331 – Living With a Perfectionist

This Week on Soul Talks

Almost all of us live with a perfectionist, either the one inside our own heads, or someone in our lives. In addition to experiencing the criticism of others, our own internal dialogue can be harsh and demanding.  The voice of our Risen Savior speaks a different story to us, one of grace and compassion, reframing the way we see ourselves and our circumstances.

Tune in to Soul Talks as Bill and Kristi Gaultiere unpack a recent conflict over perfectionism. In this conversation, they provide insight into the root level causes of perfectionism, and offer a path to move into Jesus’ easy yoke, rather than the shame-guilt cycle. As a loving friend or family member, you can learn to provide gentle understanding and empathy.

Resources for this episode:

Living With a Perfectionist Transcript

Bill and Kristi Gaultiere 

Bill
Hello friends, it’s time for Soul Talks. We’re so glad to have a conversation with you. 

Kristi and I are very honored to be in relationship with you and to follow Jesus together.

Today we are going to talk about living with a perfectionist — as in what it’s like for Kristi to live with Bill.

We’re going to talk about this because probably either you or your spouse, friend, or family member is a perfectionist.

Almost all of us live with a perfectionist, either the one inside our own heads or somebody in our home.

So what’s that really like, and how do we deal with that?

Kristi, we had a run in with that this morning. 

It’s Monday morning as we are recording, and we’re just coming back from a week of leading our Soul Shepherding Institute, which is so wonderful.

As we’ve said, many times, we just would love to have you join us in our Soul Shepherding Institute.

Maybe you want to earn a certificate to become a Spiritual Director or a Coach, but even just coming to the Institute retreats is just a wonderful community experience of learning. 

We so enjoy it.

The challenge, though, is when we come back to the office we have all the things to catch up on, different responsibilities, and projects that are going on.

While we love our work, we’re still getting our system together to try to get our workload more manageable.

We’ve hired some new staff and are delegating and so forth, but I’m still doing too much and needing better space with my boundaries.

When I’m under stress that activates the perfectionism.

That comes with some negativity, self-judging, and even judgmental, critical comments.

 I’m sad about that. And that affected you this morning, Kristi.

Kristi
It did. I was sensitive to it and felt frustrated by my sensitivity.

I didn’t want to be reactive to it. 

I wanted to be able to be resilient enough, and I wanted to be able to just have lots of grace for you with that.

But it was affecting our relationship and our ability to work well together.

Bill
Yeah. So just to help listeners sort of understand more specifically, when I’m stressed, little things will bother me.

We have podcast equipment in our recording studio here at home, and a friend put this together for us five or six years ago.

And we’re like, “Don’t touch the buttons because we don’t understand any of this equipment.”

One of the plugs got put in the wrong place. So I kind of freaked out, “Okay, where does that belong?”

It would be a bummer to record and not have it be in the right place because we’re our own sound engineers here.

We’re in our home, just Bill and Kristi. We’re just imagining you here with us.

So I made a negative comment about that.

We also have a cat. 

You have heard about our beloved cat Charlie many times in the past if you’ve been a long-time listener.

Going back, when did we lose Charlie — a year and a half? A little over a year ago?

Kristi
Yeah. A year and a half ago.

Bill
Yeah. Especially for you, Kristi, you loved Charlie so much.

 So we got a new cat and it hasn’t gone so well. So many things that are difficult.

 We love him still, and he’s a beautiful cat, but he’s pretty disruptive.

One of the things he does is at night, he hangs out on our kitchen counters, and then he jumps down.

Kristi
Because he knows that’s not allowed.

Bill
Right. 

So when he hears me come — and I’m usually the first one up — I immediately hear him jump down off the counter onto the floor. 

So I made a negative comment about that.

I don’t know, there might have been three or four other ones that were sort of stress reactions. 

I wasn’t even thinking about it as I was doing it. I was just sort of — I guess I was venting.

You’ve had a stressful morning yourself with the transition and some family stuff. 

So you shared with me that this was wearing on you, the comments that I made.

Kristi
Yeah. 

I was having trouble giving you the grace that I wanted to be able to and have it not stick and wear me down.

As you listened to me and as I shared, I really appreciated you weren’t offensive.

You really heard me, and you really owned the feedback I was giving you — your part of what you were carrying and what I was feeling from you — and you felt sad about it.

The Struggle to Give Ourselves Grace

Bill
Yes.  I’m grateful for your appreciation.

Just so the listeners understand, that came after at least a minute of me being silent, doing deep breathing, and praying.

I didn’t even explain to you, Kristi, what I was doing because I felt defensive inside.

And I felt, as I told you, when we started resolving the conflict —because just to fill out the situation a little more, it’s always helpful when you have the details of the example that go with the emotion in this case and the conflict that we had.

We were about to record some podcasts and we weren’t in a good place relationally because of the critical perfectionistic comments that I had made that had been wearing on you.

So then, Kristi, you just felt like you couldn’t produce a podcast in that state, which I so agree with.

But I wasn’t in the mode of accepting that at that point in time.

So when I got your feedback, of course, I felt criticized, but I knew it was all true.

I knew that you needed empathy, compassion, and grace and you needed my apology.

I wanted to do that, but I was feeling so bad on the inside.

I was feeling so much pressure, not just the pressure of the work that needs to get done to catch up, but also, I was feeling the weight of your emotions and your needs. 

I knew that this had been hard for you, and you needed me to be in a place of gentleness, love, and attunement with you.

I hadn’t been that way and I was feeling bad about that.

So now I was feeling like not only did I need to sort of clean up all these messes that I had made, but I needed to help restore your emotional wellbeing.

Not that you were putting all that expectation on me, but I was putting all that expectation on myself.

Then additionally, I was feeling, as you were sharing about how it was hard for you — Kristi was very fair, she wasn’t yelling at me or even judging me — she was just describing that her experience was difficult.

You were very healthy in the way that you were communicating with me.

But part of what I was feeling as I was listening to you was like, “Yeah, I know you. I know that would be hard for you to hear those things.”

I was feeling like, “Yeah, I know me too. I live with me. And I experience that all the time.”

Most of the time I’m very gracious with other people, but I struggle to be gracious with myself.

I live with my awareness of things that aren’t the way they could be — things that are broken or messy or not good.

I see those things all the time.

I mostly feel responsible for them, and then feel pressure to fix them.

Part of what I was feeling, also, was just the kind of the mirror you were giving me.

No, it wasn’t your intention. 

You were just trying to breathe and sort of recover your own emotional wellbeing. 

So it was a lot for me to swim through there.

I just started spontaneously doing some deep breathing.

I was placing myself in the Lord’s presence and taking Jesus’ hand, knowing that I was loved, and that I could do what Jesus would do if he was me and just apologize.

Of course, Jesus wouldn’t have been like that if he was me. 

But if someone felt hurt by him, Jesus would offer empathy, grace, and compassion.

So I did that, but I also told you what I was feeling.

Kristi
Well, I appreciated that.

It was helpful for me that you told me what you were feeling.

I appreciated that you shared with me because I feel like I should know that you live with that kind of judgment in your head.

You live under your own perfectionism and criticism and pressure, but sometimes I forget that.

Your reminding me of that was helpful for me in having empathy for you.

When Excellence Morphs to Perfectionism

Bill
Yeah. I appreciate that.

 Your graciousness is very helpful because that’s what I have difficulty offering to myself.

I mean, even now we’re sharing with all of you who are listening.

We’re doing that because time and again, we hear from you how helpful it is.

Because Kristi and I worked this out before, we’re talking with you.

So I feel like I don’t have anything to hide here. The emperor has no clothes, right?

I mean, anybody that knows me knows that I’m a perfectionist.

Yet, it’s almost like fingernails on a chalkboard to hear myself say that. 

I have said to people, “Well, if I call myself a perfectionist that’s okay, but please don’t call me a perfectionist — that hurts me.”

We’re writing a book on emotions and personality in the enneagram model with the nine types, and the common names that are given to the nine numbers for the personality types.

The perfectionist is the only one that’s clearly a negative label.

So in our book, we’re not going to use that label.

Obviously, we enneagram ones — who are reformers — the thing that we struggle with is perfectionism.

Other types struggle with perfectionism as well.

Sixes and sevens have a line to the one, and you might have a one wing if you’re a nine or two.

Kristi
Most of us, at least, have pockets of perfectionism in an area where there’s things we’re perfectionistic about.

It’s driving for excellence and then becoming perfectionistic.

Sometimes there’s a line we cross over there that gets blurry and we don’t even realize we’ve crossed over.

It’s a tricky thing to let go of perfectionism when you’re wanting to strive for excellence

Bill
Excellence is one of our core values in Soul Shepherding.

Maybe you haven’t heard us say this, but we have four core values in Soul Shepherding.

The first one is intimacy with Jesus.

Intimacy with Jesus, empathy, authenticity, and excellence.

What you’re just talking about there is that there’s a fine line between excellence and perfectionism, and perfectionism is not helpful.

