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Two Types Of Perfectionists

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 12

Introduction
 
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 "professional" demeanor.
 
If you’re 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 the peace.
 
Planning keeps things predictable—and controlled. For this reason, Peace-Maker Perfectionists gravitate toward—and enjoy—the administrative (read "control") side of ministry. When there is no order, such individuals are not at peace—and 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, helpful—but critical and controlling—people-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 you’re 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 aren’t, the Helper-Perfectionist will rise up and, if necessary—retaliate—to defend and rescue "innocent" victims or organizations.
 
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-Perfectionist’s 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 others.
 
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 own—and others—interests 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-P’s 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-Perfectionist’s 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…
  1. The Helper-Perfectionist can find others who "need" the services of the Helper-Perfectionist,
  2. The Helper-Perfectionist can muster up the spiritual, physical, and emotional resources necessary to sustain one’s self during the period of grief and trauma in a healthy, supportive community, and/or
  3. 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 3—he’s 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 pastor’s 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 Antagonist’s Gold

Demonstrating an inability to maintain a "non-anxious presence" in crisis, such outbursts become "gold" for antagonists in their crusade to undermine the pastor’s credibility. Non-antagonists and pastoral protagonists may also begin to doubt the pastor’s ability to lead saying, "After all, maybe the antagonists are right about pastor.." Or, "If the pastor can’t control himself, how can he control the church?" etc. If the Peace-Maker Perfectionist can’t control his anger—especially in conflict—he’d 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 anger’s most destructive effects including depression, denial of faith, mental illness, addictions, etc.
 
Perhaps one could say that the Helper-Perfectionist experiences anger’s destructive effects internally to much the same degree the People-Perfectionist experiences anger’s destructive effects externally--in their churches, relationships, families, etc.
 
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 can’t control everything. The reality, of course, is that we control very little in this world whether there’s 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 can’t 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 my paper.
 
When I got to her door, suddenly she opened it and caught me red-handed…still proofreading my paper written erasable bond. "What are you doing, Tom?" she asked. "I’m just making a couple last minute corrections. It seems I just can’t 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 here’s one that I got from a local card shop.

"Angels fly because they take themselves lightly."

Reememmber, yu dont haf to bee perfekt. Reely!!!

Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:17 PM