Obsession. Defined it is the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc. or a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.
I can look back now and see my obsession to be perfect and succeed began as a young catholic girl who followed all the rules so I wouldn’t go to hell. I desperately wanted to be the “good girl” everyone wanted me to be. It then translated into a competitive mission to be the best - I earned straight A’s and accolades all through high school and college and enjoyed the attention and praise I received through my achievements. It evolved into an extreme competitiveness and drive as an athlete in high school and college as I found I really loved winning and despised losing. As a young adult it morphed into a ongoing quest to have the perfect body or at least a better body than the other women I saw at the gym. As a professional, it was an unrelenting drive to over deliver and a tendency to set unrealistic expectations for myself and others. Eventually, I found myself living my life masterfully masking any flaws and insecurities from people. I presented to the world the “perfect” version of myself. Even the people closest to me didn’t know the internal struggle of my obsession.
Here are the truths about the world of obsession:
- You think you are in control, but actually you are being controlled.
- You think you are doing things to get closer to what you desire, but really you are running in the opposite direction.
- You believe the end result will lead to fulfillment, but when you achieve it, you feel empty.
I have had many people over the years label me with words such as focused, determined, disciplined and self-controlled. It’s amazing how obsession can be masked as all these things. I had a fit, athletic body and a bright smile that told the world I had it all, but I was was living a very different reality inside. I was obsessed with everything I ate. I calculated every calorie. I structured my life around my workouts. I appeared friendly, but had no true intimacy. I knew my weight at any moment of the day. I meticulously scrutinized every inch of my body as well as everything I created or completed. I knew every flaw, inside and out. The compulsive and negative self-talk never ended. My thoughts never stopped racing. So to the outside world, my external circumstances pointed to a certain conclusion of success, but my internal world held the truth. Deep down I knew how I was living was unreasonable and inauthentic, but I really didn’t know another way to tap into the lack I felt inside. So I remained where I was because it felt comfortable - even if it was dysfunctional comfort.
Obsession with perfection or succeeding starts with seemingly harmless and reasonable desires. For me, I can identify two deep desires I think most human beings can relate to. The need/desire 1) to be enough and 2) to be loved. How we decide to meet our needs is the deciding factor of whether our souls will experience wholeness and peace or lack and fear.
When the fulfillment of our needs are not rooted in our God identity (who God says we are), we become an open target to believe the lies of the enemy who has his own plan of how we should fulfill these deep needs. And when the enemy is feeding us information, it is always with the intention of stealing, killing and destroying the good things in our lives AND we never meet our needs. I admit I fell for it. believed the lie that in order to be enough and be loved, I had to be more, do more and have more than what I currently had. I believed my worth was a sum of what I have, what I do and what other people say about me. This planted and fed a deep fear inside me that something was inherently wrong with me and I needed to be fixed. This fear then grew into a stronghold when I gave into the temptation to compare myself to everyone around me. My habit of comparison grew into feelings of envy of what others had that I felt I didn’t. So what began as very real and healthy desires became twisted into a quest to be better than others, which meant they had to be less than. My very real desires, fulfilled with the wrong source is what made me believe perfection was possible. And obsessions are solidified when we believe the impossible is possible.
I encourage you to spend a moment and get real with yourself. You have an opportunity to take a step towards freedom if you know you live from the place of, “I’m not enough”. This may look like the prison of perfection or the obsessive need to succeed. What is it for you? What would others (who know you well) say that you believe has to be perfect? What constantly pulls you away from living in the present moment and locks you into repetitive thoughts and behaviors that consumes you? Where do you experience deep disappointment because your expectations have not been met by the reality you are living in?
Remember, the obsession is rooted in a real need. I think this is a key point for us to revisit so we can start from a place of grace with ourselves and others. Needs are not bad. It’s how we fulfill those needs that determine if we experience a life of freedom or captivity. When we fulfill our natural, human needs with things that were not designed for that function - this is what is known as perversion. Here’s the exact definition of perversion - the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.
For example, the need to connect is a legit human need, but when we attempt to feel connection by
- getting attention from men because of how we use our body or how our body looks
- by attaining “likes” on social media with images edited to perfection
- eliciting praise through overachievement
- creating the perfect version of ourselves in an attempt to be liked or desired
- having an inappropriate relationship online or in person because we feel unfulfilled or lonely in our current relationship
- conforming to situations in order to fit in
- drinking or eating at night to avoid feelings of loneliness
...it’s a perversion. What typically happens if you are a perfectionist is we get so exhausted “being the perfect us” and never fully feeling connected to anything or anyone, that we isolate ourselves and fulfill our desire for connection with things - alcohol, a container of ice cream, shopping, pain pills, drugs, inappropriate relationships, social media, excessive television, etc.