It’s not a good place to be when you’re a perfectionist, and it’s not a good place for people in relationship with you.

It’s not the best way to do work, or to collaborate with people, or for an organization.

We would not want Soul Shepherding to be perfectionistic.

Kristi
It’s a heavy yoke.

We talk about living in Jesus’ easy yoke, yoked to him.

Perfectionism is a heavy yoke because it’s straining like it’s all on us.

Bill
Yes. 

Perfectionism is a symptom of an anxiety problem of internalized stress, worry, and potentially even in an anxiety disorder.

Although most cases of perfectionism are not necessarily a mental health disorder.

But excellence is Godly, and Jesus was excellent in everything he did.

So we want to bring excellence.

We certainly seek to do that in these podcasts, our content, teaching, trainings, and the spiritual direction and coaching ministry that we and our staff offer.

It’s very important to us to give our best work.

Learning to Receive Feedback

Kristi
So let’s go back to this conflict we had, Bill.

I was listening to a podcast with a couple of psychologists who were talking about the research that’s been done.

Their experience also validates this. 

When they’re working with couples in marriage counseling, they find that they will be able to confront an individual in the couple about their issue.

They’ll be able to talk to the person about their issue, and the person will be able to see it and own it.

Then the spouse gets dumbfounded because they’re like, “I’ve said those same things. I’ve said that exact same thing that you just said to him or to her. And they blamed, they deflected, they got angry, they got defensive.”

The research shows we are better able to respond and own that feedback coming from a counselor then we are coming from our spouse.

Yet, you have learned to be able to respond to my feedback like you did this morning by hearing it, not responding defensively, not going into blame, and taking ownership.

What’s helped you to do that?

How have you been able to make that transition, such that you could humble yourself, really hear what I’m saying, and really see there’s truth in that that I need to own as my part?

Bill
Well, one way is you’ve done that many times with me.

You’ve modeled that, and I’ve appreciated that.

I have had people in my life who have done that.

There have been times that my parents have done that for me.

I’ve had mentors in my life that have done that for me.

So I’ve seen the power of that. 

I’ve certainly seen examples of that in the scripture — many examples of the importance of speaking the truth in love.

A wise person accepts correction and feedback. In Hebrews, enduring hardship is discipline.

I know that’s the path of wisdom to become that kind of a person. 

So I’ve done soul training around that.

I’ve done spiritual disciplines and soul care practices to become someone more like that.

More specifically, I would say learning to receive empathy and give empathy, learning how to apologize, and to express sadness without going into shame.

That’s the problem with perfectionism.

Underneath perfectionism is guilt and shame.

These are just the most damaging emotional attitudes, self-talk, self-relationship patterns, and other person relationship patterns.

Guilt and shame don’t help anybody.

Godly sorrow is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7 is helpful, as opposed to guilt and shame — so Godly sorrow, sadness, conviction.

Certainly we need to have a prick in our conscience and to realize, “Okay, I’ve done something unloving before, or I’ve had an attitude or a relational style that’s been unloving,” and to confess that to the Lord and to the person that we’ve hurt.

It actually helps us to do that if we don’t go into shame and self-condemnation.

So that’s what I was doing as I was praying quietly — regathering myself, staying out of, or getting out of, shame.

Then to be able to just realize, well, of course you feel that way.

And validate your feelings, apologize and listen to you, and offer support for your experience.

Validate that you have needs for grace, and for pleasant conversation with your husband, and to not hear negative comments like that.

I mean, because it’s different. 

If there is one thing we teach in our Soul Shepherding Institute, it is the difference between unhealthy and healthy complaining.

Kristi
Yes. It’s not that I couldn’t ever hear that feedback or that you’re struggling with those things.

If you told me you were struggling, asked me to listen, and said you were struggling with a lot of perfectionism, or a lot of negative feelings, or you’re feeling irritated — if you come to me, asking me directly —  I probably would’ve been in a better place.

I would have been able to be prepared to give you grace for it.

Bill
Yeah. 

So if I would’ve said, “I’m stressed because one of these wires got unplugged from our digital recorder, and that might mess up the podcast and I’m not sure where to put it. I hate reading manuals trying to figure it out.”

If I would’ve just shared my emotions with you, of course you would have responded with empathy. 

But I just made a negative complaint with a frustrated voice, and it was in a series of other things I had said earlier this morning.

Kristi

Well, both of us were in places where we were hurting.

We were struggling in our souls, and we both needed some care and some connection.

