***EDIT 8/23: Thank you so much to everyone who participated in this AMA. It was really fun for me to answer your questions and engage with you! I may still be able to pop in and answer a question or two, but if you are interested and want to learn more about this stuff, I will be posting blogs and youtube videos on my facebook page. You can find me here:https://www.facebook.com/rebeccanewkirklcsw/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

A lot of people have asked for book recommendations so here are some great authors to look into: John Bradshaw, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Diana Fosha, Bessel van der Kolk, John Gottman (for relationship stuff).

If you are not in New Mexico or Virginia, but are interested in looking into therapy, Psychology Today is a great place to find therapists in your area. Thank you all for asking meaningful, interesting, and kind questions.



***EDIT: I have to go into a session right now but I am really enjoying delving into your questions! I'll be checking back in over the next few days to answer more questions, so feel free to continue asking. I'll talk to you all soon!***

Hi Reddit! I’m Rebecca Newkirk. I graduated with my Master's of Social Work in 2012. I specialize in helping teens and young adults work through their trauma and shame, so they can start to feel excited about their futures. My work is infused with humor (which I believe is essential to get through the hard stuff). I'm very transparent and honest with my clients, which I believe is necessary when working with those who have trauma so they can re-learn how to feel safe in relationships (or at all). If you want to nerd out with me about the techniques I use here are a few of my favorites: mindfulness, Gestalt, and Internal Family Systems. If you don't want to nerd out, suffice it to say I like to help people go back to the root of their issues so they can feel better now. 

Perfectionism may seem like a non-issue to some of you, but it can be debilitating. The need to do everything perfectly can stop us from doing things that are important to us because we’re afraid we won’t perform them flawlessly. 

My proof: 


When I’m not teaching classes at New Mexico Highlands University, or helping teens and adults through the pain in their pasts so they can be excited about their futures, I probably have my nose in a young adult fantasy book, my hands wrapped around a barbell, or my arms around my new daughter. (Yes, my username is an allusion to Dumbledore’s phoenix!) 

Ask me Anything about perfectionism, shame, trauma, or Harry Potter!DISCLAIMER I'm not able to provide counseling thru reddit. If you'd like a free consultation, you can contact me at https://www.rebeccanewkirklcsw.com/contact-rebecca-newkirk/If you're experiencing thoughts or impulses that put you or anyone else in danger, please contact the National Suicide Help Line at 1-800-273-8255 or go to your local emergency room.

Comments: 409 • Responses: 60  • Date: 

tumnusarfan418 karma

I cope with perfectionism by just not doing whatever the task is: homework, chores, cooking, unless I can do it right. It comes off as lazy and holds me back from functioning in day to day life. What would you recommend for me to do for this issue?

Also, how to cope with someone else’s perfectionism who is overly critical?

-_fawkes_-252 karma

Thank you for your question! This is a really important question, as I think a lot of people express perfectionism in ways that others perceive as lazy. There are a few things that immediately come to mind, and then I will address your question about coping with the perfectionism/criticism from others.

The first thing is mindfulness, and breaking the tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces. If you are thinking something like, "I am going to clean my house today" about chores, it feels monumental, and can make you feel like it's hopeless for you to even try. If you start to define the tasks differently, such as, "Today, for some time between 2 and 4 PM I will give myself permission to make an effort towards the dishes," it might help you feel less pressure. There are other ways to do this as well, such as, "Every time I clean a dish to use it I will clean one more and put the second away." A different way to approach this is to use mindfulness and add something to the task that feels good to you. It is basically like asking yourself the question, "How can I make this icky task feel better?" Some ways that my clients find helpful are to put on music, take frequent breaks, or listen to a podcast while they do the task.

Coping with someone else's perfectionism when it is being expressed as criticism is so hard. The first thing I want to say is that it is important for us to identify to the person (gently, kindly, and as compassionately as possible) how they are affecting us and with what behaviors. Sometimes the other person will honestly not know that they are impacting you or what it is that they are doing. It is usually best to have this conversation when it is not an active problem (read: not in the middle of an argument or when either or you are already agitated). Ask them how you can respond to their behavior in a way that will help them feel supported, and will still make it clear that you don't like the way you're being treated. It takes some trial and error, and they are unlikely to have an immediate answer to this, but you can work together to find something that sounds good enough to try.

Does that answer your question?

tumnusarfan28 karma

Thanks for your response Rebecca, I think you did answer the questions I had. I will try and implement mindfulness again, I used to practice mindfulness meditation and it was very beneficial. That is some sound advice on how to deal with another person with perfectionistic tendencies!

-_fawkes_-24 karma

Great! I'm glad to hear it. :-)

we-make-the-terror233 karma

What does perfectionism stem from, or what is it caused by? Is it largely due to other mental health issues?

-_fawkes_-583 karma

Hi! Really good question, and one I really like talking about! So thanks for that. lol

I think that other professionals might answer this slightly differently, but this is the way that I contextualize perfectionism, and the way that I approach healing from it. I think of perfectionism as caused by something called complex trauma. What that means, essentially, is that it is (sometimes small) traumas that occur persistently over a long period of time. Typically what that means is that the person feels unsafe in relationships, or like their needs aren't being met by caregivers when they are growing up.

When we are young, we are completely dependent on our caregivers. In order for us to feel ok when we are little, we have to believe that anything our parents (or primary caregivers) do is on purpose, makes sense, and for the best. What that means when we have caregivers who are negligent or abusive is that we start to believe that, since they are always doing the right thing, we have somehow brought the abuse on ourselves. In other words, rather than believe that the caregivers are flawed, a young mind will believe that if s/he is just "good enough" then they will be treated better.

Young children also have something called "magical thinking". An example of this would be if we believed that if we stepped on a crack we would break our mother's back or however that little saying goes. So the child starts to associate unrelated things to being "good enough" or making the caregivers happy enough to treat them better or not get divorced or whatever. So the child can start to feel like they have to color in the lines perfectly or have no wrinkles in their clothes. It gives the child a sense of control.

If, when we start to grow, we don't question these beliefs (that are really defense mechanisms) we just sort of exist in accordance with them, which can manifest as an adult with perfectionism. That's part of how therapy can help. You start to explore, find, and question these belief systems.

Hope that is helpful!

ilikespace105 karma

You know your shit! I've never been so glad to read the words "complex trauma".

-_fawkes_-36 karma

Thank you! :-)

LittlePetiteGirl69 karma

The "magical thinking" you describs sounds reminiscent of OCD. Is there a connection?

-_fawkes_-124 karma

There is absolutely a connection! Nice catch! Magical thinking is considered a "cognitive distortion" or an error in thinking that can be questioned through cognitive behavioral therapy, but it is developmentally appropriate for children. It is a way for us to feel empowered, or like we have some control over our circumstances, which can then help us to feel calmer and safer.

In OCD, the magical thinking manifests as us identifying the (C)ompulsion as something that can help remedy the (O)bsession, when in reality they are usually not linked at all, if they are linked it's a very loose connection, and all we end up really doing is spending a lot of time and energy holding ourselves accountable for something that doesn't positively affect our lives, and beating ourselves up for not doing it "properly" or well enough. (There's the perfectionism again!)

Part of why this is so painful for people, is since we know that the compulsion is not actually connected to the obsession (can't fix anything) doing the compulsion actually just feeds the beast, so to speak. When you do it you have a short period of relief. Then the feeling comes back (it wasn't fixed, after all). When the feeling comes back we unconsciously determine that we didn't do it "enough" or "well enough" and decide (or feel compelled) to do it MORE and BETTER. This is how compulsions can start out as thoroughly washing our hands before dinner and end up as washing our hands 17 times in a row 5 times a day.

