Toxic Perfectionism

By: Mormon Heretic
February 4, 2013

Matthew 5:48

Be ye therefore bperfect, even as your cFather which is in heaven is dperfect.

Professor Kris Doty spoke last week at UVU.

Kris Doty, Asst. Prof of Psychology, Utah Valley University

“In the (Mormon and Utah) culture, people have just taken it too far,” she said during the 2013 Mental Health Symposium at UVU’s Sorensen Student Center. “They think they can’t make a mistake and so they become hyper-competitive and anxious. If you think you can make no mistake, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”

Doty conducted a  “qualitative exploratory study” by repeatedly interviewing 20 women over a one-year period. The women were diagnosed as depressed, signed up for the study and identified themselves as active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In her findings, Doty identified five major factors that she said led to depression among the study’s participants — genetics, history of abuse, family relationships, feeling judged by others and toxic perfectionism.

Doty said the church’s teachings on striving for perfection led to misinterpretations and contributed to feelings of inadequacy.  A licensed clinical social worker and director of social work field education at UVU, she said LDS women are frequently confronted by the perfect storm of unrealistic expectations, personal guilt and suppressed feelings.

Click here to see the full article at the Deseret News.  What can be done to avoid “toxic perfectionism”, while still heeding this advice from Jesus?

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17 Responses to Toxic Perfectionism

  1. Hedgehog on February 4, 2013 at 3:17 AM

    Hmmm.
    I’m kind of wondering to what extent the perfect model they are trying to pursue isn’t actually real, or what Christ was advocating at all. I don’t think it is perfectionism per se that is the problem so much as the model of ‘womanhood’ and ‘motherhood’ as frequently portrayed in church literature, in talks from leaders etc., which is a quick route to all kinds of crazy, because it requires suppressing some good aspects of oneself, and forcing oneself into a single mould, as opposed to working on perfecting the individual we actually are.

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  2. Howard on February 4, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    Our personas are created from nature and nurture as we grow. It begins in the womb and our personalities are largely formed by age 5 so the logic used to create our personality ranges from fetal like to childlike. Growing up is hard to do, without considerable introspection and reframing as an adult at best we are children in an adult body with an adult logic layer laid on top. For some this is a healthy journey having been raised with safety, consistency, and love. They fit more easily though not completely into the perfect behavior through obedience and willpower model of the church. Others missed this idyllic upbringing and often through no fault of their own and grew up with a dysfunctional compulsion to act out the problems created during their upbringing. Obedience, willpower, and discipline while great skills to learn just create more problems for these people. Why? Because they are psychologically blocked to begin with and learning to obey through the use of willpower and creating new habits amounts to willfully laying a new block on top of the old block greatly increasing their subconscious dissonance, and many of them experience so much compulsion that it exceeds their willpower anyway so the obedience goal just sets them up for repeated failure. So it ranges from the healthy who can almost do it to the dysfunctional who cannot do it at all. The solution is to transcend the natural man not try to perfect him. Don’t just block undesirable behavior with a new obedience block, instead go through the mighty change of heart by removing the compulsion to act out at it’s source through regression and introspection or by knowing God and allowing him to do that surgery for us.

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  3. Jim Cobabe on February 4, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    Too much politically correct psychobabble.

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  4. Howard on February 4, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Thanks for clearing that up with you enlightened summary Jim.

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  5. anon on February 4, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    I have stopped attending Relief Society and tune out sacrament meeting because of the constant criticisms and complaints from leaders and teachers giving the lesson.

    We were bashed during sacrament last week because only half the ward attends regularly. It is not MY responsibility to make people attend church. My spouse and I have tried many, many times to befriend families/individuals not coming to church and have been shot down. But our Stake Presidency is really coming down on us for not activating inactive members and not having enough baptism.

    Some punk from the high council actually called use to repentance and told the men they needed to take care of their houses.

    The lessons in RS have all been “you suck, you suck, you suck”.

    I have not been spiritually affirmed or uplifted at church in a very long time.

    So yes, we do have a problem with “toxic perfectionism” but I think it stems from local leaders who are completely out of touch with the various needs of their wards.

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  6. Heather on February 4, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    I think “toxic perfectionism” is a tough thing in the church but I think we bring on ourselves and create our own intentions more than the leaders doing it to us. But definitely something to think about.

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  7. will on February 4, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    I’d be depressed too if I had to live in Utah county.