I think that’s the other thing — that realizing and owning the state of our soul and being able to talk about it — helps us.

Seeing Beyond the Obvious Problem

Bill
Yeah. And we did that.

We went back and forth, but that’s so often the case, isn’t it Kristi, when there’s conflicts.

Certainly, as we look at our relationship, or other relationships that we’ve been in where there’s been conflicts, or coaching people over the years in the past when we were doing regular therapy appointments with people, we’ve seen many examples of this where there’s conflict.

There’s been some anger, some remarks that are made and the ability to step back and stop being reactive about that is something that we need to learn.

The ability to receive and give empathy is something we need to learn.

We need to practice.

Just realizing that so often the problem is not what seems to be the problem.

My critical comment and stress reaction about the podcast equipment was sort of a flash point in that, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind that were the earlier negative comments that I’d made this morning.

And behind that was your stress this morning from things being built up unrelated to my comments.

In addition to the workload that we have to catch up on Monday after an Institute retreat, we have our family.  

There’s some significant needs in our family right now, health crises, and people that we want to care for, but all that takes time and energy. 

So we feel that. That’s sort of the background.

Kristi
Yeah. And I think it would be easy to just react and blame.

To either say, “It’s all your fault,” or I take over responsibility and then I feel like I need to fix it all.

Neither of those are a good place for me or for us.

Bill
Yeah. The common mistake in these situations, when you’re having conflict with somebody, is to try to fix the trigger.

Make sure that we don’t have this problem with the podcast equipment again.

Or figure out some solution so our cat doesn’t get on the counter — whatever the case is —  and that’s really minimally helpful.

Because it’s not the real problem. 

The real problem is in the relational dynamics, or repressed emotional pain, or stress that’s been going on.

Kristi
One of the things that helped me to stay out of that reaction that I go to of needing to fix the problem is that I knew in these cases, I couldn’t fix it.

I’ve tried everything. I can’t do it.

So in that sense, I was at the end of knowing I could fix it.

Whereas before I probably would’ve just gone to compulsively trying to fix it, wanting to please you.

I knew I couldn’t fix these. 

So I had to just tell you how I was feeling about it.

You humbled yourself, you heard me, and you heard my heart.

I appreciated that.

Bill
Yeah. Well, thankfully the Lord helped me do that. 

And you’re welcome. That’s important.

I want to be somebody that repairs.

Receiving Jesus’ Compassion

Kristi
So what helped you to be able to own this, but not go to shame, not turn on yourself?

I think you were able to even have some empathy for yourself in this as you had empathy for me, and how I felt about what I had experienced from you this morning.

You made the comment, “Yeah, I know how it feels to live with me when I’m like this. Because I live with me. This is affecting me too. This is on the inside of me, too.”

It’s not just coming out in your experience. 

But you said it in a way that wasn’t feeling shame or self-hatred.

You said it in a way that was having sympathy for yourself in that.

Bill
In psychological research, this is called self-compassion.

That’s been studied and is a very important trait to develop.

The way I understand self-compassion is agreeing with Jesus’ compassion for me.

It’s not totally a self-help project. It’s my participation.

The self-part is I’m responding to the Lord’s compassion for me, putting my trust in that, and agreeing with that.

But that part of joining in with that self-compassion part of it is essential.

So that’s what I was doing when I was quietly praying.

The Lord helped me just to slot back into my better self.

The sermon on Sunday was about God’s grace being made perfect through our weakness, from 2 Corinthians 12.

Paul is teaching there that God’s grace has been made perfect through our weakness.

So I was able to live into that.

I know that that’s true.

I’ve experienced that and I’ve studied that. I’ve practiced that.

I think that having some of that previous training, of different times of retreat like we do in our Soul Shepherding Institute every day, of five hours of TLC time.

TLC stands for To Love Christ.

We have a free space there for scripture meditation, taking a walk, taking a nap, or having a soul talk with somebody.

Having that rhythm in my life where I do that kind of thing — I actually meditate on scripture,  and memorize scriptures.

Then I meditate on them, and I go outside almost every day for an hour or two and walk and run and pray.

Speaking Grace to Perfectionists

Kristi
Which you didn’t get to do today, which probably also made it hard.

Bill
Well, actually I did, I was up early.  

For 30 minutes I did, but it was a shorter spot.

I wasn’t thinking about all that stuff — but those things are in my body and are in my character.

Fortunately, there isn’t only perfectionism in my character.

Yes. There’s less of that than there was in the past. 

There’s more and more of God’s grace and trusting the Lord’s grace. 