I hope that helps!

Acrolith36 karma

When we are young, we are completely dependent on our caregivers. In order for us to feel ok when we are little, we have to believe that anything our parents (or primary caregivers) do is on purpose, makes sense, and for the best. What that means when we have caregivers who are negligent or abusive is that we start to believe that, since they are always doing the right thing, we have somehow brought the abuse on ourselves. In other words, rather than believe that the caregivers are flawed, a young mind will believe that if s/he is just "good enough" then they will be treated better.

Good god, I've never felt so bad for a hypothetical child. That's so awful. Thank you for helping people!

-_fawkes_-14 karma

It’s my passion so it makes it an easy decision for me to make :-)

Spiderbundles30 karma

Didn't have a question, just wanted to say thank you for your work. :)

In my teens, I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder, and I began having debilitating panic attacks so frequently that I had to be pulled out of school. I took part in an intensive day program at Sheppard Pratt, followed by months and months of CBT and biofeedback therapy at their Anxiety Disorders Clinic. Delving into root causes, they discovered perfectionism.

I grew up in a heavily competitive environment (pre-professional ballet), where everything had to be perfect. I went to performing arts school and then trained 30-40 hrs/wk outside of school. My mother, a former professional dancer, was my personal coach. And nothing was ever good enough, not from her, not from directors or judges.. It didn't matter how hard you worked, there was always something that needed to be perfected. I could walk away from a competiton with the overall high score and a gold trophy, and the drive home would still be: "We need to work on your XYZ when we get back into the studio. It didn't look good today, it'll cost you points." My mom once told me: "You're onstage in 2 minutes; I don't care if you don't feel good. I don't care if someone calls right now and says your... your grandmother died, you get on that stage and you dance, and you do it with a smile. You can cry after you're done." I'm not sure if that's the kind of complex trauma you were talking about, but it's what I experienced.

I burned out at 17.

It took a LOT of therapy to get through that neurotic need for perfection, to be perfect in every way, in everything, at all times. But the staff at SP were truly amazing. I began to have attacks less and less frequently, and now, I haven't had a panic attack in about 5 years. I still catch myself putting on too much pressure sometimes, but now I can recognize and work myself through it.

So, I just wanted thank you, and anyone who works in a similar specialty, from a recovering perfectionist. :) Thanks for the work you do, you definitely make a difference!

-_fawkes_-3 karma

Thank you, that means a lot. I'm so impressed by the work you've done to overcome the crushing perfectionism. You've done so much already.

GriffsWorkComputer20 karma

My brother was given all the love support and opportunity in the world from my parents but my gosh did he grow up into this angry perfectionist. My dad would tell me how he would beat himself up in school if he got anything less than an A+. Me and him cook for my parents on Sunday and he leaves no room for error often belittling me for minuscule things that go on in the kitchen. Very strange

-_fawkes_-92 karma

I'm so sorry to hear that your relationship with your brother is so difficult. That sounds really difficult, and I know I would not look forward to a regular experience of being belittled and criticized.

Part of what is hard when we are talking about "trauma" is that sometimes we perceive something as traumatic that is very small or unintentional. Especially if, sometimes just due to temperament, we don't feel like we can talk to people about our feelings or experiences small things get really built up in our heads and affect us in a big way.

I can't speak specifically to your brother's experiences or temperament, but I do know that there are times when we might feel slighted, or like we were put on the back burner when there was no intention to do so. Another complicating factor is that a lot of the time we have these experiences when we are very young, and our perspectives when we are very young are very different from when we are older.

When we are young we might experience something as traumatic, but if it happened when we were older and had more coping skills, it might not be experienced that way. Think falling off of a bike when you're little and parent takes some time to notice that you've fallen. If we never examine these feelings to identify where the underlying experience developed, and then do some work to "re-write" the experiences, the way we feel due to the incident might not change.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it doesn't always have to be because we have negligent or abusive parents. Sometimes it is a mix of temperament, unwillingness or inability to allow oneself to be "vulnerable" in front of others, and perceived trauma.

I hope you and your brother are able to work out a way for you to feel better around him. I wish you luck!

cpe12319 karma

OMG you sound just like my therapist.

-_fawkes_-63 karma

Sounds like you have an awesome therapist ;-)

Tyrphanax14 karma

Can an overabundance of positive reinforcement lead to similar issues? i.e. A child who is consistently told they were smart and talented and could do anything they set their mind to developing perfectionist tendencies in order to not let their parents down or to ensure they lived up to that implicit expectation?

-_fawkes_-16 karma

Absolutely! Also, they can start to not trust adults because either they hear that they did an amazing job when they know better, or they think the adults can't tell, which isn't better.

The idea is that we want to teach children that it's ok to make mistakes, not that they didn't make any, and that it's ok to have limitations, not that they don't have any.

PulchraAnimae11 karma

That's fascinating. Where does the sense of not allowing oneself to be vulnerable come from and how does one get rid of it?

-_fawkes_-49 karma

John Bradshaw would say that it comes from being “exposed” when we were not ready to be exposed.

Often it comes from our early experiences of being criticized, not supported, or otherwise hurt in a moment of vulnerability.

There are a lot of different ways to approach healing from this, but one common approach is very slow, measured, steps towards being more vulnerable around people you trust to be loving and supportive and having experiences that feel good as a result of the vulnerability. We are social animals, it feels good to be loved and supported!

B0ssc03 karma

we are social animals, it feels good to be loved and supported

True. How then can we understand people who don’t respond to such vulnerable childhood experiences by resorting to perfectionism/OCD etc but instead become defiant, and provoking such criticism further, even to an excessive extent?

-_fawkes_-4 karma

A diagnosis that helps describe the phenomenon you’re describing of pushing people away is called Reactive Attachment Disorder. It’s caused (usually) by severe neglect. The child learns that it doesn’t matter if they cry or otherwise ask for their needs to be met, that they won’t get help. Children who grow up in these environments still crave intimacy, so one of the characteristics of this diagnosis is acting much closer or more intimate with people you don’t know well. Once that person gets closer and the relationship starts to feel “real” the child will do anything and everything to buck the relationship. The child pushes away people they might have real relationships with because it causes anxiety. It feels too vulnerable and they don’t know what to do with it.

So I guess what I’m saying is that even really problematic and mean behavior can be traced back to wanting relationships but not knowing what to do with them when we have them.

kazukiwolf16 karma

I guess that means I need therapy.

-_fawkes_-30 karma

I’ve personally been going to therapy most of my life. I don’t know where I’d be without it but I know I wouldn’t be here.

overratedunderpants14 karma

How can I help my child to be confident in himself and not become a perfectionist who hinders himself to grow into the person he'd like to be?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

Support him regardless of success or failure. Encourage and praise effort and not as much outcomes. Listen to him when he talks about banal crap as though it’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard. Give consequences that make sense with the misstep and do so neutrally and calmly. Go right back to play or loving engagement and don’t punish through love withdrawal. Be open and honest about your feelings, shortcomings, and apologize when you do something you wish you hadn’t. Sit with him when he is having a tantrum, quietly, and be a solid place to go for support even when he did something wrong. Give consequences after he had had the experience of being supported by you back into a grounded emotional space.

