(Prefer to read rather than listen? Download the transcript right here!)
What do you do when someone’s perfectionism is driving you around the bend? When the relationship is about to end? Valuing perfection over people shatters relationships. Join Amy and me as we tease out practical solutions for being on both the giving and receiving end of relationship-eroding perfection.
(This page contains affiliate links. Your clicks and purchases help support Grit 'n' Grace at no extra charge to you.)
- Michele’s book, Undone: a Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life
- Michele’s book, I Am: a 60-Day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is
- Cheri’s blog post “Why ‘Good Enough” Has Been a Hard Lesson to Learn“
- Amy’s blog post “Grace for Where We’re Placed“
- “Curious Questions to Ask to Keep Perfectionism from Taking Control” — a FREE download with full-page, 1/2-page, and 1/4-page printing options!
- Episode #11 Transcript
Transcript — scroll to read here (or download above)
Grit ‘n’ Grace: Good Girls Breaking Bad Rules
Episode #11: How to Deal with a Difficult Person … Even When It’s You
I’ll tell you one thing I think we’ve found as we’re doing this, is as we say out loud some
of the things that go through our head as perfectionists, we have to laugh. It’s either
that or we have to start sobbing.
It’s true, it’s true. I keep wondering when people will go, “These girls are completely
crazy,” and just tune us out. I don’t know.
Hey, this is Cheri Gregory, and you’re listening to Grit ‘n’ Grace: Good Girls
Breaking Bad Rules.
This week, my de-LIGHT-full cohost, Amy Carroll and I are discussing the “ah-HA!”
moments we had after last week’s discussion with Michele Cushatt about
“Overcoming Error Terror.”
I kick off the conversation with an epiphany about why both by husband and I
brought so much perfectionism to our marriage almost twenty-eight years ago.
This is going to be a 2 part “ah-HA”.
Go for it.
Most of mine are one “ah-HA”, but this was an “ah-HA” that was then followed by
another “ah-HA”. Well I was mulling over this whole concept of good enough, because
we’ve recorded one podcast together that we’re going to have to re-record. We did it
fairly late at night for you, and when I listened to it, the number one thing I kept telling
myself —because I put a couple of hours into editing into it trying to make it good
enough and make it …
I’m so sorry.
No no, it’s not your fault. We both were flat. There’s no question that we just were both
tired, and I kept telling myself, “Well, it’s not that bad. It’s not that bad.” Then I listened
to some other podcasts where we were high energy and we were laughing and giggling
and having a really obviously good time, and I suddenly realized, Hang on a second. I
think I may finally understand the concept of ‘Good Enough’, because I realized no
matter how many times I say it’s not that bad, it’s really not something we want to put
on air, especially compared to some of the others that we’ve done. I was disappointed
initially. I was like, “Oh bummer, it’s going to be more work.” Don’t take that part
personally. It was not “I have to spend more time talking with Amy.” That was not the
message at all.
But I did get really excited to go, Hang on a second, I get it, I get what Good Enough
means, because this isn’t Good Enough.
Then, I decided to try to draw this concept because I wanted to put it on Facebook,
because I felt like I had this amazing discovery. There’s perfection at the top , then
there’s this whole span known as good enough, and then the bottom limit for good
enough is “Well it’s not that bad.” For me, that was really exciting.
Then I tried to draw it, and I was like how big is the span of Good Enough? I realized that
that span is going to be different in different situations. If I’m loading a dishwasher,
there are multiple ways to load a dishwasher effectively so that the dishes get clean.
But when my dad had quadruple bypass surgery, I really, really wanted that surgeon, I
wanted his good enough to be as close to perfect as was humanly possible … Forget
I really wanted that band of Good Enough to be very, very narrow and right up there
with perfect. When I was thinking about the surgery thing, it suddenly hit me. Daniel
and I both come from medical families. Not only do we come from medical
backgrounds, but I spent three summers in college as a transcriptionist for a law firm. It
was a medical malpractice law firm. Every single summer for three months, I was
listening to depositions: In every single case, one mistake led to a death or horrible
disability. We basically were set up from our childhood backgrounds, and then I
immersed myself because of this job, into a mentality that says “Failure is fatal.”
We have lived our lives not realizing that, to us, Good Enough and Perfect were pretty
much identical, because of course. From that medical mindset … But there’s so much of
life where that’s not true.
That is so interesting.
