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S2 E36 TRNSCPT Perfectionism

[00:00:00] Jennifer: Hello. Welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body, and what you can do to heal. 

[00:00:09] Elisabeth: Hi, I’m your co-host, Elisabeth Kristof, founder of NeuroSomatic Intelligence Training- an ICF accredited course for healers, therapists and coaches to help bring behavior change, trauma resolution, and mindset change from the body to the brain.

[00:00:25] Jennifer: And I’m your co-host Jennifer Wallace, a NeuroSomatic Psychedelic Integration Guide, bridging the work of NeuroSomatic Intelligence into your plant medicine healing spaces.

[00:00:38] Okay, so we’re talking about perfectionism today and the protective output of perfectionism. Of course we’ve found ourselves in it so deeply, as we always do with any of the trauma responses that we explore. Before we dive into this, I just want to honor and acknowledge our audience.

[00:01:05] Cause we have a worldwide audience that stretches to corners of the globe that sparks gratitude in me, it blows my mind. So I just want to say thank you. We see you on that map and we know that you’re listening and I’m so honored and grateful that you spend your time with us.

[00:01:30] Elisabeth: Yeah, so many people reached out, especially about the cPTSD series and the ways that it impacted them, and it was so magical and beautiful. I love making these connections. Just like you said Jennifer, it’s such an honor to have people listen to this podcast, to connect with us, to connect with this community, and

[00:01:51] to allow us to shine in our full self-expression and pursue our purpose is such a gift, and we’re really grateful.

[00:02:00] Jennifer: Yeah, we do talk about community a lot. Community is something that really means a lot to Elisabeth and I. We thought it was important for us to take this moment to say thank you for listening to us and being with us.

[00:02:15] Elisabeth: Absolutely.

[00:02:16] Jennifer: Hopefully you’ll find yourself in today’s conversation as well- perfectionism. Oh, the neurology of perfectionism and how it can show up! It’s a sneaky little bastard.

[00:02:31] Elisabeth: Perfectionism is really difficult because it is a protective response with real health consequences. And we can dive more into that deeply throughout the rest of the episode, but in our culture it’s often celebrated as something to be proud of.

[00:02:56] You hear people wear their perfectionism like a badge of honor and are often rewarded for perfectionistic traits. So how do we start to distinguish between striving for excellence and putting out work that is in alignment with your highest values and being stuck in a self-destructive, harmful state of perfectionism that is really a response to stress and trauma that especially occurred during your development. Cause they are different.

[00:03:31] Jennifer: Yeah, it is completely different and have different sensations and feelings in your body.

[00:03:40] Elisabeth: Yeah, exactly. So let’s talk a little bit about where perfectionism comes from and how it is actually linked to ACE scores and adverse childhood experiences and developmental trauma, complex trauma growing up. There’s a lot of research behind perfectionism and it’s increasingly recognized as this multidimensional construct that consists of both intra and inter personal concepts. You can have it externally with other people and trying to be 

[00:04:17] in perfectionism within social constructs. And you can also have it intra personally like inside of yourself, the voice inside of your head. And so there’s defined as three types of perfectionism. There’s self-oriented, socially prescribed and other oriented perfectionism. So self-oriented is that inner critic voice, the thing inside of you that is putting yourself into these really high standards and high expectations of yourself.

[00:04:47] They’re socially prescribed, which is when you believe you have to appear perfect externally, that you have to perform in your social circles to be loved and accepted and not rejected by society. And then there’s other oriented perfectionism, which is when those expectations get pushed out onto other people, and you have those really high standards and expectations for others.

[00:05:15] Jennifer: It reminds me of the inner critic/external critic situation. When someone is voicing so hard their perfectionism and expectations of perfectionism onto other people, the internal perfectionism voices must be so strong and so loud. Everything that gets bottled up internally, eventually it finds its way to the outside world as well.

[00:05:42] Elisabeth: Yep. Absolutely. And we talked about this quality a lot in the cPTSD series, but especially in terms of the internal critic and toxic shame episodes. So perfectionism in terms of being a trauma response or a protective response that occurs often happens when we experience childhood trauma.We develop it as a protective way to ensure ourselves from getting hurt again, and sometimes that trauma can look like

[00:06:17] abuse. We are actually really criticized for when we fail to meet unrealistic expectations as a child, or maybe our parents are really hard on us, but a lot of times that trauma can look like emotional neglect or perceived neglect or having any kind of situation where your needs aren’t being met

[00:06:36] as a child. You’re not getting the regulation, the care, and the attachment that you need so you start to turn inward to put a lot of pressure on yourself to be perfect and perform so that you begin to believe at this really deep level that if I can make myself good enough, smart enough, perfect enough, then I can get the care and the attention that I need to stay safe, to stay regulated, to be loved.

