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Two Types Of Perfectionists
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- Those familiar with various personality instruments will likely also be familiar with
the Enneagram. Based on the ancient Ennea- ("nine point") gram
("chart"), the Enneagram is often helpful because it not only shows the
predominant temperament, but also shows two temperament "wings" which flank the
predominant personality style.
- Type One: Peace-Maker Perfectionists
- According to the Enneagram, perfectionists can have two basic "wings" to their
temperament. The first wing is that of "Peacemaker".
"Peace-Maker-Perfectionists" tend to be cool, good at the non-anxious presence,
relaxed, objective, and detached. These are the more task-oriented, tough-minded ones that
are generally found in management, science, law enforcement and such professions as
surgeons, bankers, stockbrokers, or other high profile positions requiring a
- If youre Perfectionist with a "Peace-Maker" wing, your "hot
buttons" are violation of procedure, protocols, policy, tradition, perceived
doctrinal deviations, and getting things done right, timely, and efficiently. Order keeps
- Planning keeps things predictableand controlled. For this reason, Peace-Maker
Perfectionists gravitate towardand enjoythe administrative (read
"control") side of ministry. When there is no order, such individuals are not at
peaceand neither is their church!
- Type Two: Helper-Perfectionists
- The second type of perfectionist indicated by the Enneagram is that of the
"Helper-Perfectionist." Helper-Perfectionists are warm, helpfulbut
critical and controllingpeople-oriented perfectionists found in disproportionate
numbers in health-care, education, and religious-humanitarian organizations such as
churches. Typically, they tend to gravitate toward areas that may be quite visible to
others within the church.
- If youre a Helper-Perfectionist, your "hot buttons" may have a longer
fused. Wanting to model and insure a proper "Christian" way of dealing with
people and their feelings, Helper-Perfectionists will go to great lengths to protect
others from being hurt or neglected.
- Not wanting to hurt others, Helper-Perfectionists will sacrificially extend themselves
to levels "where no man has gone before." Indeed, Helper-Perfectionists may even
act in a martyr-like heroic manner to ensure that others are helped, encouraged, and
guarded from danger, ridicule, embarrassment, and failure.
- Helper-Perfectionists believe people should be respected at all costs; when people
arent, the Helper-Perfectionist will rise up and, if
necessaryretaliateto defend and rescue "innocent" victims or
- Some Helper-Perfectionists are protagonists, Others may be antagonists. What unites all
perfectionists is that they act from what they perceive as a higher noble purpose.
- Problems With Helper-Perfectionists
- Helper-Perfectionists often find themselves in co-dependent relationships, especially in
stressed circumstances. Almost instinctively they seek out the weak, the suffering, the
disadvantaged, et al., and sacrifice themselves to levels exceeding the limits of normal
generosity. Admittedly, many organizations and individuals have been saved by
Helper-Perfectionists who bore the extreme pain which traumatized individuals and
organizations can generate.
- Can You Cry With One Eye?
- A Hindu Proverb reads, "When you cry, cry with one eye."
- This is the Helper-Perfectionists problem. He has trouble establishing boundaries.
Not able to back off when appropriate, not able to be like the Good Samaritan and leave
after addressing the crisis, the Helper-Perfectionist may find himself helplessly crying
with both eyes.
- Ironically, the Helper-Perfectionist may be initially or externally motivated by genuine
desire to assist others out of Christian charity. In reality, it is a small step for a
Helper-Perfectionist to go from helping others to fulfill an addictive co-dependency on
- The Control Issue
- Wanting to please others, Helper-Perfectionists are unconsciously addicted to having
their lives controlled by those less fortunate than themselves. They will give up their
own priorities, their own welfare, their own time schedules, their own families and their
ownand othersinterests and well-being
to help an identified recipient of
their help with no benefit to themselves. Indeed, such charitable actions may come at great
personal costs to the Helper-Perfectionist.
- Rejection: The H-Ps Worst Fear
- When the recipient does not does not reciprocate appreciation to the
Helper-Perfectionist as expected, the Helper-Perfectionist may compensate for this
perceived lack of appreciation by offering even more support for the recipient.
