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Christian Counseling: Is There A Link Between Trauma and Perfectionism?

It has been said that the closest to perfection anyone ever gets is when they fill out a job application. The truth behind the humor is that we all wish for others to see us in a positive light and to like and accept us,  perfectionists even more so. They hide their faults and sins from others, yet strangely, can be ever so quick to see their shortcomings and apologize, frequently even if it is not their fault. Mostly, and severely, they avoid conflict. Their goodness, acceptability and worth is welded to doing everything right. Internally, they must deny their frail and weak humanity. They are easily given to feelings of anxiety, guilt and self-hate and behaviors of self-criticism and self-punishment, such as rejecting good things in life because they do not deserve them.

There are many possibilities about how perfectionism develops in a person, one of which is the result of traumatic childhood/teenage experiences, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In the future, I suspect trauma will be viewed differently in that it will be defined by the individual and his or her response to a threatening emotional or physical situation and not by today's standards of a collective set of criteria developed, for the most part, independent of victims, which includes only a threat of physical injury or death of oneself or others.

Two arenas surface as proving grounds that can lead to one's growth or block development--home and school environment. Home life can be chaotic and threatening, such as when there is physical or sexual abuse, or the home may be a place of insecurity and unsupportive relationships that leave a person vulnerable to traumatic experiences later in life. Peers in school and even the neighborhood can have a profoundly  negative effect on a person's life. We all know that kids can be cruel, but to a sensitive and insecure person it can be shattering. Whether one is bullied or laughed at for making mistakes, it can feel so emotionally threatening to a person's identity and existence that he or she refuses to go to school or begins to think about dying.

For many, the way out of helpless and painful feelings is to become perfectionists. Perfectionistic belief holds if one can perfect, he or she will avoid criticism and rejection and find respect and acceptance. Unfortunately, it is a dead-end pursuit. Not only can a person never achieve it, but the mental energy required to daily live that life style takes a massive toll on the joy in life and one physically. Also, consider that Jesus was perfect, but was hated, rejected and killed. Perfectionism guarantees only a different, more complicating, frustrating, disappointing and eternal kind of pain in life.

Recovering from past trauma is a first step in healing. Adopting a new belief and attitude that "good enough" is the antidote to perfectionism will further help. And learning to manage relationships and conflict through assertiveness will go a long way in assisting perfectionists in giving up an impossible role God never intended anyone to live.

(Note: The info in this blog is anecdotal, not research-based.)

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