Criticism is something I’ve battled my entire life. It came from extended family members, friends, acquaintances, leaders, and even strangers.
My earliest memory dealing with it was as a small child. Being criticized for being a female while all my cousins and sibling were males was constant. Growing up in a family where my extended relatives praised males was challenging. I never felt enough, no matter how hard I tried.
As a young adult, I worked under a leader who didn’t fully agree with women in ministerial roles. I found myself receiving the same sort of criticism I did as a child. Nothing I did was ever good enough, and every time I opened my mouth I was told I said something wrong. I was given clear instructions, followed them exactly, but somehow I was still critiqued. It was constant, and it was heartbreaking. It crushed my spirit.
Proverbs 15:4 says, “Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
During this season of criticism, my heart developed a struggle with perfectionism. I felt like everything I did, everything I said, and everything I sought after had to be perfection. If it was, then I wouldn’t hear the stinging words of criticism.
I became a professional people-pleaser and perfectionist. If it was an Olympic sport I would have a gold medal. Since I was striving to be someone I wasn't, I was constantly misunderstood. So, I worked harder towards perfection, and it became this draining, never-ending cycle.
In my heart, I knew I wasn’t perfect. I knew it was OK to make genuine mistakes. I knew what scripture said about how we all fall short, and we need to be imitators of Christ. Even while knowing that, I struggled with valuing the words of others more highly than the words of Christ.
There are many reasons why someone struggles with perfectionism. Whether it’s due to avoiding the hurtful words of others or because of pride and self-preservation, it stops you from being who God has called you to be.
If you're working towards perfection, then that is a destination you will never reach. You can be like the Pharisees found in God’s word who puts on a mask of perfection to mask their unclean hearts. You could be like Martha who was so worried about her house being perfect she missed sitting at the feet of Jesus. You will end up in this horrendous cycle of never feeling enough, always being misunderstood, and never being the person you were designed to be.
I had to learn the difference between perfection and excellence. Perfection relies on the opinions of others and receives worldly praises. Excellence relies on the truth of the Word and receives Godly praises. Excellence is a journey, not a destination. Excellence is the journey towards Christ and bringing others along with you.
While perfection paralyzes you, excellence will propel you.
I had to learn to live a life of excellence over a life of perfection. This shift in my mind helped my heart not to hurt when non-constructive criticism occurs. The shift in my heart has kept my eyes on Christ and my desire to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1-2).
When you have experienced firsthand the power of words, you learn that you need to pause. You need to see what it does to the one who speaks them and to the one who hears them. I encourage you to become passionate about encouraging others to see their joy in Christ. Search for people who will find healing in your words of encouragement and speak them.
Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
If you can relate to any part of my story and have seen how you’ve struggled with perfectionism, I want to tell you one thing:
There is freedom from perfectionism, and there is freedom in Christ. Whatever you do, do it with a heart of excellence to bring all praises back to Jesus.
In order to overcome perfectionism and have your heart changed to excellence, spend time in God’s word. Search God's word for scripture that talks about God’s children, how He views them, and what He desires for them. Look up verses that explain how Christ wants you to live your life. Write them down, hang them up, speak them over and over again until you give authority to the Word and not people.
Here is a beautiful, encouraging set of free printables to get you started.
Heather Margiotta is a Christian Writer and Speaker from northeast Ohio. She is a wife to a loving husband and a mother to two handsome sons. She received a bachelors degree in Theology and writes about her faith, adoption, relationships, and grief on her blog, HeatherMargiotta.com. Besides loving Jesus and her family, Heather is obsessed with coffee, local pizza joints, and nail polish. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.