I’m not trying to place blame on anybody here, but for me it was like, Oh, so that’s one
place that kind of came from. It makes sense when I look back on it. I didn’t have the
ability to say to myself “Oh, okay, this is true in this area. This is true in a medical
situation,” but when it comes to an everyday ordinary life situation like loading the
dishwasher or the hundreds of things we do each day where the good enough span is
really quite large and we can relax. I took that rule and applied it to pretty much
Now the question I’m trying to ask myself in each situation where I feel myself trying to
push for good enough being perfect, I’m trying to ask myself, “Hang on a second, is this
a life and death situation where the span for good enough is really, really narrow? Or
might this be a situation that really has a very large margin of error? Or where it’s okay
to have lots of possible good enoughs.”
That is fantastic, to be able to make a distinction that not everything is important. Even
as I say that, I think about the exhaustion that comes with perfectionism, because in
perfectionism Every. Single. Thing. Matters.
And that’s just really not true. Fantastic, I love that insight.
Yeah, and it gives me insight into why others would say to me, “Chill out, take a chill pill,
it’s not that big a deal.” They were doing the best they could, and it wasn’t sinking into
me because I had this pre-programmed mindset — the hyper-vigilance that comes with
feeling like everything matters.
Well, and I think about how that mindset of thinking that failure is fatal is so damaging
to our relationships. Again, circling back around to that … A family member this
weekend was sharing about a VBS experience with a perfectionist. They just wanted to
kill her by the end of the week.
She had this thing in her mind about how to do the decorations. Did it really matter how
it was done? No, but she spent 2 hours doing something and driving everyone else to do
something that should have taken 15 minutes. Nobody wants to spend time with that
person. Go figure. I’ve been that person.
I’m just sympathizing with that person. I wish I could go there and put my arm around
her and say, “Come over here for a while.”
Yes, I know. Until she sees it about herself, she can’t change. That’s the devastating
That is the hard part. I kind of feel like, having been there and done that and knowing
what that feels like, because I’m listening to you tell that story and I feel bad for
everybody involved. I understand where the woman is coming from. I understand where
everybody else is coming from. Boy, how to say to the perfectionist in this scenario, “It’s
not your fault. You didn’t ask to be this way … but it is our responsibility to pay attention
to start seeing these patterns in ourselves.”
I’ve been reading a lot of Henry Cloud’s stuff lately, and he has this great distinction
between a problem and a pattern. He says that a problem is something that, once you
address it, it gets resolved. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not right away, but it’s going to
resolve. A pattern is something that when you treat it like a problem, it just keeps
recurring. I read his material specifically because I wanted to identify a pattern in
somebody else. But all his material is very focused to recognizing the patterns in our
I know. But to recognize, like you said earlier, the common denominator in all of these failed
friendships was yourself. I think that’s one of the hardest things as a perfectionist — I
got really caught up in this sense of injustice, because here I care so much, I try so hard,
and nobody appreciates it all.
Oh, the martyr.
So, I have a question for you. What do you think that my relative could have done in his
interaction with this perfectionist? Or, to put it more personally, what could your
friends who backed away instead of staying engaged, what could they have done in
their relationship with you that would have helped you? That would have been gentle
and kind and helped you rather than confrontation. Confrontation doesn’t usually help a
pattern or a problem. What do you think?
That’s hard. That’s hard because, as Michelle pointed out, she misdiagnoses things as
failure that aren’t actually failure. If somebody seems disappointed, that’s a failure. If
somebody’s upset, that’s a failure. This is where I think perfectionists, we end up with
people telling us later, “We have to walk on eggshells around you. We can’t say
anything. You won’t hear anything.”
I think in the situation, it’s hard … because you say something, it’s going to go wrong.
You don’t say something, it’s going to go wrong.
I think asking questions is always safer than making statements.
(“Why can’t you take a chill pill?” is not the example of a question I would suggest.)
• Why does this matter so much to you?
• Why is this so important?
• This seems to be a really big deal — can you help me understand it?
• Can you share with me your perspective?
• Can you let me into your thinking?
That idea of asking a question is excellent. That is actually one of my husband’s fortes. I
remember years ago, I had been estranged from my childhood best friend, Josie. We
had gotten back into contact and I was kind of in a snit, to be honest. I was verbalizing
all of this to Barry when we hung up and I said, “I don’t know why she has to go back
and talk about all this stuff. I wish we could just let that be water under the bridge and
we could just move forward.” It was some decisions she had made that I really struggled
with. I would just rather have not talked about them at all, but she wanted to explain
My husband looked at me and he said, “What do you think about how God feels about
Josie?” It stopped me in my tracks. The question made me realize that my reaction to
her was completely inappropriate. It made me see myself as that older brother in the
prodigal son story, standing with my hands on my hips because Josie had wandered for
a time. She’s now come back to the Lord, but I just didn’t want to hear it. I just didn’t
want to hear it. I thought, wow, I am the older brother. My sister, my friend, my best
friend from my childhood had wandered away, and instead of being glad she came back
and that she wanted to tell me her story about how God had restored her, I wanted to
push that away.
