Lately there has been a lot of “buzz” in the media over things like “perfectionism,” “imposter syndrome” and “high function anxiety.” While every human may experience these feelings occasionally, if you continually suffer from chronic stress, anxiety and self-doubt you may be responding to trauma you have experienced in your life.
Warning: some of the information below that is discussed might be triggering for some individuals, please continue to read with caution and take care of yourself.
Similarities between Trauma and Perfectionism:
Perfectionism and Trauma
-Excessive Guilt or Self-blame
-Double and triple checking assignments/tasks or always trying to “plan ahead.” This can also look like trying to predict other people's behavior in order to feel a sense of safety or control.
-Constantly needing to stay busy or inability to relax without the use of drugs or alcohol. (Ex: multitasking while watching TV) This is due to a desire to avoid thinking of past mistakes or "failures" you've made or an attempt to keep them from happening in the future.
-Headaches, chronic migraines, digestive issues or feeling “tense." All of these symptoms are highly associated with anxiety or trauma and the body engaging in the "fight/flight/freeze" response.
-Perfectionists struggle with negative self-talk and feeling responsible for other people’s emotional reactions. This may look like blaming oneself for not “knowing the right thing to say” or internalizing critical statements.
-Inability to set boundaries with others (loved ones, boss, etc.) or refusing to let yourself become “too close” to anyone.
As the chart shows above there are a lot of ways in which trauma can "mask" itself as perfectionism, which is often why it is so difficult for individuals to identify their symptoms. However, the link between perfectionism and exposure to early childhood trauma (specifically relational or emotional trauma) has been repeatedly found in many studies. In addition, research has found that not only are chronic perfectionist more likely to have experienced trauma in their past but that they are increased risk of experiencing trauma or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as adults.
Helping clients overcome trauma and chronic or maladaptive perfectionism is something I am incredibly passionate about. As a recovering perfectionist, who struggled to find my voice for years, I know first-hand how difficult it is to let go of past trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Therefore, I have made it my life’s mission to help other survivors heal and thrive.
If you would like to learn more about the effects of relational abuse, trauma and perfectionism check out my Instagram page or visit the resources below. If you are interested in beginning counseling or you would like to consult about your symptoms feel free to contact me! firstname.lastname@example.org or 832-304-9382.
References and Additional Readings:
Chen, C., Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences and multidimensional perfectionism in young adults. Personality & Individual Differences, 146, 53–57. https://doi-org.ezproxy.shsu.edu/10.1016/j.paid.2019.03.042
Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Mikail, S. F. (2017). Perfectionism: A relational approach to conceptualization, assessment, and treatment. New York: Guildford Press.
Molnar, D. S., Flett, G. L., & Hewitt, P. L. (2020). Perfectionism and perceived control in posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.https://doi-org.ezproxy.shsu.edu/10.1007/s11469-020-00315-y
Price, L., Centifanti, L., & Slade, P. (2020). Personality factors and vulnerability to post‐traumatic stress responses after childbirth. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(4), 480–502. https://doi-org.ezproxy.shsu.edu/10.1111/bjc.12262