Princeps_5 karma

It was indeed an enlightening answer thank you.

All my life I’ve oscillated between being on top of everything and then having a collapse period afterwards. I’ve never been able to hit my stride. Is there any maybe some unique advice you can give for us all-or-nothing people?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

I sometimes describe a change process as a pendulum. We tend to start very far over to one side. When we decide something needs to be different and try to make a small change, we accidentally swing all the way to the other extreme. So although it's the same issue, we express it in two diametrically opposed ways.

As we start to work with our change process, the pendulum will still swing past the middle, but not quite as far to the other extreme. That might look like, while previously in an underachieving part of your process you might not get out of bed at all for 3 weeks save for the bathroom, this time in your underachieving experience you rarely got out of bed, but it was only for 2.5 weeks, and you did make it to the front porch once or twice.

We want to first recognize which extreme we are on, and next we want to identify that we would like to make it less extreme. When you are in your overachieving process, it is common for people to be very hard on themselves to try and make up for the underachieving. So when you are here, your work would be to be less hard on yourself and try to notice when you need breaks.

On the other side, when you notice that you are in an underachieving space, you want to gently coax yourself (much like you would a small child) into doing just one more thing. That might be moving to the couch from the bed. It might be texting a friend to say I am not ok but don't want to talk about it.

Over time you make your extremes less severe.

Meowlik182 karma

I tend to hold myself to a very high standard to the point where I feel like I can’t show weakness in front of others. If I need help with something, if I’m sick, or upset, or whatever, I try so hard not to let others know that. I work as an RA at my school so I’m constantly trying to encourage others to be open and ask for help, but I can’t do it myself.

Bend emotionally vulnerable and feeling inadequate gives me a huge sense of embarrassment and guilt. It makes me feel worthless or like a burden.

Is there anything I can do about this?

-_fawkes_-245 karma

That is so hard. Being vulnerable in front of others is a big deal and it can be absolutely paralyzing for people. I think the dynamic you're describing of telling others what you know is best and not being able to do it yourself is really common! I appreciate that you felt that you could let yourself be visible in this way, and I recognize that it took courage for you to post this.

What you are describing sounds to me like quintessential shame core stuff. When I'm talking about this I like to start with describing the difference between shame and guilt.

Imagine that two children steal a cookie. Both of them are caught. The first child says to himself, "I did a bad thing. I should not have stolen that cookie." The second child says to himself, "I am bad. I do bad things because I'm bad." The first child is feeling guilty about a specific behavior. The second child feels shame, which has been internalized and is now experienced as a flawed "self".

This can absolutely be healed. You do not always have to feel like this. It is, however, a really ingrained experience often due to childhood experiences, so typically it takes some consistent hard work over a substantial amount of time to be able to experience significant change.

Here is something that helps a TON with shame:

The first is mindfulness. I think mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword recently and I feel that it is losing some of it's meaning, so I'll define for you what I mean by mindfulness. I would describe mindfulness succinctly as moment to moment non-judgemental attention on the here and now. A good person to look up for mindfulness stuff is Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you read into what I said very closely, it is about accepting your right now (the good, bad and ugly) and moving your attention consciously from wandering to thoughts, memories, the past or the future, back into your visceral experience of the moment. I took a class called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction some time ago (MBSR) and one thing that the instructor said really stuck out to me. She said that we should think about our attention like a muscle. You wouldn't go to the gym and do one bicep curl and expect that your muscle should look different would you? Or you wouldn't try to curl 300# and then decide that since you couldn't do it you should give up, would you? In that way, we need to practice using our attention and directing it where we want it to be over and over again before we can start to notice a difference.

Here's how mindfulness helps: It teaches us to move from the critical thought (for example, "I messed that up," to just the feeling (hollow, collapsing sensation in the chest, twisting gut, tense shoulders). If we allow ourselves to feel the feelings and don't push them away or pretend they aren't there, some magic happens. First, we get to respond to the feelings instead of reacting reflexively. That means you are empowered to do things to get your needs met or support yourself in feeling better. Also, it helps us to stay out of our mind that is constantly running, which can be igniting and re-igniting the self deprecating feelings, so that we can breathe into the feelings and watch them dissipate over time.

Phew! There's so much more but that should be enough to get you started. Does it make sense to you how that would make a difference?

Gluttons_Bones63 karma

Thank you for this and thank you to the person who originally asked the question. I've been dealing with this type of feeling and thinking most of my life and it's caused me a lot of trouble.

My boyfriend and I even recently had a fight because of it.

That you for doing this AMA. If I can later, I'll be hopping on your website to start getting help with this.

-_fawkes_-20 karma

Sounds great, thank you for being here!

lotusblossom60111 karma

I’m a special education teacher and have had students not be able to complete work due to their perfectionism. They often throw away an entire paper due to one mistake. What are some strategies I can use with high school students?

-_fawkes_-132 karma

First I want to thank you for reaching out. The work you do is so incredibly important! I know from working with my teens how much of an impact their teachers have on their day to day experiences of themselves, so it makes my heart happy to see you working to help them be more comfortable.

One of the most important things I can say about helping someone through perfectionism is that they need the goal to be broken down into small, manageable pieces. When I think of a child throwing away an entire worksheet, I think of someone who is looking at the larger goal of "complete this assignment" or even "do well in school so I feel good enough". We want to work to re-define the goal for them so that it is more achievable.

That might look like giving that particular child the assignment in segments. If it's a worksheet, maybe it would be helpful to use a blank sheet of paper to cover every question but one?

It also might be helpful to talk to the student about how their body feels when they are starting to get frustrated. It's really common to miss body cues about our feelings, and if we don't catch the feelings in time, which the body cues help us to do, that is when we see impulsive behavior.

An example of this for younger children might be to talk about how you feel when you are REALLY frustrated, and then talk about the more subtle signals that you're starting to get frustrated. That's when we actually want to intervene. If you can support the student in understanding what the signals are in their own body (or maybe even "scripts" or things that run repeatedly through their heads when they're upset) that can help them learn to do something else instead of throw the work away (read: act out impulsively).

The something else can be stand up and walk to the other side of the room. Or ask me if you can go to the water fountain. Or do 10 jumping jacks outside of the classroom to let out the "frustrated" and then come back in ten minutes.

Essentially you are giving them an alternative behavior that is empowering for them, and works better for you.

Hope that helps!

lotusblossom6055 karma

Thanks. Yes, breaking it down is a good idea. I had one girl that I just took her paper at the end of class and graded her on what she had done. She lightened up when I gave her good grades because what she had completed was great.

-_fawkes_-27 karma

It sounds like you're already doing really good work to help your students feel more comfortable!

hellzkeeper121672 karma

My job requires perfectionism, and I feel at times I can take it a bit to far. For someone who doesnt find it debilitating but frustrating at times what advice could You offer?

-_fawkes_-100 karma

That's so interesting. I find it really cool when someone's otherwise problematic defense mechanisms make them so gifted in an area that they are able to do especially well with something as an adult. It's really cool that you found a job that lets you do your thing and celebrates you for it!

The biggest thing here is to explore how the perfectionism is manifesting for you (in what areas of your life, in what tasks, and to what extent) first. This can help you get a hang of where in your life this is helpful, and where it is detrimental. Another important aspect of this is identifying how you feel in your body when you are expressing the perfectionism. Let me first talk about how to do this and then I will tell you why!

