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My Journey Away from Perfectionism

February 25, AD2017

As a young girl, I would make sure that all my toys and games were in the right order. In high school, I tried very hard to make sure my school work was as perfect as can be. This need to be perfect has even continued into my young adult years. Now that I am in college, my perfectionism has driven me to make good grades and maintain a healthy social life.

Unfortunately, my perfectionism has also caused some difficult times in my spiritual life. At age 14, I experienced a powerful conversion that led me deeper into the Catholic faith. Being that I am a perfectionist, though, this conversion also led me to experience a phenomenon known as scrupulosity.

What is Scrupulosity?

Scrupulosity is a very real struggle that many people deal with on a daily basis. Those who battle scrupulous thoughts tend to be very fearful acting immorally or unethically. Scrupulosity includes an anxious state of mind, in which the worrier is overly concerned about committing sin, even when there is no guilt involved. Usually, it occurs after experiencing a deep conversion or a profound realization of evil. Scrupulosity can lead to a deep fear of offending God, even in the smallest of ways. 

In my own struggle with scrupulosity, I would worry heavily about being guilty of a particular sin. One of the sins I would especially become anxious over was lying. I would double-check things I said to make sure it was not an “untruth”. I experienced some anxiety due to these very unhealthy thoughts. I was a bit too hard on myself. Eventually, I came to the realization that I needed a change in my life.   

Sin Does Not Define Us

During the times I would struggle with scrupulosity, I failed to realize that faith in Jesus Christ is supposed to be freeing. I falsely believed that I needed to be perfect in order to come to God. I let myself think that, if I tried hard enough to act morally right, God would love me. I neglected to consider that God loves us despite our sinfulness. I thought that God would only love me if all my actions lived up to my false perception of perfection. What I failed to remember is that God’s love for us is not dependent on our actions.

Pope Saint John Paul II has said that “[we] are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures: We are the sum of the father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” I love this quote because it reminds me that we are not defined by the sins we have committed in our past or those which we will commit in our future. We are the children of God whom He has saved through the death of His Son, and, through faith in Him, we have the ability to mirror the Father’s love in all that we think, say, and do.

A New Perspective

It took me a while, but I eventually realized that it is impossible to be perfect. In fact, I realized something quite profound: we are perfected in our imperfections. I can remember one time I was praying about this, and I told God: “Why would you love someone like me? I’m such a horrible sinner!”. I can remember hearing God’s voice in my heart whisper back: “Alaine, I would not love you because you are perfect. It is because you are imperfect that I love you”. This experience changed my perspective on faith.

Ever since then, I have been seeing my faith in God with a new mindset. No longer do I try to be this perfect person. I now recognize my sinfulness. I go to the Sacraments regularly, knowing that God loves me despite my brokenness. I strive to follow Him by listening to His voice in prayer. Although I experience anxious thoughts on occasion, I now know how to overcome them and to direct my thoughts to a positive outcome. I try to remind myself that I deal with perfectionism for a reason. I know that God wants me to use this aspect of myself for His glory.

A verse in Sacred Scripture that has reminded me to trust in God despite these anxious thoughts has been Proverbs 3:5-6. It tells me to [t]rust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”.

This verse gives me the courage to rely on God, even when it is hard to trust in Him. I believe that God brought me through a difficult time in order to learn something about His mercy. My hope is that I will be able to share the wisdom I gained from this experience with everyone I meet.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Alaine is an undergraduate student at DeSales University. She is pursuing a degree in Theology with minors in both Ethical Leadership and Professional Communication. Currently, she is studying abroad in the Eternal City for a semester. She hopes that her writing will inspire readers to gain a new perspective on the Catholic faith.

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  • Thank you for this article Alaine. I too suffer from scrupulosity which can make reception of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation difficult for me. God bless you and keep up the great work! God bless. Mike

  • ericdijon

    I wish I was handed a copy of your witness 52 years ago. I bounced between mediocrity and scrupulosity until, over time, I managed to piece together for myself much of what you wrote here in about 800 or so words. You are so right – realizing that our God-given gifts are for his glory makes all the difference in the world in one’s perspective about self.

  • russ

    Great article! Happy to see young Catholics energized about their faith!