Beneath anger, selfishness, self-destructiveness, depression, and even excessive positivism you will often find unacknowledged guilt and deep fear of rejection. The need to justify ourselves and our existence can be so strong that we are completely unaware that we even feel guilty at all!
Obviously we are the victims of this unjust and unpredictable world. Certainly it is not our fault that we make bad decisions, use other people, blame everyone for our problems, or have no empathy for other people’s suffering. That’s not our problem. We are confident that we are doing the right thing, why can’t others get their act together ?
I have good news for you. You do not have it all together and that’s okay! The problem is that you need to recognize that you are not perfect and that while you may indeed have been abused or mistreated, your past does not have to define your self-image. The way others treat you is a reflection of their own hearts, not your value as a human being created in God’s image.
The real problem is that somewhere along the way you created a wall of safety by becoming a perfectionist. And now you work very hard to keep up that self-imposed identity. Maybe you grew up around chaos and being perfect gave you a sense of control. Or maybe you were constantly praised for being smart, clean, pretty or talented and got the idea that what matters are external things. Maybe you grew up in a legalistic religious family where there was no grace for sinners. Somehow you developed a critical eye and a sharp tongue. You have no use for lazy people or underachievers.
To grant others the space and freedom to grow and mature at their own pace would mean that you would have to relax your own very high standards. You judge yourself very harshly. Perhaps you have an eating disorder or exercise compulsively or refuse to try things unless you know you will do it well. On the other hand, some perfectionists give in to self-destructive addictions rather than try to keep up a perfect image. But in their hearts, they still blame their failures on others. Either way perfectionism is not a happy way of life. It can destroy you.
But in order to have peace you have to admit that you have become a hypercritical and unsympathetic perfectionist. Admitting that can be hard. Your identity is built on being a very good person, hard-working, possibly very successful. Your image of yourself as superior to others seems based on evidence. You may not even see how critical you are because you have been able to hide it by keeping your thoughts to yourself. And perhaps you haven’t reached the point of clarity yet. But you know in your heart that you are not the loving person that God wants you to be.
Maybe someone has pointed out your perfectionist ways. Or someone said that you are too judgmental. Or that you need to consider the other person’s point of view before jumping to conclusions. God often uses other people to tell us when something needs to change.
Perhaps you are lonely and the pursuit of excellence is no longer enough to make you feel good about yourself. You’re starting to recognize that some of your less than perfect coworkers or friends are much happier and less anxious than you. What do they have that you don’t? What are you doing wrong?
You need to work on your self-awareness. Notice when critical thoughts pop up in your head. Are you judging people’s words, looks, life choices? Why is it so important to you? Is it because you have a very narrow view of what is acceptable? Maybe it is because you have backed yourself into a corner. What are you afraid of?
The only way out of this limited and miserable situation is to admit that even though you came by these habits honestly, they no longer serve you. It is time to let go of your fears of rejection and begin to trust people again. That’s right, being critical or controlling is really about protecting yourself from being hurt. Though it certainly doesn’t look like that to others.
Perfectionism and constantly judging others is often a reaction to a feeling of vulnerability that causes guilt. We feel like something is wrong with us because other people treated us badly! And then we feel guilty because we were not able to make them love us. We blame ourselves! We vow to never be hurt again. Unfortunately this can turn into a pattern where we don’t trust anyone, especially God. And trusting God with your guilt and pain is the key that unlocks the door to peace.
You may have built up these protective walls as a child or teen, but you are an adult now. You can take back your power over your emotions and thoughts. You don’t have to live in fear of rejection or protect yourself by rejecting people before they can reject you. This starts with forgiving yourself for becoming this person that you don’t really like. You get a second chance.
When you do this, you will be amazed to find that you no longer feel so angry or suspicious or critical towards others. It’s about giving yourself grace so you can do the same for others. When you admit to yourself that you have not been so perfect after all, it can be very painful, but it’s the only way to heal.
So be brave. Confess your sins. Ask God to forgive you. Then forgive yourself ! No one is perfect and we all do things that seem right at the time and often are very subconscious.
But now that you are aware of your habit of judging others too harshly, you can start to develop a new way of looking for the good, being kind, and realizing that things are not always what they seem by outside appearances. Underneath their tough shell or crankiness or whatever, people are often just scared and hurt and traumatized children. Like you. While you do this, be careful to keep up healthy boundaries. You don’t want to swing to the other extreme and allow people to abuse you.
So forgive yourself for becoming a judgmental adult and forgive others for contributing to your fears. It’s what Jesus tells us to do. He offers forgiveness to those who will admit their need for it. We have to be willing to humbly confess our sins to him and ask for his forgiveness. He is full of grace and mercy. And then watch your life change as you learn to trust him with your whole heart.
The only perfect person that ever lived was Christ. If we strive for perfection, we will never measure up. We just have to be obedient!
Right. And stay humble while we’re at it. 🙂
… and read “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee!! 😉
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