Here are the first couple steps in "how":

First you are going to want to notice when you are acting out the perfectionism, and then identify how you can tell that you are. You may not be able to identify this right away, because you aren't used to having to notice, and it's a weird question to ask yourself. Even if you just ask yourself before bed at night, "was there a time today that I was manifesting my perfectionism?" If your answer is yes, then ask yourself, "how can I tell". This is the weird question, but it's super important. If you can identify that, for instance, your chest tightens, or your heart rate increases, or you make a certain facial expression, then you can start to identify closer to the actual moment that you are expressing your perfectionism right then.

Here is the "why":

I'm a huge proponent of being able to choose. This is how we become empowered, and feel like we can make a real impact on our lives. I like that you recognize that there are times that the perfectionism is helpful, and other times when it is not. That means you are ok with some ambiguity, and that's important.

If in the moment you are able to acknowledge that you are acting out the pefectionism, that means that you can identify whether or not you want to keep acting it out. That's the beauty of it, in my opinion. It gets to be a case by case basis for you in each moment, because when you are paying attention to how you feel in the moment, you are also starting to get more information like, "does this feel good? How can I tell?" and "Does this feel bad? How can I tell?" That is information that we usually miss when we are just going about our day.

So that's a bit of a long-winded answer to your question, but I hope it gets at the core of what you needed.

hellzkeeper121625 karma

Very helpful. Thank you very much.

-_fawkes_-16 karma

I'm so glad!

jasonhackwith58 karma

Thank you so much for your AMA, I've already found some great action steps for myself to try. My question is, do you see a connection between perfectionism and self-destructive/self-sabatoging behavior, and what are some tools that someone with perfectionist behaviors use to keep from self-sabatoging when something can't be perfect?

-_fawkes_-54 karma

I'm glad you have already gotten value! That makes me really happy.

There is absolutely a connection between perfectionism and self-sabotage behavior. The connection, the way I look at it, has to do with the shame core that I have been talking about, where we either feel like we need to be "more than human", or feel that there is no point in even trying because we are "less than human". What you are describing sounds like the "less than human" part of that spectrum.

Sometimes I talk about this as looking at things as "process" oriented rather than "product" oriented. When we are looking at things as mattering because of the product, we are constantly gauging our progress, trying to make sure that we are on track. This takes us out of the moment, and if we feel we aren't measuring up, we can start to feel discouraged and give up or purposefully mess up before we can feel like we really failed even though we were trying our hardest.

If we are able to look at things as mattering because of the process, then we start to be able to be right where we are, be ok with exactly the part we are currently experiencing and we get to value the steps we are taking in this moment. This way we get to take breaks when we are tired, and basically make sure that our needs are met at every step of the way.

Here's a different way to think about the same thing:

I often advise my clients (and myself) not to make big or important decisions when we are feeling big feelings. I don't actually care if the feeling is positive or negative, because the result would be impulsive, and I think it's important to be able to feel empowered to choose.

Often when we self-sabotage, we are doing so out of an impulsive place.

So then we talk about recognizing the signs and feelings you have when you are about to have the feelings that lead to the impulsive behavior. If you can start to recognize your "tells" then you can start to become more and more engaged in the process of choosing how to respond.

This is a rich area and there is a lot to say about this. Does this start to answer your question?

anefisenuf52 karma

As a person who has a history of complex trauma and also trauma that was not interpersonal in nature, it often feels like security and confidence are perpetually out of my reach. I am not consciously seeking "perfection," but my underlying fear that something horrible is going to happen lends to that being the result. It doesn't help that messages from certain relationships and also from our culture reinforce these negative feelings that I have about myself, making it especially difficult to reframe. How does a person who has spent their entire life waiting for the other shoe to drop learn how to feel secure in themselves? I find it so hard not to feel justified in my need to do everything "right."

-_fawkes_-65 karma

Thank you so much for your question! It is already so hard to sort out the cause and effect in complex trauma, when you add discrete traumas in there as well, everything gets really muddled and complicated.

I definitely hear you when you say that you are not actively seeking "perfection" but it ends up looking and feeling that way anyway. I feel like this is very often the case, that we don't think of ourselves as trying to be perfect, but we want to feel good enough and safe, so we end up trying to be perfect because it's the only thing we know how to do.

I also hear you when you say that the negative and unhelpful feelings and beliefs you have are reinforced by your relationships and culture at large, and I really like how you put this

I find it so hard not to feel justified in my need to do everything "right."

So here's the thing, for people who are very smart and feel that they can rely on their intelligence, it can become a coping mechanism to "intellectualize" everything, or take the feelings out of things and try to logic ourselves through. I'm hearing some of that when you talk about justifying the need to be "right". The problem with this is, no matter how smart you are, we can get caught up in thought loops, where we logic ourselves into a corner, and end up in a very not logical place. Rather than asking you to "argue" the unhelpful thoughts or belief systems, it's a matter of coming out of our brains altogether, and using mindfulness (non-judgemental moment to moment attention on visceral experiences) to get at the feeling itself.

Have you ever found yourself saying something like, "I understand that I have no reason to feel this way, but it doesn't make the feeling go away,"? This is very typical of people who have experiences with complex trauma. It indicates that the issue is not how you are thinking about an issue, but rather how you feel about it and how you learned you should feel about it from previous experiences.

So here is the long and the short of it:

You can learn to teach the people in your life now, through a mix of boundary setting and an increase in skillful communication (I sometimes call this meta-communication) how they can best support you in your healing process. You may have seen me write in other places that a big part of healing is taking the experience into the present moment (which happens without us trying when our trauma is triggered or activated) and doing something to heal and sooth it in the moment. That means that relational trauma (the kind that was done to you by others that you trusted) can be healed through relationship, either with a therapist or with your loved ones (ideally both).

You can learn to identify when your trauma is activated and what that feels like. This helps because sometimes you can preempt some of the worst parts of the experience by taking care of yourself differently in the moment.

You can participate in "bottom up" types of therapy like Gestalt, Internal Family Systems, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing (to name a few), as well as traditional CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

Three is more, but I feel like this is a good starting place. I want to make sure I say, you don't always have to feel like this. Trauma is excruciating and insidious, but it is not a life sentence.

Hope this helps.

unbeknownst_to_you33 karma

Have you ever found yourself saying something like, "I understand that I have no reason to feel this way, but it doesn't make the feeling go away,"? This is very typical of people who have experiences with complex trauma. It indicates that the issue is not how you are thinking about an issue, but rather how you feel about it and how you learned you should feel about it from previous experiences.

This is me always. I’m always struggling with this. Like, I know I’m overreacting sometimes, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling the way I feel. I try to talk myself out of it, but I get stuck in the loops and then I’m at the bottom point feeling lost, alone, and confused.

Thank you for your AMA! I’m reading everything.

I love how thorough you’re being with your answers. Makes me want to do online sessions with you at the same time I’m seeing my physical psychologist!

-_fawkes_-18 karma

I'm really happy to hear that this resonated with you! It can be a really confusing problem for people to have because we are so used to logic-ing or talking ourselves through things.

CH1CK3NW1N9537 karma

I'm a young adult who's life has more or less been brought to ruin via a crippling fear and certenty of failure. Every time I try to do something more important than deciding what I'm going to have for lunch that day, there's a little voice in the back of my head that says "don't do it, you'll make a horrible mess of it and it's better to not try than to try and fail".

First off, would you consider this to be a variant of perfectionism? Second, do you know any way to tell that little voice in the back of my head to kindly knock it the hell off?

