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How Religious Trauma Can Cause Perfectionism

anxiety cult abuse four trauma responses high-control groups perfectionism religious trauma

At first, connecting religious trauma and perfectionism might feel like a bit of a mental reach. But most of the high-control groups that religious trauma survivors endured were overrun with high demands for perfectionistic behavior and that tends to have a really negative impacts on ones mental health.  Here's a few ways that religious trauma can cause perfectionism. 

Religious Teachings & Practices

Let's start with the religious teachings and practices. Religious teachings or practices that emphasize strict adherence to rules or standards can create a sense of pressure to be perfect. People who have experienced religious trauma may have been taught that they need to be perfect in order to please God or avoid punishment. And I'm talking severe punishment, like being exiled from their communities, being threatened with ongoing suffering orchestrated by god, or eternal damnation. These threats and fears can lead to a constant striving for perfection, even in areas that may not be related to religion.

Shame & Guilt

Second, religious trauma can create a sense of shame or guilt for not meeting religious expectations. Let's talk about the difference between guilt and shame.  When we feel guilt, we think "I did a bad thing." When we feel shame, we think "I am a bad person." The problem is: religious trauma can lead us to feeling both guilt and shame. This can lead to perfectionism as a way to avoid these feelings. For example, a person who has experienced religious trauma may feel that they need to be perfect in order to avoid being judged by others or by God.  They may even take it a step further and begin to feel like they are a bad person (shame) for not meeting the religious expectations.  They might feel unlovable or burdensome for not meeting the impossible standards of perfection.

Fear & Uncertainty

Third, religious trauma can create a sense of fear or uncertainty about the world. A person who has experienced religious trauma may feel that they need to have all the answers or have everything figured out in order to feel safe or secure. This can lead to perfectionism as a way to try to control the world around them. One of the major features of high-control groups or rigid religions is: you have to feel afraid of what god thinks of you or what might happen in the afterlife.  When we walk around when this much fear and uncertainty, perfectionism becomes a really powerful way that we feel power, control, and certainty in life.  

Perfectionism is Pressure

Overall, religious trauma can create a strong pressure to be perfect and a fear of falling short of religious expectations. This can lead to a constant striving for perfection in many aspects of life, which can be exhausting and may interfere with a person's ability to lead a fulfilling life. It is important for individuals who have experienced religious trauma to seek support and treatment in order to heal and develop a healthy relationship with religion, if they choose to do so. You can read more about perfectionism here. 

How to Get Support

Survivors: If you have survived religious trauma or the trauma of a high-control group, we have a curated education community for you.  I walk you through 12 different modules that teach you what happens in these groups and how you can begin to emotionally recover.  You can join us for a no-pressure, supportive education around cult and religious trauma recovery here.

Therapists: If you are wanting to help your clients that are struggling with perfectionism in the aftermath of religious trauma, we have a curated therapist training program for you.  I teach you how our clients are indoctrinated, emotionally manipulated and coerced while in these high-control groups and how you can clinically intervene along the way. You can join us for our therapist training here.

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