DEPRESSION, BIPOLAR & ANXIETY - LIVING AS A LATTER-DAY SAINT, LDS

Episode #217 - An Epidemic of Perfectionism

February 26, 2024 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 217
DEPRESSION, BIPOLAR & ANXIETY - LIVING AS A LATTER-DAY SAINT, LDS
Episode #217 - An Epidemic of Perfectionism
Show Notes Transcript

There is a social crisis through out the world and within the church. We are becoming a society of perfectionists. And anxiety and perfectionism are consistent companions.

Episode #217 – An Epidemic of Perfectionism.  I am your host Damon Socha.  I hope that you will find my message today helpful to you.  If you do would you pass it along.  The best way to help others is to help them find hope again.

There is a social crisis throughout the world as we have entered the digital age.  We are becoming a society of perfectionists.  Our access to information, societal trends, athletic and academic achievements and all sorts of perfectionist behavior is causing an epidemic of serious proportions. There exists no area of our lives that it does not touch or affect.  Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect body, perfect home, perfect education, perfect athletic accomplishments are just a beginning.  Even our spiritual havens have been bombarded with the idea that we need the perfect marriage, the perfect relationship, the perfect family, perfect service, perfect spirituality.  We are bombarded by messages that we need to eat better, exercise better, feel better, look better, love better and overcome those mortal failings.  If we don’t then we are failing ourselves.  We see perfection everywhere we look and find ourselves consistently at the door of failure knocking again hoping that this time will be different.  But the door always opens and we find that our consistent effort has only brought exhaustion, guilt and serious levels of anxiety.  

Anxiety and perfectionism are perfect companions.  If you have serious anxiety, you likely have a serious perfectionism problem and yet if you have a serious perfectionism problem you are likely to have anxiety.  It is no wonder we are seeing an epidemic of monumental proportions among the youth, young adults and families.  Youth are seeing anxiety at almost double the rates previously known.  Young adults are seeing a substantial increase and even among the middle aged and older there are signs that a perfectionist way of life is invading our peace and joy.  I don’t think that this is news to anyone who suffers with anxiety or perfectionism.  Perfectionism is one of Lucifer’s oldest tactics and he has employed it since the dawn of man.  The problem we have now is that information is far more available to a host of individuals that have been at times sheltered from its abuses.

There exists nothing wrong with information and sharing that information.  Sharing of information does not necessarily lead to anxiety and the pursuit of a perfectionist lifestyle.  What does lead to anxiety and perfection comparison is a society obsessed with comparison and classes.  Perfectionism requires standards to be set and definitions to be refined.  When those standards are set by individuals who live without God or even a permissive God then perfection becomes glossy, flashy and outward in its appearance.  The Book of Mormon refers to perfectionism as individuals who define life by clothing, buildings, power and worldly treasures.  Perfectionists create classes of perfection and then dare others to compare themselves.  For instance, beauty can be defined in many ways but it tends to be defined by shape of a body, color of hair, skin tone, age and a variety of outward measures.  And yet beauty as defined by the Lord does not seem to take into account these types of outward measures but inward measures of obedience, love, devotion, compassion, and empathy.

Now one thing Lucifer knows about mortals and consistently uses it to his advantage is that we compare.  Our mind is set up to compare.  Our mind naturally compares everything we see, feel, eat, hear and smell.  We are consistently saying that looks like, this smells like, that tastes like.  The world is set up this way.  We naturally compare ourselves to others and to standards set in a variety of ways.  Every culture has a set of standards for behavior, for dress, for what is acceptable behavior and within those cultures we have microcultures where the same standards are redefined for us.  This is especially true within the church culture.  One could consider church a microculture within larger social construct or cultures.  Now there is nothing wrong with standards being set within a culture or within a microculture.  This is how we learn to interact with one another.  They are social rules of the road.  The problem arises when those standards are based on meaningless principles such as height, weight, hair color, body shape and size, money, power positions and so forth.  The greater problem arises when those standards rise to the level of perfection.  So often a perfection standard is impossible for 99.9 percent of people to attain.  However, those who hold up the standard spread it abroad as though everyone can attain it and it is easy to do if you have better tools, better work ethic, better discipline and so forth.  Always better something.  The real problem is that most of those outward measures have little to no value or meaning and the perfection they propagate provides no real happiness or joy.  The only thing they really do is divide individuals into classes or groups.