-_fawkes_-65 karma

Thank you for your question! Yes, I would 100% consider this to be a product of perfectionism.

The answer to your question is long and varied, but i will do my best to answer. Here is a video from the founder of IFS that will also help answer your question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuJLv98ks-I&t=8s

So here's the thing with the voices in our heads that are being critical or discouraging: they are old defense mechanisms that are not being put to good use anymore. You may have needed that little voice when you were small to get through some really challenging times in your life when you had little to no power to change your circumstances. Over time it sounds like that voice stayed persistent past the point of being helpful. So we first want to recognize that the voice has served a purpose. We don't want to be mean to it (I love the way you said, " tell it kindly to knock it the hell off"). Kindly is the key word here. So we want to see if we can come to a place of open curiosity about what this voice is, where it comes from, and what it's trying to do. We want to allow that voice to say what it needs to say and communicate that it is scared for us and wants to keep us protected. Then we want to empathize and show gratitude for everything that voice has done to try and keep us safe and get us through hard times. Next we want to give the voice permission to relax. Gently validate that it has been working over time and that it isn't needed now in the same way it was when we were small.

This is a really intense, difficult thing to do, so I want to make sure that I say it is best to have a therapist walk you through it, so they can stop you when you seem overwhelmed or when it feels like your energy isn't right for the exercise. Over time, once you have established "contact" so to speak, with that voice, you can check in with it often.

I know that is a convoluted answer, but this is the "bottom up" work that will help with this.

Did that answer your question?

Sheltac20 karma

Hello! Thank you very much for doing this, your work sounds awesome!

I am by no means an expert in the area (I work in Robotics), but what you describe sounds a lot like the pattern of general obsessive-compulsive behaviours. What would you say are the main differences between perfectionism itself, as you describe, and other conditions such as OCD?

-_fawkes_-32 karma

Thank you for your question! It's a really good and really interesting question. While I do work with clients who have mild to moderate OCD, I definitely specialize more with complex trauma induced perfectionism.

First off, both would be considered based in anxiety. The way I like to think about it, anxiety issues/disorders are based in experience of wanting/needing to feel "safe". This is sometimes hard to conceptualize because it doesn't seem connected that someone who obsessively counts floor tiles is doing so because they feel unsafe, but it actually is linked.

We usually think of physical safety when we are talking about feeling safe, but a lot of the time we are actually talking about emotional safety or feeling "worthy" or "lovable". Here is how they differ:

OCD is characterized by obsessive (O) intrusive thoughts that we can't get rid of, and get stuck in our heads no matter what we do. Sometimes this can be an image, sometimes it's a thought in words. We develop compulsions (C) in order to try and move our attention, or fix, the obsessive thoughts or images. Sometimes these can be closely related (I am worried I'm going to die of a disease so I wash my hands obsessively) and sometimes the relationship between the two is very attenuated (I'm concerned that my mother is going to die so I obsessively count tiles). So this is a very specific disorder that presents in a very specific way.

Perfectionism can be expressed very similarly. Sometimes there is an element of "magical thinking" or thinking two things are related when they really aren't. But the magical thinking presents a little differently. For instance, someone with perfectionism that is bothering them would have magical thinking that sounds more like, "If I do well enough in school, my parents will be happy with me and they won't get divorced." It's often much more based in am I "good enough" am I "lovable" and am I "doing enough". I think of perfectionism as coming from a place of complex trauma (complex trauma differs from acute trauma, something like a car accident, in that it happens over and over again for long periods of time, usually years. This is usually trauma that is caused by another person, or people, which can really impact our experience of ourselves in relation to others, or our ability to feel good enough.

I hope that answers your question!

Sheltac13 karma

Thank you very much for your answer! I've been taking a look at the other answers and, for what it's worth, I think you're doing this AMA thing really really well. Kudos!

So safety is a core issue, which I can totally understand, and the problem is in how one takes steps towards that safety, namely in the establishment of false relationships between cause and effect ("If I do well enough in school, my parents will be happy with me and they won't get divorced.", as you pointed out). As a complete layman, I can see how this, by itself, would lead to aberrant behaviour.

Focusing on complex trauma, you end up with a much more holistic kind of therapy, right? I.e. instead of prescribing some meds, you explore and disentangle the complicated "mess" they've got going on, which feels like a correct way to tackle the problem at its core. So, I'd like to know: what is typically the relationship between your sessions and other professionals? Are your clients also usually seen by psychologists of psychiatrists? Do you coordinate with them?

One last question (and pleeeease don't feel attacked, this is all new to me): is there a strong scientific grounding of perfectionism itself as a mental disorder? Are there studies on how it arises from different kinds of trauma? Is there some specific author I should look at to gain an overview of the field?

Many thanks once again. It's people like you that make this a cool place :)

-_fawkes_-24 karma

Thank you for your kind words! I have been very nervous about the AMA so I appreciate it. :-)

When you focus on complex trauma, yes, you tend to end up in a more holistic place for therapy. The answer to your question is "it depends", but I'll give you some examples. Sometimes complex trauma can manifest in such a way that it is completely debilitating. That would look like someone who has difficulty taking care of themselves (keeping a job, having a safe place to live, having boundaries with others to keep them safe). This often requires lots of support from other professionals. This can look like having a case worker (so they can get access to actual resources like food, housing, and transportation etc.), it can look like having a medical doctor or a psychiatrist to medicate symptoms, or it can look like coordinating with teachers, parents, and other important adults in a child's life. I will coordinate as much as is necessary for my clients to get what they need, and it's a very case specific decision.

I don't feel attacked at all! What I call "perfectionism" I consider to be a symptom of other medical diagnoses. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's not a mental disorder by itself, but I've noticed that a lot of clients I see have their symptoms manifest in this way. I don't have any research available off hand, but some names you might enjoy looking into more would be John Bradshaw (he is the first person who introduced me to the shame core phenomenon and he has several really interesting books) and Brene Brown (self identified "shame researcher"). I think their body of work really explains where I'm coming from when I talk about perfectionism.

Thank you again for your questions!

Alphacrap19 karma

Is this kind of like being hyper-critical too? My spouse asked for a separation because of this trait he says I have. I want to stop doing this because it really turns people off. I was belittled and controlled in my previous marriage, and that may have something to do with it.

-_fawkes_-25 karma

Thank you for your question. Yes, this can absolutely look like someone who is hyper-critical. It kind of makes sense when we think about it as putting the same (impossible standards) we hold ourselves to onto other people. Or even feeling resentful that we have to work so hard to be perfect but feeling like we keep getting let down by the people in our lives.

Being belittled and controlled in previous relationships can absolutely affect the way we engage in our current and future relationships. For some people being hyper-critical can feel (unconsciously) like a way that we can get power back, and feel safer by virtue of being the critical one. It can also be a way to feel safer by giving us the feeling that we are taking care of things and making sure that other people are taking care of things, too. What I mean is, if we feel out of control because someone else is responsible for something getting done, we may feel the need to be hyper-critical so that we can make sure that everything is taken care of in a way that we feel good about.

Did that answer your question?

-_fawkes_-17 karma

I love this question! I would consider that Lupin might have perfectionism because he is so hard on himself all the time. Also Percy. Definitely Percy now I’m thinking about it. Poor guy.

coryrenton14 karma

Have you noticed any trends in someone's cultural background or upbringing that makes them unusually resilient against succumbing to such issues?