I was able to recalibrate in that.

It helped that you weren’t angry at me, being hard on me, and judging me.

You were speaking with a gentle voice and just describing for me what your experience was like.

Even that way, it still taps into my critic.

Yes. That’s the thing about perfection is that it’s pretty relentless. It’s pretty ruthless.

If you’re not a perfectionist, but you live with someone who is, it’s good to try to really understand what that’s like.

Because the communication needs to go both ways.

When you’re living with a perfectionist, you need to be able to talk about what that feels like for you and how that beats you down or discourages you.

But also try to help your spouse, your friend, your family member, your coworker, to put words to what that feels like for them and to give them empathy for that.

As you say, Kristi, a lot of us have a pocket of perfectionism.

Be aware that even though maybe you’re not a perfectionist generally in your personality, there’s probably some area where you kind of are.

Kristi
Yeah. 

I think one of the things that you haven’t directly named, but I think you’re talking about, and I’ve observed, is that you have done a lot of work on receiving God’s grace for yourself.

I think that’s part of why you were able to stay out of shame and not get taken over by that.

It’s also part of why you were able to just humble yourself to see you’re under a lot of temptation and onslaught.

This is hard for you. 

To own that, but to be able to receive God’s grace for you in it today.

Bill
I have studied God’s grace immensely.

It’s why I wrote Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke because one of the chapters is on perfectionism.

I wanted to lean into the Lord’s compassion, mercy, grace and unconditional love even more.

I want my personality to be rooted and based in that.

I’ve read every one of Brennan Manning’s books, they’re all on God’s grace. 

There’s like 13 or 14 of them and I’ve read them and reread them.

That’s why you and I quote Brennan Manning so often.

He’s just very articulate and compassionate in his ministry of God’s grace and unconditional love to all people.

Kristi
Yeah. 

Well, I appreciate that you received God’s grace today because you received it.

You agreed with God’s grace for yourself, and you agreed with God’s grace that I was able to give you.

So, thank you for that, because that’s such a better way than if you had reacted with anger and judgment or shame.

Bill
Yeah. 

Well, just winding up this conversation, I would say the last thing that’s helpful to me that I mentioned earlier — just to make sure we really bring it home — is just being in intentional relationships with a spiritual director, or coach, or counselor, and a soul friend.

To just really be honest.

Be authentic, be vulnerable, share your struggles, your shortcomings, your emotions, and your needs with someone who gives you grace.

That’s why we’ve trained spiritual directors and coaches at Soul Shepherding.

That’s why we make them available to meet with you.

Right now, you could go on Soul Shepherding’s website and find a gentle, gracious, very wise, godly, prayerful spiritual director or coach that you could talk with about anything in your life.

Kristi
You click on the Individual’s tab, and then in the dropdown, you click on Spiritual Direction

You’ll see a list of our Senior Spiritual Directors, and then you can read about them. 

You can click to learn more, and you can click to schedule if you find when you want to schedule it.

Bill
That’s soulshepherding.org

There’s also a page for coaches, or you could just Google Soul Shepherding, Spiritual Direction, Soul Shepherding Coaches.

We just recently got a thank you letter from one of our participants.

She was saying how much it has helped her. She says, “I’ve had many spiritual direction sessions in my life from various sources and organizations. The sessions with Soul Shepherding had been most healing because I feel safe enough to relax and bear my heart. I was rather messy in grief from church stuff, but I felt I could be present in my sessions without shying away from what I had been experiencing that made a difference. This approach is where my heart gravitates. I am so deeply grateful.”

This is a church leader and chaplain. 

Now she is earning a certificate to become a spiritual director for other people because she’s so appreciated that ministry.

That’s available for you friends.

We really want you to have the care that you need because it’s so important in our discipleship to Jesus and all our relationships, ministry, and leadership that we are flowing in God’s mercy and compassion.

We can receive feedback from someone that can speak the truth in love to us to help us be healthier and more loving.

Kristi
So, Jesus, thank you.

Thank you for your grace. Thank you for your mercies that are new every morning.

Thank you, Lord, for your easy yoke.

That you don’t put on us heavy loads and perfectionistic expectations.

That you have mercy and grace and empathy for us when we struggle with things that are so far from how we want them to be.

And when we struggle with our own soul not being where we want it to be, not being able to be in total union and fullness of you, and your Spirit, at all times.

So, we thank you that you’re growing us more and more in that.

And we ask, Lord, that you would continue the good work that you have begun in us.

Help us to assist each other in that too, by your Spirit. 

In Jesus name. Amen.

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