Beneath our obsession with perfection are real needs which may include
- the need to be known
- the need to be valued for who we are
- the need to know the depths of ourselves
- the need to be our best selves
- the need to feel free to be our authentic selves
Let’s break down how obsessions begin. Obsessions begin with a lure. The enemy will bate us into believing a twisted version of the truth. His ultimate goal is to get us to make a choice. When we say “yes” to the lure - He has us. A stronghold is formed. I took the bait when I was fed the lie that my best self meant physical perfection and I came into agreement with it. The enemy then fed me another lie that physical perfection was possible. I saw the beautiful bodies in the magazines and on tv - so I came in agreement with that one too. From there, the door was wide open as I came into agreement with the lie that physical perfection was the key to everything else I was searching for in life. I mean, those beautiful women on television sure looked happy. The woman at the gym with the great bod had a really good looking husband - I assumed their marriage must be awesome. Oh, and that thin, gorgeous woman at the coffee shop must have a ton of friends, who wouldn’t want to be her friend? Have you ever looked around and made assumptions that other people have a perfect life, so why can’t you? Me too. That’s how the enemy works. He doesn’t show you the final stage of the deception which is to lock you into the bondage of an obsession - he just needs you to believe one lie, say yes to one temptation and then the next and so on and so forth. He is cunningly patient and his goal is your complete destruction.
When we listen to what the world says is beautiful, successful and valuable - we find ourselves going down a rabbit hole pursuing something that doesn’t even exist. It’s a mirage.
- The world show us that the perfect body is possible with beautiful models that are airbrushed and digitally enhanced.
- The world tells us money and fame are the ultimate measure of our worth even though many people who have found both of these are emotionally, spiritually and relationally broke.
- The world tells us that we should do what our feelings tell us and soon we find ourselves searching for fleeting feelings of happiness or comfort in affairs, material possessions, achievements, drugs, alcohol and “likes” on social media.
The enemy wants to perpetuate the lies without showing the price we pay. The price ultimately is our freedom and our identity.
Here are some powerful excerpts from Aimee Dockery’s Book, “Unfollow Your Heart” that I think does a great job explaining how to have healthy desires.
“Putting desire in front of God brings disorder and destruction. If we don’t allow God to be God - then someone else (or thing) has to be god. If we forfeit the will of God for our own desire- that desire becomes our task master.
...When we don’t know what to do with our desire, we take on an identity born of shame and confusion. If we have ever been tempted to seek our desires outside the will and purpose of God, then we know the fall-out of this temptation. There’s nothing worse than seeking an identity outside of a relationship with our Creator.”
Obsession can stop when we exchange the lies for the truth we have been unraveling throughout this entire blog.
This typically happens when we get so exhausted and sick of the cycle of pursuing something over and over and over and never feeling satisfied. No matter what the scale says, we aren’t satisfied. No matter how many validating words we heard from others, we long for more. No matter how much we accomplish, it’s never enough. Can you relate? This endless loop actually took me on a quest back to God. There just had to be more to life than an endless pursuit of the impossible. And that’s where many of us really find God - at the end of our rope with no more hope in ourselves and the world. Only within the expansiveness of the extravagant, unconditional love and acceptance of God, can our desires be completely met. Any other way leads to destruction.
As I began to learn more about God’s ways through God’s word, I learned that our desire for perfection is so compelling because perfection is etched on our souls. The desire for perfection in our souls matches the perfection of our Creator. Before sin entered the human story, we lived in perfect relationship with God. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had their identity completed in God. There was nothing they lacked. There was no shame. There was no comparison. Then sin entered and separated them (and us) from God. Adam and Eve hid from God because of their shame. Sin caused them to live in confusion and forget their identity. Everything from that moment on has been God’s plan to redeem and restore us to our original perfection and true identity.
Obsession is a perversion of self-discipline. God created us to have the ability to be self-controlled. It is one of the fruits of the spirit. (See Galatians 5:22.) But self-discipline that is not within the context of God’s power and will for our life - becomes a tool of the enemy. All the enemy needs to do to lock us into an obsession is wave a temptation in front of us and get us to make a choice to temporarily address our need outside the context of God’s love and truth. Once you make that first choice, it becomes easier to make the choice again and again and again for a moment of satisfaction and fulfillment. Now we have developed a habit. Over time habits become automatic - we don’t even think about our choice or have control over our decisions. Eventually our automatic habits become adopted as our identity (this is just who I am).
The difference between obsession and self-discipline begins with the origin. Obsession is a lie and originates with satan’s desire to steal, kill and destroy us. Self-discipline is rooted in truth and originates with God’s desire to give us peace, purpose and blessings. Obsession dominates. Self-discipline brings order. Obsession is an illusion of being in control. Self-discipline is freedom to choose. Obsession comes from lack and never fully satisfies our needs. Self-discipline comes from completeness and trusts that God is the only source of fulfillment of our needs.
It’s time to exchange our obsession with perfection for healthy and Godly self-discipline. When we exchange our identity in the world for our identity in Christ, we can exchange obsession for freedom. While obsession is a tool used by the enemy, self-discipline is the path to walk unscathed and victorious no matter what life throws at us! We don’t have to operate from a place of “not enough” when we are made complete and whole in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We can choose to be self-disciplined in our words, actions and thoughts. This is the path to the blessings God has for us here and in eternity. Just like we once thought obsessions were a means to get our needs fulfilled (which is a lie), self-discipline is a means to walk in the fullness God has for us. For from self discipline flows obedience.
“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:16)
Take a deep breath. You have this. God wants to uproot some strongholds in your life that are running you ragged. It’s time to let go of the false security of your obsessions. God will not let you fall if you trust him. Every need you have, he will fulfill. But you have to let go, and let God into your situation and circumstance so He can do only what is possible with the love and power of God.
“But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it - not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it - they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:25)
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
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