-_fawkes_-44 karma

That's such an interesting question. I spoke in other comments about perfectionism often stemming from complex trauma, so negligent or abusive caregivers and the like. This can also look like a parent having perfectionism themselves, experiencing their children as extensions of themselves or an expression of their worth as a parent ("If you don't excel then it means I didn't prepare you properly and I'm not good enough").

But you asked what could help someone learn to be resilient. I think that looks like what attachment therapists would call "good enough" parenting. A different way to say this would mean a parent who is sufficiently laid back as to give the child permission to learn and grow imperfectly. Giving positive feedback about successes, and supportive and kind feedback about mistakes or missteps. Asking the child often how they are feeling and experiencing, so that they learn emotional communication and that asking for support from loved ones is safe and helpful.

So here are the most important points the way I see it.

Teaching the child emotional communication

Asking the child often how they are doing/feeling and being ok with any response or lack thereof

Not overreacting to failures or mistakes (failing a class, making a bad decision)

Treating the child like they are valuable no matter how well or poorly they are behaving.

Explaining things at a developmentally appropriate level and making sure to indicate explicitly that things like mom and dad fighting are not their fault, and doing this consistently.

There is more, I think, but I feel this is a good place to start.

iTherapy13 karma

Hi Rebecca,

I see on your website you offer online therapy. What are some of the advantages for the your clients of offering online therapy?


-_fawkes_-32 karma

Hi! Thanks for the question! I am super excited to be doing online therapy, so I'm happy to talk about some of the benefits.

One of the major obstacles I see to my clients being able to see progress in therapy is their inability to get there in the first place. Commute and travel is really challenging for a lot of people, whether it is due to the time commitment, difficulty obtaining reliable transportation, whether or just schedule constraints. I feel that online therapy is a fantastic solution to this, because it takes up less time (you aren't factoring in travel time) and you don't have to find a way to get there.

Another consideration is that is can be really intimidating going into a therapy office, somewhere you've never been before, and you are supposed to talk about really difficult topics. Sometimes my clients feel really exhausted after particularly tough sessions, and we have to make sure they feel like they can deal with the drive home safely etc. Online therapy fixes both of these challenges because the client can already be at home, with their pets and safe surroundings, and they don't have to worry about getting home afterward.

It's more convenient for a lot of people, helps them save time, and it's really cool because it's still face to face like we're in the same room.

Lulwafahd13 karma

Rebecca, I'm a genderqueer woman and I have tonnes of trouble dressing in the morning because I have the feeling I'll be judged based on what I wear.

I'm so tall that I've been quite mistaken for a transgender woman on several occasions and treated so horribly I've had to get dental implants and heal from injuries received on that basis. I feel horrible for how they're treated too, but this is about me.

How do I get dressed when I constantly feel that things that make me beautiful make me a target for sexist abuse and things that don't make me beautiful make me a target as though I'm someone who don't know how to properly "fool someone into thinking I'm a woman"?

-_fawkes_-26 karma

I am so sorry that you are targeted in that way. When the choices we make have actual effects on our safety, the stress and fear can be even more debilitating. I think it's important to say (even if you already know it) it is not ok that you have been targeted and hurt in the ways you have been. You deserve to dress the way you feel comfortable and know you are going to be safe.

The answer is complicated, and imperfect, I'm afraid. I feel like it's necessary to point out that you don't control the people who hurt and target you. It is possible to be targeted for sexist abuse even when you don't get ready in a way that makes you feel beautiful, and it is possible to be targeted and put at risk by others even if you choose not to get ready in a way that makes you feel beautiful. I'm not saying this to discount the patterns you have identified, but rather to help you not hold yourself and the way you choose to dress responsible for other people's behavior. How frustrating would it be if you were really careful about not dressing in a way that would make you a target for sexist abuse and then you were targeted anyway? That has the potential to make you feel hopeless and helpless.

Your physical safety is paramount, so I want to temper my answer by making sure I'm saying it's important to use good judgement about where you're going, what time of day it is, who is likely to be there etc. It is never your fault if someone hurts you. If you are aware that you are in a place that is more risky then you can take precautions to stay safe.

Part of what I'm hearing from you is that you recognize that the only difference it makes dressing differently is the type of abuse you experience. So here is my answer. Dress in a way that makes you comfortable, and that fits your needs and your circumstances for that day. If necessary, ask yourself in the morning as you are getting dressed, how you are going to keep yourself safe, and then dress in a way that you feel good about that day (this will change day to day) so that the people hurting you don't get to have power over you in that moment.

It's such a hard thing because you're in a catch-22. But since you can't control the people who hurt you, the way you dress unfortunately can't keep you safe. So it makes sense to wear things that help you feel good.

Please let me know if you feel like that answers your question.

_APlaceForMyHead_10 karma

Hi Rebecca. I don’t know how much to ask as I don’t want you to give away all your secrets for free when you usually charge for your services, but how do people who struggle with this learn to say to themselves “Okay, that’ll do” and be happy with where they’ve left a task even when it’s not finished as well as it has the potential to be?

EDIT: In the same vein, how do they learn to start tasks knowing they won’t be able to complete it perfectly?

-_fawkes_-29 karma

Hi! You don't need to worry about asking too much! I think a lot of the value in therapy is having a witness and a relationship with someone who supports us in disentangling hard stuff. Also, if I didn't want to give stuff away I wouldn't have done an AMA ;-) So I guess I'm saying, I'm happy to help in any way that I can!

The "Okay, that'll do," is a really hard thing for a lot of people so I'm glad you asked about it. The big thing here, in my opinion, is to get out of your thoughts and try and move into your emotional and physical experiences instead. Have you ever not noticed that you were hungry until all of a sudden it became really painful and MADE you listen? That's kind of the same thing. When you are feeling "done" with something, your body will give you signals. This may feel like a tension in your chest, or an impatient and restless feeling in your arms or anything else. We train ourselves (quite unfortunately) to ignore these signals, so by the time we realize that we don't want to do something anymore, a lot of the time we are WAY past where we optimally would have stopped.

You also asked how we can even start tasks if we feel discouraged on the outset that we won't be able to do it perfectly. This is a similar answer, except rather than looking for signals telling us that we don't want to do something, we are looking for signals in our body telling us that we DO want to do something. This is movement energy, the part of us that inspires growth and change in us, in a way. We want to be focusing more on the internal experiences than the outcome, if that makes sense.

Let me know if that answered your questions. :-)

_APlaceForMyHead_8 karma

Wow. Thank you so much for your detailed response!

I think I’m having some trouble applying that to perfectionism. Does a task that needs completion not take precedent over a mild tiredness response from the body? I wouldn’t know when to listen to my mind and when to listen to my body. I guess I struggle with not knowing how to recognise that “Although this isn’t perfect, it’s satisfactory enough to be considered ‘finished’.“

As I’m typing this I realise that’s a hard question to answer without any specific information about my experiences. Perhaps there’s some other things to be worked on before the perfectionism gets tackled.

-_fawkes_-30 karma

Perfectionism tends to be intertwined with lots of other experiences, beliefs and symptoms. Finding a therapist to sort through it with you can be very helpful in addressing more specific experiences that you have had and tend to have.

That said, I understand that talking about body experience can be a weird thing to connect to perfectionism. Let me give a bit more context. Often, I find that people who experience perfectionism are thinking about the "tasks that need completion" as you say, rather than considering and taking into account their experiences and moment to moment limitations.