- When the recipient finally refuses the Helper-Perfectionists assistance, the
Helper-Perfectionists may experience a devastating and overwhelming feeling of rejection,
betrayal and an overwhelming loss of self-worth. Anxiety, irritability, depression, and
other unhealthy states may also follow.
- The H-P Crash
- Given such conditions, the rejected Helper-Perfectionist will certainly experience an
emotional crash unless
- The Helper-Perfectionist can find others who "need" the services of the
- The Helper-Perfectionist can muster up the spiritual, physical, and emotional resources
necessary to sustain ones self during the period of grief and trauma in a healthy,
supportive community, and/or
- The Helper-Perfectionist recognizes and rectifies his own co-dependent tendencies
through painful self-examination, counseling, therapy, and/or spiritual support.
- For the H-P, congregational crises are especially difficult. In the maelstrom of
controversy, congregation members may want neither his services ("strike 1") nor
his friendship ("strike 2"). Sensing that only "imperfect" people see
counselors or receive therapy, he may refuse this or other necessary resources
("strike 3hes crashed!").
- Anger: Public and Private
- The Enneagram, in discussing the negative tendencies of perfectionist, indicates that
frustrated perfectionists may express great anger privately or publicly (against staff,
friends, church, God, denominational officials, antagonists, etc.).
Anger Expressed Outwardly
- When expressed in the wrong setting (which is extremely likely), such outbursts of anger
may undermine valiant attempts by others to reduce tension and conflict levels. More
characteristic of the "Peace-Maker Perfectionist," such uncontrolled outbursts
of anger often become the pastors undoing. Ironically, it is often the
"Peace-Maker Perfectionist" whose own anger-driven actions destroy the peace and
resolution for which he so zealously sought and fought.
The Antagonists Gold
- Demonstrating an inability to maintain a "non-anxious presence" in crisis,
such outbursts become "gold" for antagonists in their crusade to undermine the
pastors credibility. Non-antagonists and pastoral protagonists may also begin to
doubt the pastors ability to lead saying, "After all, maybe the antagonists are
right about pastor.." Or, "If the pastor cant control himself, how can he
control the church?" etc. If the Peace-Maker Perfectionist cant control his
angerespecially in conflicthed better be ready to pull up the anchor.
- Anger Expressed Inwardly
- The Helper-Perfectionist, not wanting to hurt others more than they are hurt, will often
turn anger inward. Such anger turns into an uncontrollable, 24 hour personal obsession
with the issue(s) at hand.
- Feeling the brunt of rejection, feeling unloved and unlovable, they tend to resist
sharing their troubles with others. As the feelings of rejection permeate every thought
and waking moment, the alienated Helper-Perfectionist may internally experience some of
angers most destructive effects including depression, denial of faith, mental
illness, addictions, etc.
- Perhaps one could say that the Helper-Perfectionist experiences angers destructive
effects internally to much the same degree the People-Perfectionist experiences
angers destructive effects externally--in their churches, relationships, families,
- Why Angels Fly
- What both types of Perfectionists need to learn are several things.
- First, they need to recognize that crises are reminders that
even perfectionists cant control everything. The reality, of course, is that we
control very little in this world whether theres crisis or not!
- Second, they must self-differentiate. Perfectionists are known
for their thoroughness and unending tenacity to complete tasks. Sometimes Perfectionists
need to learn to just let go and make time in their busy schedule for other things.
- Third, they must realize that we cant be perfect. We can
only be forgiven.
- One Of My Professors Told Me...
- One of my most memorable college moments was when I was turning in a final paper for an
English class taught by Professor Marilyn Beyer of Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
With only fifteen minutes left until the final deadline, I rushed to her office to turn in
- When I got to her door, suddenly she opened it and caught me red-handed
proofreading my paper written erasable bond. "What are you doing, Tom?" she
asked. "Im just making a couple last minute corrections. It seems I just
cant get it perfect even after working on this paper all night," I said.
Graciously taking the nearly worn-through by-multiple-corrections paper she grinned at me
and said, "Just remember this, Tom. Only one Person could say It is
finished and have it perfect."
- Thanks, Marilyn! Thanks, Jesus!!!
- And now heres one that I got from a local card shop.
"Angels fly because they take themselves lightly."
Reememmber, yu dont haf to bee
Thomas F. Fischer
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:17 PM