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Perfectionism- A way of dealing with Childhood Trauma


Is it bad that I am a perfectionist?

I can say that I would have been very happy to describe myself as a perfectionist as I saw it as a person who was good and wanted to do their best. I was often teased for the way I did certain things in the house. I ignored this believing that I was doing things right and they are just too lazy to bother. I never saw it as a negative way of being in the world.

Dr.Brené Brown says perfectionism is one of the three main ways people protect themselves from getting hurt. She says it is just a form of armour and connected to your sense of shame and fear of not being good enough.

She explains that we use perfectionism in areas of our lives that we feel most vulnerable. It is driven by the belief that ‘if I look perfect, work perfect, live perfect I will avoid or minimise criticism, blame or ridicule’.

Where did it start for me?

When I was in school I would ask Joyce to write my homework in my copy because her writing was tidy, and my copy stayed clean. My writing was sloppy, and my copy was always dirty from using my eraser over and over again.  Over time I began to copy her writing, partly so I wouldn’t get caught out, but mainly because I was so embarrassed at my own handwriting.

When I began working in the family business making soft toys I was so obsessed with keeping my work space clear. I became very stressed if my bench was untidy, I had nothing on the surface that was not immediately needed and the tools I needed e.g. scissors and chalk had to be placed just right or I found myself feeling tense, getting headaches or physical pain in my body. At the time I didn’t make any connection to my physical symptoms.

When I played basketball, I would come home and wash everything I had on. I was convinced my clothes needed to be scalded clean to remove any trace of personal odour.

I ironed everything I wore, pants, socks, bras and even washed my runners and removed the laces and ironed them too. I also spent a lot of time making sure the laces went back into the runner without creasing them. I knew this was mad, but I felt so ugly on the inside, so my outward appearance had to be perfect enough to distract from anyone noticing me.

OCD and Perfectionism

I developed a number of conditions in my teens which I was unaware of, I just thought it was my way of doing things. I was obsessed with cleanliness and doing things in a particular order. Because of this everything took longer as I had to repeat the task three times to ensure I removed all the dirt.

When I cleaned my bedroom, I had to do it in a particular order, removing all bedding and hoovering the bed and floor at least three times in case I missed anything. I would then remove my clothes and put them in the wash before showering and scrubbing every inch of my body with a nail brush to make sure I got rid of all the germs I imaged were on my skin.

I hated my life and the only thing that helped was my love of basketball. I created a completely different me with the basketball group. Although I was obsessive in the sport, training every day and often getting up at 6 am to run drills, I also slept with my basketball beside me. To me this seemed perfectly normal because I convinced myself it was necessary in becoming a good basketball player

Perfectionism Made Me Miserable

In college and in my working life, striving for perfection in everything I did put me under tremendous pressure as what I was looking for was impossible. I hated that I was an all or nothing person, so if I made a mistake and wanted to avoid criticism I just quit the task I was on at the time, making some excuse why it couldn’t be completed. I was so anxious all the time and convinced that I was incapable of doing anything right. I was constantly waiting for someone else to realise that I was stupid and sack me.

I pushed myself to work harder than my colleagues. No matter how busy and overloaded I already felt, I never said no to anyone asking me to do something, I even volunteered myself for extra work knowing it was impossible to meet my deadlines. I didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t cope so used to take the work home and stay up most nights to get it completed.

I put myself under so much pressure to do things perfectly and did not tolerate mistakes. I became increasingly ill, developing rashes, headaches, sinus problems, and allergies. I struggled more and more to sleep often returning to work after two hours sleep if I was lucky. I’d stare at the wall wishing I wasn’t so much of a coward and willed myself to just end it all.

How to I stop being a perfectionist?

The more I find out about how and why I developed the need to be perfect the more I recognise how unachievable and unnecessary it is. Through researching for ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ I had to explore the various conditions and disorders that I developed as a result of my childhood trauma. This information has armed me with the knowledge I needed to make the necessary changes. I could see the energy I was devoting to overthinking and overdoing any task I took on.

This will sound like a contradiction but, how I minimise my need for perfectionism is, I don’t try. I accept that this is something I do and don’t use it as another way to tell myself that I have failed or something else to hate myself for. Now when I start a new project I start at the end. I ask myself what I am trying to achieve and who am I trying to please.

My desire for perfectionism is driven by my need  to be right and my belief that others can’t do the work as well as me.  This often stops me asking for help when I feel overwhelmed. This behaviour only feeds my perfectionism, but the more I recognise this in my behaviour the more I can challenge it.

Believe it or not my dogs really helped me because they don’t care if  the house or car is spotless or that I want everything to be perfect.  They do their own thing regardless and accept me just as I am.

Dr. Brené Brown stated that the difference between perfectionism and a striver is the idea that you are doing something for the approval of others. I do the perfectionism less and less and the striver more. This has resulted in me improving in my belief that what I do, I do to the best of my ability and that is always good enough.

15th February 2018 – Paula

Published inBlog- February 2018

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