“Self-critical depression is characterised by self-criticism and feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, failure, and guilt.”
—Sidney J. Blatt, The Destructiveness of Perfectionism
Most of us make life harder for ourselves than it needs to be, but there are some of us who are driven impossibly hard to attain standards so unrealistic that depression seems a sure outcome.
Depression and suicide seem made for the perfectionist. This is sad to say, but it’s true. It is such an important subject—perfectionist tendencies—because of the risks to mental, emotional, and spiritual health—that each of us could benefit a lot from debunking more and more of the perfectionist within us.
Two Basic Types of Depression
We have already discussed the first type of depression—that which is achievement-oriented. The second type is dependent depression—dependent on relationships. Instead of unworthiness, inferiority, failure, and guilt, those with dependent depression tend to be characterised by feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and weakness.
The dependent depression is usually quite situational; when we experience loss, for instance.
But the achievement-oriented source of depression may be more woven into our identities. It is ironical that the perfectionist in us lacks self-esteem.
Seeing Our Inborn Worth
The God view, of course, is equalising. Nobody ought to see themselves as no lower (nor higher) than the next person. When we challenge our perfectionist tendencies, seeing how our striving is a response to feelings of low self-worth, we can go to God and appreciate how worthy we are in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is great in that it brings the extremes back into the middle; all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, but that is not the end of the matter. Because of what was achieved on the cross, theologically at least, we have been created equal. Because of the resurrection, we have been lifted out of our lowliness.
Each of us is similarly and implicitly worthy, neither superior nor inferior to the next person, and equally capable of failure and guilt, with equal capacity to overcome these negatives.
Perfectionism can predispose us to depression, as we become slaves to meeting unattainable standards.
It is much healthier for us to deal with the reasons of perfectionist tendencies; why we might feel unworthy, inferior, or be overcome with feelings of failure or guilt.
When we view ourselves as God sees us—as worthy in his sight, as good as the next person, and able to deal effectively with failure and guilt—we know we are blessed. When we see ourselves as God sees us, we quickly challenge any perfectionist tendencies. To see ourselves as beautiful but broken persons is great insight to have.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.