And yet it is difficult not to by into the rhetoric of the system.  We even have one of those same systems within the church.  I don’t think that we do it purposely at least the majority of us.  And yet we hold standards and expect that everyone will but into them.  We hold a standard of what a perfect family is, what a perfect member is, what a perfect leader is, what a perfect ward is and the list goes on and on.  One of the most destructive things we do as members is create a world of happiness perfection.  If you are living the gospel like you should be then your life should be perfect and you should be happy and joyful.  So if your life isn’t perfectly happy or joyful all the time then well you aren’t living the gospel in the right way.  Now the problem with this happiness perfection is that it takes what is true and morphs it into an impossible view of life and the gospel.  The truth is that if you aren’t living the gospel then you probably have some unhappiness in your life due to your decisions.  That is true.  But what we have done is taken that truth to the extreme and say just the opposite.  If you aren’t happy then you aren’t living the gospel.  That is actually not true in many circumstances, in fact, most circumstances.  You can struggle through a variety of trials and really not be content, at peace or even happy.  At least the definition of happiness that has been created.  We often create a happiness perfection by insinuating or even openly suggesting that we should be happy, at peace and content all the time.  I think that we see our Father in Heaven this way.  He doesn’t have any trials, pains, sufferings or problems so he is happy.  We also suggest it by the manner in which we attend church.  We all attempt to paint the picture that our life is humming along just like it should and we are very happy with our situation, trials, sufferings and personal difficulties.  We see happiness as life without interruptions, trials, problems, sufferings and really without serious concerns.  We see Bountiful as happiness.  Bountiful being the place where Lehi and his family arrived after a long arduous journey.  Bountiful was full of fruits, water and easy living where the trials of days past have long since faded in our minds.

And so we consistently seek Bountiful and like Laman and Lemuel say we will be happy when life gives us grapes and melons rather than raw meat.  And so we end up aspiring to this falsified happiness.  We give into the notion that happiness can only be found once we are married, once we have children, once we are retired, once we become a bishop, once we obtain a career.  The problem with perfectionist happiness is that it never arrives.  And that is because we have defined happiness in a way that is not possible to attain.  Bountiful did not create happiness.  The journey to Bountiful did.

But because our mind is set up to compare our happiness becomes a perfection comparison.  We compare our Bountiful to another’s Bountiful.  We see individuals who appear happy and content outwardly and we make assumptions about their happiness and their perfection that frankly are untrue and often really skewed.  This comparison and the many others that come with living in a social arrangement cause our minds to feel anxious about our lack of happiness or the ways in which we don’t measure up.  When this occurs our mistakes become magnified and we fear that our mistakes will be seen as not measuring up to the perfection status.  We fain happiness because unhappiness means that we aren’t living the gospel.  We aren’t in the path of perfection.  

We see happiness as a destination rather than an emotion that lives with the journey.  Happiness and joy are not found in Bountiful.  Yes a good rest after a long journey feels good but that isn’t true happiness.  True happiness is a spiritual emotion that comes when we are working to live the gospel, working to follow a true path with the Savior.  Happiness is knowing that we are in the path.  We will not be perfect and we are going to be perfected until the next life.  Happiness is actually found in the struggle and working through that struggle with a perfected being who loves and cares for us.

The epidemic we face isn’t really social media, although I admit that social media can feed improper views of happiness as a destination.  It is that perfection and the happiness that come with it are seen as a destination not as part of the journey.  This idea of happiness only coming through perfection causes great anxiety and I admit that I have struggled my entire life to rid myself of this idea.  To see happiness or joy in the journey.  I admit that I certainly have thought in the recent past I will be happier when my illness has abated.  I will be happier when life isn’t so difficult and busy.  I will be happier when.  So often we search for happiness where it can’t be found and then find disillusionment only to turn around and seek the perfection destination somewhere else.  There is no greater happiness to be found then we are trying to live the gospel and working with the Lord.  He is the source of the spiritual happiness we seek.

Now I admit that my issues and struggles with serious anxiety have often left me on the outside of that happiness.  Anxiety seems to disrupt our ability to feel the happiness in the journey.  It robs us of the ability to feel the Lord even when we are struggling to work through our trials.  It makes the trials seem all that more difficult.  Anxiety causes us to see perfection as a destination rather than part of the journey.  We feel a mistake, a misstep and we will be left out of perfection and the happiness that supposedly comes with it.  Anxiety is often the greater problem to our happiness.  And yet our entire society including within the church creates this anxiety to occur.  We are consistently being reminded of the destination of perfection rather than the journey of perfection.  The Lord simply requires us to make covenants and then to say no matter what I will endure.  I am not going to give up.

So often when we see perfection as a destination we run to fast and overreach our capacity to find it.  As if we don’t hurry and catch up it will leave us behind.  Perfectionist are always running to a destination rather than finding joy in the journey.  I know because I have fought this tendency in my own life.  When one has serious anxiety whatever the cause, perfectionism almost always comes with it.  My own personal concerns with anxiety come mostly from genetics, but my perfectionism comes from the anxiety and I fight it everyday of my life.  I admit that I have succeeded in some ways and in others I have not.  But I continue the fight and ultimately that is what matters and where I do find some joy.

So my personal goal has not been to see happiness as a destination or when I am healed, or when I am not in pain, or when I am resurrected.  I have worked to see happiness as part of the process as spiritual communication with the Savior and the Father.  I have worked to find a greater trust in the Savior and for someone with serious anxiety it can be difficult.  But perhaps that is the real journey for me.  Maybe my anxiety is part of the process of finding joy.  Maybe I have been given such a weakness so that I might overcome my fixation with destination and enjoy the journey.

No matter my concerns, I hope with all my heart that my struggling has helped you in some way to better understand your own concerns and work better with your own anxieties and perfectionism.  May the Lord bless you to see joy in the journey.  Until next week.  Do your part and never give up and I promise that the Lord will do his.