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How Perfectionism Can Be a Trauma Response

developmental trauma flight response four trauma responses perfectionism religious trauma

Perfectionism is a powerful anxious response that so many of us walk around with in our everyday life. We don't always fully understand why we can be so mean and demanding of ourselves and it can be helpful to understand perfectionism from a trauma-informed lens.

Gaining Control

Perfectionism can be a trauma response in several ways. When someone has experienced trauma, they may feel a loss of control over their life and their environment. Perfectionism can be a way for them to regain a sense of control by trying to perfect every aspect of their life. This can manifest in setting impossibly high standards for themselves and constantly striving to meet them.

Avoid Feeling Inadequate or Shameful

People who have experienced trauma may feel a sense of shame or inadequacy. If we grow up with parents that have impossible standards for our achievements, behaviors or even our feelings, then we can walk around with a real sense of shame about who we are. Perfectionism can be a way to avoid these feelings of shame, embarrassment, or "brokenness" by striving for perfection in everything we do. However, the constant pressure to be perfect can be exhausting and can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and burnout. 

Feeling Safe

Perfectionism can also be a way to protect oneself from further harm. By being perfect, the person may believe they can prevent future trauma from occurring. This is one of the ways that they might try to keep themselves safe emotionally or even physically. Perfectionism is a way to cope with the fear and uncertainty that often come with traumatic experiences.

Overall, perfectionism can be a coping mechanism for people who have experienced trauma, but it can also be a source of distress and can interfere with their ability to lead a fulfilling life. It is important for individuals to recognize when perfectionism is becoming problematic and to seek support and treatment if needed.

How to Seek Support

Survivors: If you are wanting to understand your perfectionism from a trauma-informed lens, then our specialized course Four Trauma Responses was made with you in mind. This course walks you through the differences between a fight, flight (perfectionism!), freeze, and fawn (also perfectionism!) response.  When you learn how your brain and body are biologically responding to trauma, then you can begin to find ways to soothe your perfectionistic tendencies.  You can register for the Four Trauma Responses course here. 

Therapists: If you are therapist and wanting to help your religious trauma clients understand how perfectionism was built into the high-control environment they are survived, then we have a specialized training program for therapists made for you.  You can learn how indoctrination works, how trauma responses show up in our clients and what we can specifically do about religious trauma and cult abuse. You can register for our therapist training program here.

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