“Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery” by Guercino (c.1621) at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (Accession No. DPG282) (PD)

Many abuse victims are tormented by perfectionism.  This is the unrelenting pursuit of perfection.  Perfection and perfectionism are not, however, the same.  One is, in fact, antagonistic to the other.

Perfection as a Standard

Perfection has special significance for abuse victims.  As children, abuse victims come under constant and unjustified criticism.  Harsh criticism may be accompanied by still harsher punishments, penalties far beyond anything a loving parent or guardian might administer for a childish infraction.

With time, victims conclude that perfection alone would satisfy their tormentors.  We strive to achieve that.  In reality, no amount of effort could attain the impossibly high standards set for victims.  But the effort is ingrained in us, as is the self-criticism.  So perfectionism begins.

The Need for Approval

As adults, abuse victims are frequently motivated by a need for approval.  We become “people pleasers”, conditioned “to feel bad about [our]selves and to please, appease, accommodate others” [1A].  Studies show that perfectionists of this type may “exhibit…‘a strong sense of duty, which masks underlying feelings of personal inadequacy’ ” [1B][2].

Dirt and Cleanliness

Sexual abuse can add another layer of torment.  Child victims may be too young to understand what exactly is being done to them, other than that it is a painful violation.  The violation is commonly, however, associated with cleanliness issues.  This is especially true when children are accused of being “filthy sluts”, “dirty whores”, and the like.

Having been made to feel “dirty”, children may rub dirt onto their skin and clothing.  They may soil themselves, even if long since potty-trained.  In the alternative, they may wash unceasingly; may bathe and change clothes several times a day.

As adults, the victims of sexual abuse are likely to have difficulties with sex.  They may view sex as threatening and disgusting; themselves as soiled by it.  Some can feel nothing sexually.  Others treat sex as a commodity.  Far too many throw themselves into frenzied sexual activity, in a desperate search for the love of which they were deprived.

Most abuse victims do not grow up to become prostitutes.  A great number of prostitutes (male and female) were, however, abused as children

Washed in the Blood

Verses can be found throughout the Bible which refer to cleansing [3].   These are not concerned with soap and water, but with sin and repentance.  They convey something of the power of God to forgive whatever wrongs we may have done, and “cleanse” or rid us of the evil done to us.

The Bible’s cleansing verses are not meant to suggest that abuse victims are somehow filthy or defiled.  The child victims of abuse – even sexual abuse – have NOT sinned, sexually or otherwise.  And God, above all others, understands the extent to which their adult actions may have been impacted by the sins inflicted on them as children.

Jesus told the crowd about to stone a woman caught in adultery, “‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first'”(John 8: 7).  Without condemnation, He said to the woman, herself, “‘…go and sin no more'” (John 8: 11).

This is transformative language.  It acknowledges our imperfection, but invites us to the table despite that.

Christians describe the experience as being “washed in the blood”:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness…” (Rom. 3:23-25).

Spiritual Perfection

Where the Bible speaks of “perfection” it refers to spiritual perfection, and the process (“sanctification”) by which God changes our character, in order that we may better reflect Christ:

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5: 48).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete [perfect], thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3: 16-17).

Become complete [perfect].  Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13: 11).

The key to our transformation is love.  Here is how Julie Sheppard Emotional Peace puts it:  “…Jesus loved us as we are.  As I grow in His love His love transforms me.”

To which Michael Clark A Wilderness Voice adds:  “We have changed, not because we have rigidly adopted a new set of religious laws to keep, but because we have found ourselves immersed in His love for us.  God’s ways [become] what we long for.”

While we are encouraged to live virtuous lives, true perfection – perfection in spiritual terms – is not attainable through our own efforts (however high we may set the bar).  Human beings are, by nature, fallible and flawed.

But Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, came to earth to save sinners like us.  Ultimately, it is His perfect righteousness that clothes Christians, not their own [4].

[1A- 1D]  PsychCentral – 360 Degrees of Mindful Living, “4 Types of Perfectionism” by Pavel Somov, PhD, 7/9/11,

[2]  There are other variations on perfectionism.  Narcissistic perfectionists (often the children of narcissists) feel any imperfection reflects badly on them.  Principled perfectionists “strive for moral perfection and demand nothing less of themselves” [1C].  In extreme cases, these individuals can be self-righteous, judgmental, and uncompromising.  Compensatory perfectionists may have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  Individuals with this problem are “ ‘easily distracted…by new information…’ ” [1D].  To compensate, they remain continually on alert, focusing on the smallest detail.

[3]  Typical Bible verses on cleansing include Jer. 33:8 (“I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me…”); Ezek. 36: 25 (“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean…); and Ezek. 36: 33 (“On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt.”).

[4]  This is precisely why self-righteousness on the part of Christians is inappropriate.

With thanks to “Anne” Freedomborn…Aussie Christian Focus, Julie Sheppard, and — last but not least — Michael Clark




Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Prostitution, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

15 responses to “Perfection

  1. Monochrome nightmares

    A very interesting and informative
    read Anna.
    Thank you.


  2. Wow, this is a great post, Anna. We are receiving the same message from God – I’m in the midst writing a post titled, “Becoming Perfect.” I used a lot of the same verses.

    • I am so glad you liked it, Bill! Your opinion means a good deal to me. So many abuse victims wrestle with crippling perfectionism. I look forward to your own article.

  3. Thank you Anna for another important message.

  4. So well said. Who could say more!!! 👍👍👍

  5. Very, very insightful. Thank you.

  6. This is a packed-full post, Anna–great messages throughout. I struggled much with perfectionism during my life–especially regarding my appearance, and in other areas too. Today, it amuses me that I am no longer the perfect housekeeper…and I’ve let go of the need to be physically attractive, as being “stunningly beautiful” didn’t serve me well at all when I was younger. I’m grateful that the process of sanctification is just that–a Process–I don’t beat myself up quite as much as I used to. Growing in Grace is a more restful way to “get there” 🙂 Thank you for being here–your posts are wonderful! God bless you–Z 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.