[00:07:07] The catch with that is that’s a no win, because when we change ourselves internally, of course, we’re not really changing the people around us. So we still continue to not get those needs met and then we have to work even harder to be even more perfect, to put even higher expectations on ourselves

[00:07:28] grasping for that connection that we need, the emotional and the physical and the support that we need and we still don’t get it. And so that voice gets louder and more harsh and the perfectionism gets really strong and puts us under a lot of stress.

[00:07:48] Jennifer: This is a very abusive voice. It’s coming from a lens of failure. It’s setting yourself up so that you can fail at something. It’s not from the honest lens of,  ‘I’m gonna just show up here and do the best that I can’ and actually believe that that’s how you’re gonna show up.

[00:08:11] It’s like a voice and a demand inside yourself. And for me, what I learned about perfectionism this past couple weeks is that I set unrealistic time goals for myself. And I think that I’m just gonna be able to bust out a project or something. In this case it was landing pages for the integrative work that I do outside of Brain-Based Wellness.

[00:08:36] Everyone kept saying, well, not everyone, but see even that phrasing! It sounded like the three people I spoke to now turned into this huge crowded audience. Everyone! Three people had said to me, ‘It’s so simple. Don’t stress out about it. It’s really easy. You’ll be able to do it.’

[00:08:55] Well, it wasn’t that easy for me and I couldn’t just knock it out. And so then that voice, that inner critic voice, it just became so pervasive because as I started doing it- Did it look perfect? I started to really question myself on every facet of the landing page, the words, the images, and then that all got reflected back onto me, onto my body, onto my time, onto how often I fail and freeze.

[00:09:27] It put me into procrastination and then eventually it completely froze me and nothing has been done. It also gave me an activation of ‘you need support’. But then in knowing that I need support to take care of this, it triggered a money loop. I’m a small business, solo business owner, and taking out extra funds to hire support isn’t an availability to me right now.

[00:09:53] So then that perfectionism went into my bank account.

[00:09:59] Elisabeth: There’s so much to unpack in the example that you just gave and I think the most important thing is that perfectionism is really debilitating. The expectations that we put on ourselves are unattainable, we cannot get there. Perfectionism is the bar that just keeps getting higher and higher and higher and we will never actually meet the bar with perfectionism. 

[00:10:24] It shuts us down into avoidant behaviors like procrastination or pushes us into trauma responses of freeze, burnout, overwhelm because it puts so much stress on us, so much pressure. There’s real physiological things happening inside of your body when you start to work on those landing pages under those high expectations and all of the loops

[00:10:51] that it activates. Then you get that whole response of experiencing the adrenaline and the cortisol and having that move through your body and feeling so activated and then not being able to discharge that, and just having that response continuously be activated. And eventually you’re exhausted.

[00:11:12] You shut down and nothing actually gets accomplished. 

[00:11:18] Jennifer: No, and just like we talk about the filtration system through your brain and then all the lens of everything starts to change, whether that’s like the threat of toxic shame or the inner critic, it starts to get so pervasive and before you know it, it’s just expanded into every area of your life and that you can’t meet the demand or expectation

[00:11:40] or make it just the very best. It just all starts to fall apart and everything is dark and terrible and fucked and I can’t do anything right.

[00:11:50] Elisabeth: Yeah. Anytime our self-imposed workloads become so much it sends the amygdala, our fear center, into that Fight or Flight response. And again, over time our amygdala can become very hypersensitive and start to perceive a lot of threat. And those sensations inside of our body can trigger us, reminding us

[00:12:13] of other times when we experienced that pressure and ignited that whole cascade, just like you were talking about, of the emotions that come with that- the somatic memories of being a child, striving for that stuff and not having your needs met anyway. And so it can really lead to

[00:12:38] some pretty severe consequences, especially if you’re somebody who has complex trauma. Even if you’re not, there’s a lot of research that demonstrates high rates of perfectionism- especially self-oriented perfectionism, that inner critic voice- that self-judgment can lead to pretty severe mental health consequences, depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, 

[00:13:03] burnout, lack of satisfaction in life, feelings of low self-worth. And then another rub with that is that when we are people who are driven toward perfectionism, when we are people who have been shaped by complex trauma in our development and have this perfectionistic tendency, it also makes us less resilient.

