Cover image via Church Newsroom. 

Is General Conference harmful? Right away, please know that General Conference is uplifting, edifying, inspirational, revelatory, and is NOT AT ALL HARMFUL! However, for those individuals who struggle with toxic perfectionism, General Conference can provide so much counsel to do better and to be better that we can become overwhelmed. Then our anxiety skyrockets and/or our depression deepens so much that we cannot even take care of our normal daily activities.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “… except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.” (Be Ye Therefore Perfect — Eventually, General Conference, October 2017).

Toxic perfectionism is defined as a mindset that is rigid on holding yourself or others to unrealistic high standards. It is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Where people with OCD perform ritualistic behaviors, those with OCPD struggle with the need to have everything perfect. For example, maybe our supervisor gives us a task to complete by Thursday. Someone with OCPD may even complete the assignment before Thursday, but then they re-do it again and again and again to make sure it is perfect. Their number of repetitions without a final product takes them well past the Thursday deadline. Many of us may have OCPD traits where we want the assignment to be perfect, but once we have done our best, we turn it in on time. I want my neurosurgeon to have OCPD traits.

So, what to do? Elder Holland reminds us that the Lord would not give us any commandment that He knew we could not keep. He continues “focusing on the Father’s and the Son’s achievements rather than our failures does not give us one ounce of justification for undisciplined lives or dumbing down our standards. No, from the beginning the gospel has been ‘for the perfecting of the saints, … till we … come … unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ I am simply suggesting that at least one purpose of a scripture or a commandment can be to remind us just how magnificent ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ really is, inspiring in us greater love and admiration for Him and a greater desire to be like Him.”

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him … ,” Moroni pleads. “Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t “earn” it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.”

At the conclusion of General Conference, our prophets have given this counsel:

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) invited us to take one thing and work on it and improve, then move on to the next. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) encouraged us to “stand a little taller and be a little better.” President Russell M. Nelson emphasizes one thing each conference: become a peacemaker, overcome the world through covenants, repent, hear Him, stay on the covenant path, think celestial.” If you have noticed, President Nelson invites us and challenges us without overloading us.

May the Lord continue to bless each of us as we strive for steady improvement to follow Him, to testify of Him, to become like Him, and to prepare for His Second Coming.