What’s the carrot that dangles in front of every perfectionist? What’s the supposed thing that happens at the end of all their striving?
Maybe then I’ll be good enough.
Then I’ll get noticed.
Then I’ll be loved, accepted, and appreciated.
Perfectionism as Codependency
I wonder if we could consider perfectionism just another flavor of codependency? One of the many definitions of codependency is what you think of me is what I think of me. It’s not a stretch to imagine that perfectionists might be in the business of curating other people’s perceptions of them.
I believe a lot of self-proclaimed perfectionists would argue that it’s something they have to do. They’re “just wired that way.” Or they do it for themselves and no one else. They take pride in their chronic overachievement.
I’d like to call these beliefs to the stand.
Perfectionism as a Trauma Response
If perfectionism is extremely difficult to not do, I’m gonna go ahead and call that compulsive behavior. Then I’m gonna tell you that the #1 sign of unresolved trauma is compulsive behavior. Thus, perfectionism may be considered a trauma response.
Furthermore, trauma is what happens to our nervous systems during overwhelming experiences of powerlessness. And when are people generally the most powerless they will ever be in life? You guessed it — childhood!
So, what if I told you that perfectionism was a childhood maladaptive coping mechanism you adopted to “help” your caregivers see you, love you, appreciate you, praise you, nurture you, attend to you, soothe you, protect you, and meet your needs when they were doing a shoddy job? And maybe this became your default template for human connection.
Would you believe me? Or do you think you were born that way?
Perfectionism as a Choice
Many people honestly think perfectionism is a choice they freely make. Again, if it’s something you can’t stop doing, then, by definition, that shit ain’t a choice. And I think we can all agree that “I could stop if I wanted to” isn’t a convincing argument.
Another good definition of codependency is trading authenticity for connection. Self-abandonment as a strategy for acceptance. Not that any perfectionist is consciously doing this. But that’s just it — a trauma response isn’t something that anyone consciously chooses.
If you’re someone who proudly wears their perfectionism like a merit badge and blithely ignores all the undue anxiety and stress it creates in your life, I want you to know that you do actually have other options.
Obviously, you can just keep clutching the fear-based obsession to never make any mistakes, thus transcending your status as a regular human being and sidestepping the need for humility and vulnerability in an effort to permanently avert shame and rejection.
Or you can get compassionately curious about your behavior patterns and seek professional help.
The choice is yours (I think?).