One issue with this is that we might expect more from ourselves than we are capable of, like expecting yourself to keep the whole house clean, work full time, take care of the kids etc all the time. Something has got to give.

Another possible issue is that while you may be hyper-capable one day, due to circumstances or just your emotional landscape another day, you may be less capable of getting the same type of production from yourself. What I'm saying is that it's ok to make accommodations for how you are right in this moment, and what is possible for you in this moment.

If you take yourself (emotionally and physically) into consideration sometimes you may get tasks completed, and other times you won't. You give yourself permission to make accommodations accordingly.

There is so much to say about this.I hope this provided some clarity.

GarbageTheClown10 karma

Is there support for this kind of thing in adults?

I'm not sure if this falls under the same category, but if I get overwhelmed with at ask what I cannot easily mentally step through, I get paralyzing levels of anxiety. I must do whatever the task is the correct and most efficient way, if that cannot be accomplished then I give up. I may also just be lazy, I don't know.

-_fawkes_-7 karma

It sounds like the same category to me, not lazy. Therapists who specialize in trauma and/or anxiety can help a ton with this.

Mevil1879 karma

Martha Stewart vs Kim Jong-un at beer pong?

-_fawkes_-22 karma

Martha Stewart no question. She’s used to getting her hands dirty.

mimimines9 karma

This has to be one of the best AMA’s ever. I’ve saved some of your answers and hope I can practice them when I have children (or even now to myself and my partner). Do you have plans on writing a book or something? I feel like you should: it would be my bible. Thank you so much for this.

-_fawkes_-12 karma

Those are huge compliments! I am so happy that you found it helpful. It means a lot to me.

Definitely no book plans, but I have started writing a blog, and I intend to start doing youtube videos. I just have to get over how nervous I get. :-)

Duke_Paul6 karma

How do you parse the difference between people who are dedicated to achieving a specific level of quality at a task and people who actually suffer from OCD? Is it sort of grey, or is there a discrete difference between the two, and, if so, do you work with people with OCD?

-_fawkes_-16 karma

Thank you for the really great question! I am a big believer that each person gets to determine what is problematic for them and what is not (for the most part, this can be a challenge with substance abuse). So I think to answer part of your question, I would do a lot of work exploring with the person when and how they experience the feelings that we are saying are related to perfectionism. Then we would want to determine whether or not the person feels that it is impacting their life negatively or not and how. Sometimes it is helpful to have the perspectives of loved ones as well, because if the behavior or experiences are negatively impacting the person's relationships, that also matters.

I talk a lot in a previous comment about the differences between perfectionism and OCD so I'll quote that comment here:

OCD is characterized by obsessive (O) intrusive thoughts that we can't get rid of, and get stuck in our heads no matter what we do. Sometimes this can be an image, sometimes it's a thought in words. We develop compulsions (C) in order to try and move our attention, or fix, the obsessive thoughts or images. Sometimes these can be closely related (I am worried I'm going to die of a disease so I wash my hands obsessively) and sometimes the relationship between the two is very attenuated (I'm concerned that my mother is going to die so I obsessively count tiles). So this is a very specific disorder that presents in a very specific way.

Perfectionism can be expressed very similarly. Sometimes there is an element of "magical thinking" or thinking two things are related when they really aren't. But the magical thinking presents a little differently. For instance, someone with perfectionism that is bothering them would have magical thinking that sounds more like, "If I do well enough in school, my parents will be happy with me and they won't get divorced." It's often much more based in am I "good enough" am I "lovable" and am I "doing enough". I think of perfectionism as coming from a place of complex trauma (complex trauma differs from acute trauma, something like a car accident, in that it happens over and over again for long periods of time, usually years. This is usually trauma that is caused by another person, or people, which can really impact our experience of ourselves in relation to others, or our ability to feel good enough.

So it isn't problematic to want to do a task well, but it is problematic if that drive to do well is causing issues in other areas of our lives, preventing us from having leisure time or connecting to loved ones, or just really slowing down our productivity.

I have worked with several clients who had mild to moderate OCD and we were able to make really good progress, but I wouldn't call myself a specialist in OCD.

I hope that answers your question!

Phase--26 karma

What book(s) do you recommend for someone overcoming shame and perfectionism?

-_fawkes_-7 karma

Anything by Brene Brown, Diana Fosha (I've not personally read but has been recommended by a trusted source), or John Bradshaw. Also, mindfulness books by Jon Kabat-Zinn are really helpful. :-)

FurryFeets6 karma

Hi Rebecca!

What advice would you have for someone that sees some debilitating perfectionism in a loved one? Is there a way to help?

Also, what Harry Potter house are you in and why is Hufflepuff the best? :-D

Thanks for doing this!

-_fawkes_-23 karma

Hey! Really good question! I'll get to your baseless assumption about Hogwarts houses in a minute.

Supporting loved ones with perfectionism can feel very overwhelming. Sometimes people who experience perfectionism can end up being very critical of others as well (although not always) and when this is true it can be a special kind of challenge to support your loved one when you feel attacked.

One of the really cool things about relationships is that we can actually help each other heal by creating a relationship in which the other person can start to experience something different from what their pasts tell them will happen. Another way to say that is that if someone expects to be berated or abandoned, if we do something different, we can help the person develop a new expectation (slowly but surely).

So the first thing I would say here is we want to talk with our loved one about what experiences led them to have the perfectionism in the first place (what are some of the strong memories when they were young) and how they expect someone to respond. Then ask how they would have liked the adults in the memory to respond, and what that would look like today (so how could I respond when you are feeling this way, in a way that could help you feel better). Keep in mind, it is very unlikely that they will have a response for that immediately.

When you and your loved one are not upset with one another, and this is not a current challenge, it's a good idea to have a preparation conversation. "I've noticed that sometimes when X happens you respond like Y. I would like to be able to be helpful and supportive when you feel that way. Do you have any ideas about what I could do?" Then the two of you can collaborate and identify something like, "Tell me that you see the perfectionism coming out and identify that you are going to go in the other room for 10 minutes." or "I want you to silently sit by me and rub my back."

This will be an ongoing conversation between you and your loved one, because what they need might change, or they might realize that it doesn't work as well as they thought it would. Most of the time the best thing to do is stay calm, keep your voice as neutral as possible, point out what is happening kindly, and identify how you are going to respond. This way you get to set and maintain your own boundaries and also be gentle with your loved one.

So, as everyone knows, Ravenclaw is actually the best house, and Hufflepuff is fine, I guess, but really only because they're by the kitchens. I'm in Ravenclaw, by the way. ;-)

thekingmer5 karma

Can I be your client, please?

-_fawkes_-11 karma

:-) I would be happy to work with you! I’m licensed in Virginia and New Mexico and working on DC. If you’re somewhere else and need some referrals though, I’m plugged in to a great community of therapists and I can find some options for you

thekingmer4 karma

I’m in Minnesota, I’ve had a very hard time connecting with therapists regarding this behavior in the past.

-_fawkes_-3 karma

Email me on my website so I don’t lose your comment. I want to give you names

HighlandUK5 karma

How does working with people who suffer from this affect your own relationship with perfection? (If not too personal a question!)

Also, from dealing with this day-in day out, do you have advice to give to the other side (i.e people who are apathetic?)

Thanks for doing the AMA, a really interesting read!

-_fawkes_-4 karma

Interesting question. Honestly, I think working with others who have perfectionism helps me with my own. I, like many others, am more capable of finding my compassion for others than I am for myself. So when I am considering how best to support them in changing the way they are thinking about and interacting with themselves, it is basically practice for me to start being kinder to myself.