That simple question, so gently, so sweetly said, stopped me in my tracks.
So I think you’ve got something there.
I think you’ve got something there. “What do you think God things about …”
So, if I’m thinking about this woman who’s driving us all crazy with the decorations …
I’m trying to just imagine walking through it … to pull them aside to a separate room,
maybe, and to say “I’m concerned” or “I see this seems really important to you” or “I
feel like maybe you’re frustrated that we’re not supporting you enough,” or whatever it
Then here, I think, is the interesting thing, because to see a person the way God sees
them doesn’t mean we have to buy into what they’re seeing.
It means we can treat them with compassion. We can reach out to them and engage
with them And I think that’s why I shut down; that’s why I tend to withdraw. If I reach
out at all, I then have to agree with them. I then have to do what they want.
That’s not necessarily true.
So to pull a person aside, to express the concern, to empathize … But then I could say,
“It seems to me that what you want is this. I don’t think I could do that, but I could do
this.” Maybe to offer a compromise. “How do you feel about that? What do you think
Because what they need is they need to be seen. They need to be heard. They need to
be valued, because that’s what Christ would do.
I think if someone had treated me like that when I was behaving badly, that it would
have stopped me in my tracks. That concern, that care, that love instead of
confrontation would have given me a glimpse into how that other person was seeing
If somebody had been able to gently ask me or get me to re-evaluate why this thing that
I was all frenzied about mattered so very, very much, I might have been able to exhale
and go, “Oh, it’s not that big a deal.”
I didn’t have the ability to discern big deals from not big deals. So, if they didn’t care
about what was important to me, I would have then interpreted that as they didn’t care
But if they could’ve demonstrated care for me while making it clear that maybe this
didn’t have to happen quite this way, I probably could’ve let go of it.
If I had been that woman who needed to do that decoration, that thing that took 2
hours, the problem would have been that my identity was too wrapped up in that thing.
That was my role. That was my contribution. The decorations were me, and I wouldn’t
have had the ability to separate them.
So, somebody coming in with compassion, and seeing me and hearing me and caring for
me, while at the same time being realistic and saying, “I can’t buy all the way into that
with the decorations, but I’m bought into you. I care about you.”
I think that would have made a really big difference.
Back to this decorating perfectionist. I’m sorry, I’m stuck on her. I want to go rescue her,
poor thing. I feel so bad.
She needs us.
I feel so bad because I know I can …
How can we secretly send her the link to this podcast?
Again, she probably felt like, if things didn’t go the way she had planned, then she would
be a failure and it would be a failure and everything would be a failure.
Of course, people are going to back away, or if they felt like they were forced to
participate, then they’re going to be resentful and prickly. She’s still not going to feel like
it was a success. But she’s not going to know why, because the thing got done.
If there could be the reassurance that even if it didn’t turn out okay, that she would still
be accepted and loved and part of the group and valued … over time … I don’t think this
is a one-time deal, but I think over time of repeated reassurance, without going into
codependence or people pleasing or rescuing, and that’s the hard thing.
This is hard stuff!
It is. It goes back to what Michele said, that was just my blinding “ah-HA!” moment in
that recording, was that she talked about how we have to filter failure through the
sovereignty of God and our own humanity.
That moment when she talked about her illness and how she realized she’s just human,
and I don’t know what just created that reaction in me that I wanted to break down and
put my head on my desk and just sob.
I thought, I’m just human. There’s a release in that, when we let God be God and we just
take our place as who we are.
You know, you may not have come from a medical family like I did or like my husband
did. But maybe you also recognize the bad rule that “Failure is fatal.”
Now, of course, it’s true: Some failures are fatal.
But it’s also true that a lot of failures aren’t fatal. They’re part of being human.
The only perfect being is God. And we’re not Him.
We’re just human.
On the website for this week’s episode, you’ll find a free download of “Compassionate
Questions to Ask to Keep Perfectionism From Taking Control.”
And we’re giving away a set of laminated Bible verse cards.
You’ll find the website at CheriGregory.com — that’s c-h-e-r-i-g-r-e-g-o-r-y.com
We hope you’ve enjoyed Episode #11 of Grit ‘n’ Grace: Good Girls Breaking Bad Rules!
Amy and I will be back next week with another fabulous guest interview. For today,
grow your grit. Embrace God’s grace. And when you run across a bad rule, you know
what to do: by all means, break it!
- What was an “ah-HA!” moment you got from today’s episode?
- What’s a specific topic you’d like us to tackle in a future episode?