Toxic Perfectionism

Evidently some mormon women suffer from toxic perfectionism. So on top of being the angel in the home, they are trying to be too perfect; keep a spotless home, cook a scrumptious, frugal, healthy meal, raise perfectly coiffed children.

It’s not only mormon women who suffer from unrealistic expectations (of course) – Jerry Hall quipped:

My mother said it was simple to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. I said I’d hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit”

Perfectionism is something I’m familiar with. Honestly, when I remember what being a mormon teen was like, I remember feeling like I couldn’t measure up – no matter what I did. Near the end I became discouraged, if I couldn’t measure up – why bother? I wasn’t reading the scriptures enough, I didn’t have perfect early-morning seminary attendance – I fought with my parents and siblings. I was also guilty of sins of omission (does anyone outside mormonism know what those are?) – I wasn’t charitable, I wasn’t kind, I didn’t go out of my way to help poor destitute widows, etc.

So forgive me for being skeptical of this anti-perfectionist movement. Is being a perfectionist an issue for many LDS? Yes. Should that responsibility be fully placed at the individual members’ door? Is it their fault for taking what they hear each Sunday literally?

Heavenly Father is judgmental. This is a major criticism of mormonism from mainstream Christianity. No longer is grace important. Each of us needs to follow certain steps to get to Heaven. You have to physically be baptized, with a prayer said precisely, by a man of a certain age who meets certain worthiness requirements. And that’s just baptism. Everything has to be said just so (I remember the sacrament prayer being repeated four or five times by a stumbling teenager – had to be perfect).

I think of my grandfather who refused to miss church – despite being released from the hospital a few days before. He also fainted doing temple work. I can’t explain why he felt like he had to be at church no matter what. Why he had to serve at the temple despite having health problems – I can’t say. That’s certainly not a message heard from the pulpit. But many quotes can be interpreted that way.

So there’s a measurement stick, and you’re always found wanting (h/t runtu). Even if you follow all the rules; have you been doing your genealogy? journaling? Your home/visiting teaching? Family scripture study? In some other faiths, the idea is that only Christ was perfect. The rest of us have to do the best we can – which includes making mistakes. The journey is what matters, what is in one’s “heart” is what matters; not how accurate certain prayers are said. Not if we had the occasional latte or played with face cards.

I think it’s good that perfectionism and scrupulosity are being acknowledged in mormon culture. But the cultural/doctrinal part of the equation (at least for LDS) cannot be ignored. The need for perfectionism doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

5 thoughts on “Toxic Perfectionism

  1. I am very much a perfectionist and a lot of it has to do with Mormon teachings, which stressed me out to no end. But, funnily enough, in my family the perfectionist was my father, not my mother, and I think this was a trait that preceded his conversion.

    Do you think there is also a possibility that Mormonism attracts perfectionists? Is that something you’ve seen?

  2. When Joseph Smith transferred the Sermon on the Mount to the Book of Mormon, he eliminated the reference to love in the context of “be ye therefore perfect.”

    In Matthew, only our love needs to be perfect, which is difficult enough. In Mormonism, we need to be perfect PERIOD, which creates an entirely different gospel with a whole slew of pathologies, I am afraid.

  3. Postmormongirl, I don’t think that Mormonism attracts perfectionists. Although, there is a subgroup of converts who a zealots and who are inflexible and who will invoke perfectionism as well as correlation to assert their will. But that is different from perfectionism.

  4. @1 – I don’t know if mormonism attracts perfectionists. I think it’s incredibly common in american culture. There is a lot of competition to get the best grades, to get into the best college/university. There’s also an element of control/perfectionism – thinking that life is an equation – if you do certain things – you’ll get a certain outcome.

    Mormonism does promise that, in a way. Salvation is a matter of doing certain things to get back to heaven. There’s nothing left to chance, if you do what you’re supposed to.

    With that said, I think there’s a mixture within mormonism. For all the mormons that may be perfectionists, there are also those who are laid back and easy-going.

    @2 – Hellmut thanks for the quote. I didn’t remember that from the translation. If a person is focused on being perfect, it leaves a lot less time to focus on anything else in one’s life.

  5. Never being able to measure up to the perfection standard has a latent purpose, too: keeping people too busy to think. When you don’t have time to realize how detrimental the religion is to your life, then you obviously don’t realize how detrimental it is to your life. Keep them busy and they won’t stop to question the leadership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *