example, and that my sisters looked up to me, so I had to be careful about how I acted.
My parents were missionaries. In case you didn’t quite understand what that’s like, let me explain. We were the example at church. Of course, everyone looked to the pastor’s family for guidance, so we needed to be on our best behavior at all times. And, of course, we had to serve, getting involved with every available ministry. At school (public school, no less) we were the weird American kids whose dad led a sect or some religious cult. Our classmates would look at us to see what we were doing, if we messed up; we represented our whole religion in their eyes. And when you’d think that’s too much, we had a mission board and supporting churches to worry about, too. I’m not trying to attack anyone back in the States. God’s used all of our supporting churches to help further the gospel here; they don’t understand how much their support blesses us. However, many people “back home” didn’t understand the Hungarian culture. They expected us to do things the way they did it in America. They didn’t like the changes we wanted to make. For a long time, my family was torn between trying to please all the people back home and doing the right thing for the ministry here. Missionary work is hard.
I hope I haven’t bored you with all the details, but I wanted you to understand my background so you can see where I’m coming from. My whole life I was taught that I had to be good, had to please authorities, and had to do the right thing no matter what. But what was the right thing? And what if it didn’t please the authorities?
So much of my life I was torn. I was told that something was not right, but to me it seemed perfectly fine. For example, I wasn’t allowed to listen to Christian rock, because it was “bad.” But it didn’t feel bad. After all, it was the message that mattered. Also, our mission board required us to wear only skirts. But I never saw a Bible verse that said pants were a sin. I either lived a lie, following those principles I didn’t agree with, loathing my rebellious spirit, or I did things in secret that I knew would disappoint many people in my life if they found out.
I wasn’t happy. I was confused. I was living my life according to other people’s expectations. I didn’t know what was right or wrong. I felt like a horrible person, even when I was doing “the right thing.” What was wrong with me?
I lived all of my teenage years this way. Occasionally, there were minor battles with my parents. Sometimes I won. I remember the first time I wore pants to a Thursday evening service (our Wednesday night service). It felt like such a victory. But deep down, I was still not satisfied. The pleasing-my-authorities disease spread to pleasing my peers, and soon I didn’t even know if I was real with anyone at all. I’d say things, do things, and accept things I didn’t like because I was afraid of hurting someone or causing them to dislike me. That’s not to say that my whole life was miserable, but I was definitely not myself. So many times I felt alone, even though I had many friends. Nobody could understand me.
Nothing about this lifestyle changed until I turned 19. It was my senior year, as I had an extra year in high school (Hungarian school systems… ask me about them some other time), and the year I had my first boyfriend. I don’t want to go into great detail about him, but he helped me change my thinking entirely. Other than having constant conflicts with my parents, who weren’t too thrilled about my dating somebody, he opened up my eyes to how much people-pleasing had taken over my life. I realized I had so many masks for each person I was around, that I didn’t even know who I was underneath. It was a horrible realization.
To make a long story short, I thought a lot about who I was. I started questioning what I believed, and why. I started writing Perfect then- I’m sure you can see a lot of parallels between the book and my life.
I honestly had no idea where to start the change; it seemed like a huge stronghold that I could not overcome on my own. But I wasn’t alone. God was there. He’d always been there.
I didn’t know how to defeat it, but I took a step. I talked to my parents. I told them about all my bitterness, of trying to live up to standards I didn’t believe in, of all the things I did that I didn’t enjoy doing. I told them how much I wanted to please them, but how I felt like I always fell short. They were extremely surprised, and then supportive. We were able to work through years of hard feelings on my part that they hadn’t even been aware of.
That was the first step. That didn’t mean that I started doing whatever I wanted to, not caring what they thought, but I was finally free. They didn’t judge me like I always thought they would. They are great supporters of what I do, and they tell me many times how proud they are of me.
More steps. Well, for one, I’m sharing this with you. I’m being completely vulnerable. I used to write so much and not share it with anyone. I was afraid of what people would say. When I finally decided to open up and show people, I was overwhelmed at the good feedback. People supported me instead of judging!
I take little steps all the time when I do something I’m not comfortable with; giving hard advice, telling someone something they don’t want to hear, going to other people for help, seeking mentors, opening up to people.
Am I completely free? No, not yet. There are times I still come under the icy grip of doubt and fear. What if people stop liking me? What would happen if I disappointed someone I love and they don’t forgive me? I’m still not pretty enough… But I know that I am a lot further along than I was three years ago. I may never be perfect, (in fact, let’s just admit that’ll never happen,) but I can keep taking steps, getting closer to God and farther from my perfectionism. And now I know that I’m not alone.
I would love to hear your thoughts! How have you dealt with perfectionism and people-pleasing? Do you agree with everything I wrote? What kind of steps have you taken to overcome your stronghold?