What you will learn from this blog:
- The needs and trauma underlying perfectionism
- How perfectionism may come in the guise of “self-improvement”
I (Kavitha) want to share a personal story on how my tendency to be a perfectionist affected me.
This takes me back to my son Jace’s 1st birthday. I wanted everything to be perfect and I wanted to do it all by myself…for nearly 50 guests. And by everything, I mean all the baking, the decorations, and if possible, dinner as well!
I whipped up the entire dessert table – complete with macaroons, cake pops, cookies, the birthday cake and an ombre cake for each family as a door gift. I did all this while holding a full-time job and no, I was not allowed to take any days off to do this and I was not willing to accept any help.
Looking back, I can see how crazy the idea was. But at that point in time it seemed like the perfect idea.
Finding this all too familiar? Let’s explore 3 possible root causes for perfectionism:
Reason 1: Shield from Judgement
I wanted to show the world that my life was perfect – that I could perfectly juggle work, being a new mother, and playing the role of a wife. I wanted everything on the outside to look perfect, I wanted to be praised for my achievement and dedication to the family.
I wanted to think, look and act ‘perfect’ with the hope that this would give me a sense of fulfilment and shield me from judgement.
Ironically more I did this, the emptier, angrier and more disconnected life became.
This confused me – isn’t striving to be my best, self-improvement and hustling a good thing? All the self-improvement gurus swear by it.
Reason 2: Perfectionism as a Cover for Shame
Back then, in my view, my life was far from perfect.
I was ashamed of how it had turned out compared to the way my cousins’ lives were. They graduated with Master’s and doctorate degrees from top universities, had well-thought career trajectories and held top positions in well-reputed firms. Their parents seemed to counsel them well and their marriage lives seemed to be a breeze.
Yet here I was, not a clue as to what I wanted from life. No mentors I could turn to for advice. No one to guide my career path, to tell me which universities to choose.
My parents did the best they could – they sent me to a school way above their means and I am grateful to them for that until this day. But beyond that, they did not know much either.
I believed that if I looked perfect and pretended that I had my life under control, then I could make my parents proud and no one would see the shame I carried from living a life that society deemed as ‘far from perfect’.
Reason 3: Need for Acceptance and Validation
Years of mental health counselling, trauma therapy and inner work helped me connect my quest for perfectionism with my need for people-pleasing, rule-following, approval and acceptance.
These beliefs were deeply ingrained in me as a child –
- “Good girls don’t sit or talk like that.”
- “Wherever you go – make sure you act in such a way that you are likeable and people approve.”
- “Dress pleasingly, don’t provoke.”
Perfectionism guises itself as many things. I’ve met clients who come to me for mental health counselling and confuse perfectionism with self-improvement.
It is important to understand that perfectionism hampers success – it causes one to be anxious, leads to overthinking, stress, missed opportunities and depression.
But this doesn’t mean there is no end to this – you too can overcome your tendencies to be a perfectionist through mental health counselling; which will help you unlock the root causes for this – often through our parent’s strict rules, that is now repressed childhood trauma.
Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism allows one to step away from ‘fitting in’ and into ‘belonging and authenticity’. We at Intracresco are here to guide you through mental health counselling and one-on-one trauma therapy.