The advice I would give to the other side (apathetic), would be to recognize that they, too, are being too hard on themselves. I think it's easy to see that an overachiever needs to let up on themselves, but we don't always recognize this for people who are apathetic and can't seem to get anything done. If they pay close attention to their thoughts or "scripts" that are running through their heads it likely sounds like something very abusive. An example would be, "I am such a disappointment" or "There's no point in trying because it can't get better than this for me." Those scripts are then affecting behavior and keeping them stuck.

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for your question!

necroticpotato5 karma

Where’s the best burrito in Las Vegas, NM?

-_fawkes_-4 karma

I don't spend much time in Las Vegas, but the best burrito in ABQ is definitely from Golden Pride.

IUpvoteEeveryone5 karma

I understand this must be a grey area, but where you draw the line from holding yourself to a high standard and perfectionism? Also, what is considered healthy/non-healthy self-chastising

-_fawkes_-6 karma

For me the main difference between high standards being healthy or not is flexibility. In other words, you can strive for an unattainable goal, but what happens if you don't meet it? Are you disappointed but you'll be ok or do you beat yourself up for days/weeks/years?

I would reframe chastising to "holding accountable". It's important that we take responsibility for our actions, but it's also important to not let our selves be defined by mistakes. We are much more than our worst moment.

Identifying, "I wish I hadn't done that and I won't do it again": healthy Saying, "I am terrible I can't believe I would do something like that I don't even know myself": there's some work to do there

PrivacyError5 karma

Do you find yourself trying to perfect your craft of un-perfecting others?

-_fawkes_-6 karma


MrGrego4 karma

I assume you are fine if your services don't always work?

-_fawkes_-6 karma

I have to be. It is a hard lesson to learn. I definitely go to therapy myself (in part because I feel it would be hypocritical to ask others to do what I am unwilling to do).

But the short answer is yes.

empiron4 karma

Why am i so good looking and how can it be toned down?

-_fawkes_-4 karma

Accept the weight of responsibility that comes with your curse and accept yourself as you are ;-)

xchris_topher3 karma

I want to go to therapy for a list of reasons. How do I begin going about this process?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

I'm so excited for you that you decided it's time to feel better. You can start by finding a list of therapists in your area (Psychology Today online is a good place). Find 1-3 that sound like they could fit you and call for availability. If you don't like your experience with the first therapist try someone else. Therapy is a very different experience depending on the therapist. Good luck!

karmajunkie53 karma

What should you do if you are unaware of those actions?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

The first step is always practicing noticing it when it is happening. The metaphor I like to use for this is if you are trying to remember your dreams when you are awake. They say you should have a notepad by your bed and first thing waking up you should write down everything you remember about what you were dreaming. Often, in the beginning, you will sit up, grab the pad and be poised to write only to realize there is nothing you remember. Over time you start to remember abstractions and they become more and more clear the more you practice.

Just by asking ourselves the questions we are training our brains to pay attention to the thing.

That means that if at the end of every (or most, you don’t have to be perfect ;-)) days you ask yourself the question, “did I notice this today? If so, how do I know? What feelings, body sensations, or thoughts indicated it to me?” This will train your brain to pay more attention.

henriettagriff3 karma

Hey there, I do internal family systems therapy! Like I'm a patient and my lovely therapist finally convinced me to try it and my wife had observed it's hands down been the biggest difference maker for me.

THAT SAID: how the heck do you introduce this weird therapy technique to new patients? I had a couples therapist suggest it to me and my wife and I think my first suggestions about what a 'part' is (in hindsight) were pretty good, but the therapist disagreed (maybe because I wasnt naming or fully understanding the new idea)

Then my current therapist suggested parts work like 2.5 years ago and I said no. And then I gave in and started about 1.5 years ago and it's been great.

So: how do you make parts work sound approachable?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

Ha! I like this question. It is a sort of weird therapy to try and talk to people about, isn't it? I do have some clients who hands down will not do IFS exercises with me, and I totally respect that. It's their time, after all. Typically I'll start off by saying something like, "I want to try something sort of weird, is that ok?" Or I will talk about the parts as "ego states" which I think people are more familiar with so it helps them feel more comfortable. Sometimes if I know a client really well and they are comfortable with me I might just ask if they are willing to do an exercise with me that is uncomfortable. Most people are up for it from what I've seen! And maybe they just know I'm a little strange and they're willing to deal with it. lol

gusta_gusta3 karma

Not that it’s bad, but I’m noticing that you’re starting most responses with overly complimenting the person and boosting their ego and validating their feelings. Is that part of how you operate? Is there a system to this?

I liken it to a business technique of “sandwich the sting” where you say something nice and complimentary, give your constructive feedback, then follow it up with reiterating your compliment.

-_fawkes_-8 karma

It just so happens that I am super interested in a lot of these questions. lol It helps that I got to decide what we were going to talk about ;-)

But if you're noticing that I pull good things about the person's choices from their questions, that probably reflects what's called a "strengths based approach". It functions by supporting the person identify things they are already doing really well so they can build on those things. It's sort of my modus operandi and my husband hates it when I do it with him.

-_fawkes_-3 karma


GZeus883 karma

Who defines what perfectionism is? Does the person you're helping recognise it as a problem or is it something you label for them?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

This depends a lot. I like to use my client's language when they are describing their pain. Most of them don't use the label perfectionist, and so I won't necessarily say that to them either. More of the time I will describe the pain points that I've laid out here and ask if they feel like this describes their experiences. I don't really need it to be labelled to work on it if that makes sense. I just need to know where we need to go. When I was considering doing an AMA, I was trying to find a common theme my clients seem to have and then I labelled it.

leegaul3 karma

Hi Rebecca, I wanted to know if you've read NurtureShock by Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson? In that book they talk about over praising children and how the downstream impact seems to be a fear of failure and subsequent lack of effort and risk taking. What are your thoughts on this and do you believe it fugures in to any of your patients?

-_fawkes_-3 karma

I have not read that book but it sounds really interesting. It makes sense to me that overpraising can hurt children’s risk taking because they won’t want to prove the parent wrong, or show themselves to be a “fraud” (another common experience when we’re talking about shame core stuff). It can also hurt the child’s ability to trust adults either because the child experiences the adults as lying (praising when it isn’t earned) or incompetent (unable to determine when praise is earned).

Children need their primary caregivers to be trustworthy and capable. Otherwise the child will experience himself as needing to take over adult responsibilities. This can cause all sorts of perfectionism because the defense mechanism is responding to the perceived need to be “better than you can be” or, put differently, be an adult when you’re a child.

I want to distinguish this from praising in a healthy way. One thing to look into regarding this would be Nurtured Heart Approach, where the adult finds specific, current, behaviors to praise and then identify what that means about the child. “I see that you are doing your homework before I even asked you to do it. It shows me how hardworking and trustworthy you are.” This is a good way to praise so that the child can trust you and can be used to reframe perceived shortcomings. “I see how kind you were to the other team when you lost the game. That shows me how mature you are.”

ButActuallyNot2 karma

So you are professionally recognizably flawed? Because I got that impression.

-_fawkes_-3 karma

I definitely professionally flaunt my flaws.

rudidude862 karma

Oh my gosh with that spacing between "me" and "anything", amirite?

-_fawkes_-2 karma

Lol. I did notice that.