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  8. graceforgrace on February 4, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    I think this is a very important thing to bring up.
    I personally experienced severe anxiety and depression for years. Part of it was due to abandonment I had as a child, but I believe that the LDS culture (I grew up in Southerin Idaho, so pretty much the same as Utah) of perfectionism triggered much of the anxiety and depression I felt for years.
    I have a lot to say about this issue and have even written a book (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_20?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=discovering+light+anxiety&sprefix=discovering+light+an%2Caps%2C342) about what steps I used to overcome anxiety and depression. It is a real thing and something that many people suffer from.
    In fact, someone I know who is close to me in Utah called me in tears over the weekend because she is struggling with depression and has 3 callings, 5 kids, and still thinks she’s not “perfect” enough.
    We need to learn to let go and realize we are human and accept that we will make mistakes. Also, we need to know our limitations and not exceed them. For example, I used to feel guilty if I turned down a church calling, or didn’t have 100% hometeaching in a month. I had to learn that I can only take on 1 calling at a time and also if I have a busy month and don’t get around to hometeaching, it’s all good…just make sure I try next month.
    Also, I think we fail to realize that the Bible was translated into English and it isn’t a “perfect” (there’s that word again) translation.
    In this case, the Greek word for perfect is: teleios, which means “complete” and “entire.” The Hebrew word, which is also frequently used in the Bible for perfect is: tamim which means “whole, sound, healthful” and “having integrity.”
    Both of these definitions are different than the English definition of perfect, which is: “flawless”.
    There is a very excellent article written about this very topic that I encourage everyone to read. It was given at BYU by an associate professor and is called: “Be Ye Therefore Perfect: The Elusive Quest for Perfectionism”. Read it here: http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/sermon-mount-latter-day-scripture-39th-annual-byu-sidney-b-sperry-symposium/8-be-ye-there-0

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  9. anon for this comment on February 4, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    I guess it’s different for men from my era…you went through teen years trying be perfect at controlling the temptation to masturbate, endured questions by zealous (or overly interested) bishops about masturbation and dealt with subsequent guilt . By the time you are a RM, you realize sometimes you can’t live up to the standard of perfection taught, so you have to go with imperfection as a fact of your Mormon life. Adjustment made.

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  10. Geoff - A on February 4, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    Is it possible to be perfect without being toxic?

    There is negative perfection which is achieved by not doing anything too bad. When I catch myself doing something wrong I repent, so I can wake up perfect each morning. It’s a lot easier to stay perfect than it is to get there from church.

    We are told the Saviour is perfect but still growing.

    Positive perfection is an eternal job to learn to love and care for your fellow men and women.

    I AM PERFECT in the negative sense and working on the positive.

    So i’ve redefined perfection to be helpful to me.
    There is a lesson coming up in RS/ P’hood shortly on perfection.

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  11. Hedgehog on February 5, 2013 at 1:31 AM

    Howard #2, the idea of layers is interesting. I do believe though, that in part, our personality comes with us at birth, as a base layer if you will. I don’t know so much about what the boys/men are told about themselves growing up in church. But certainly, the girls/women are told that they possess specific ‘inborn’ qualities, and talents and so forth, solely by virtue of being female, which builds a whole layer in itself, and creates a lot of dissonance when it fails to match reality.

    #5, Because we’re really going to want to invite friends in that kind of atmosphere. They and any investigators are going to feel the spirit how precisely? Having leaders more interested in figures than people is very unpleasant. I much prefer it (don’t we all) when leaders serve and love as opposed to cracking the whip, and it has to be far more productive over the long term.

    G4G #8, Thank you. I love those translations.

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  12. Howard on February 5, 2013 at 7:13 AM

    Hedgehog,
    Yes, I agree. That’s what I meant by nature. But, the nurture caused blocked layers are very important because they can be changed and the blocks can be removed! The more psychologically blocked we are the more cut off and distorted we are from our authentic feelings and from our subconscious which is the pathway for intuition, inspiration and revelation to reach our conscious minds. So in that sense psychology is a subset of spirituality, by minimizing our blocked dissonance we facilitate our ability to spiritually connect with ourselves and the divine.

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  13. FireTag on February 5, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    I don’t know what was the basis in the original study for classifying toxic perfectionism as an INDEPENDENT factor in the equation.

    I notice “perfectionism” as a futile medicine self-applied to treat some other source of toxin.

    For example, if I can just be good enough, my parents — earthly or heavenly — will have to love me. That strikes me as backward; if we feel love, regardless of our condition, then we have the chance to continue to grow toward perfection.

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  14. Tim on February 5, 2013 at 10:15 PM

    Everytime I see an article on this subject it is always by women. I wonder why this is. Do men not think it, effectively deflect it, or have secret priesthood to inoculate against it?

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  15. Howard on February 5, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    #14 Yes, men have secret priesthood to inoculate against it! There is far less dissonance for Mormon men than Mormon women because the LDS church and gospel are patriarchal not matriarchal or egalitarian. Also women are generally more in tune with their feelings than men therefore generally better at articulating them and probably for the same reasons there are more women therapists than men to write such articles.

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  16. Hedgehog on February 6, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    Howard #12, Ok. Thanks. I was being too narrow in my interpretation of nature as the physical body and its limitations.

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  17. Toxic Perfectionism » Main Street Plaza on April 4, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    [...] some mormon women suffer from toxic perfectionism. So on top of being the angel in the home, they are trying to be too perfect; keep a spotless home, [...]

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