[00:13:29] in experiencing other traumas in the future because we are in that loop of perfectionism, and so we experience maybe some other kind of traumatic event later in our adulthood, but as perfectionists we tend to feel overly responsible for things, we experience self blame and self-criticism in that event, a lot of self-judgment.

[00:13:54] Then as we experience new different traumas in our adulthood, operating under that mindset of the internal critic and the perfectionist makes us less resilient to being able to handle those new traumas and move out of them in a way that is with self-compassion and not really taking it on ourselves.

[00:14:19] Jennifer: This is really huge and pretty potent here. Everything that you just said is another huge reason as to why you would want to train your nervous system so that you can recognize the signals. The only guarantee is that you will be triggered again tomorrow or another day.

[00:14:39] The trigger is coming. You have a nervous system and it is gonna happen flat out. Full stop. So if you don’t understand your nervous system and you’re living in a high state of threat then another threat comes on and your filtration system’s already wired for that. That threat is gonna send you so much further into dysregulation and numbing out behaviors and wanting behaviors, addictive type behaviors, that it’s gonna just get harder and harder to pull yourself out of.

[00:15:08] You’ll get deeper and deeper into the self soothing or into the freezing and hiding.

[00:15:15] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. The intensity with which we will experience new traumas really changes if we’re somebody who experienced trauma in our early development. And a lot of that perfectionism is like a need to control, a need to control the environment, control the way other people perceive us. That’s at a really deep core survival level- we feel that we have to appear perfectly to not be rejected, to not be abandoned, to be safe at that deep survival level.

[00:15:44] When we experience another trauma, we are often losing control and that perfectionist is very threatened and very triggered by the loss of control. Then that leads to a stronger reaction, not just emotionally but physically inside the bodies of people who have already experienced, especially developmental trauma, that they experience another event later in life.

[00:16:10] Jennifer: Thinking of some of the numbing out behaviors, let’s just take binge eating or food as a way to regulate your nervous system, it is going to take more food eventually. It takes longer amounts of tv, longer amounts of sitting down and it will be harder to interrupt the episodes, if you will, if you continue to go unregulated for so long.

[00:16:40] Elisabeth: Yeah. And then there’s the shame that comes with that coping mechanism.

[00:16:47] Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

[00:16:48] Elisabeth: it just becomes this deep loop. And I think for a lot of people, perfectionism is so deeply ingrained that they don’t even recognize it as perfectionism. It’s just the way that they are, they’re just in this really hard way of being and it’s just how they are. It’s hard to even recognize that ‘I’m in the perfectionist loop’ and then it leads to some of those maladaptive coping mechanisms or it shuts us down or burns us out.

[00:17:20] It’s hard to put together necessarily like, ‘Oh, this is happening because I was so hard on myself, because I put so much expectation on myself to be perfect, to look perfect, to sound perfect, to make the perfect landing page. And now I don’t always understand that that’s why now I’m 

[00:17:41] engaged in procrastination. I’m exhausted. I’m laying in bed, binge watching TV instead of doing the thing that I wanna do.’ It’s hard sometimes to see it and tie together that, ‘hey this is coming from the expectations and the stress that I put on myself.’

[00:17:58] Jennifer: It’s a low level chronic stress that’s always pulsing underneath. If you think about perfectionism in your body, perfectionism in your healing- I have to look like this, I have to perform this certain way, my body needs to look like this. Or high level female CEOs that we work with

[00:18:16] have a huge driving level of perfectionism that they have to show up to, meet the demands of their office, meet the demands of their family and show up to be like, ‘Yes, I can hold all of these jobs. I can be the mom, I can be the six figure salary winner. I can show up. I can be at these sports games.

[00:18:35] I can be here and I can train my body.’ And it’s a fry out. Like you just get frizzled.

[00:18:42] Elisabeth: Not only do you have to show up in all of those roles, but you have to look perfect while you do it and that level of stress is dangerous for our health outcomes. It truly is a level of chronic stress, sometimes low grade, like you said, and sometimes high grade of chronic stress that’s going on all of the time.

[00:19:06] That leads to inflammation. It leads to emotional suppression, burnout, migraine fatigue, mental health collapse, disease states inside of the body.

[00:19:21] There’s a cost to that.

[00:19:23] Jennifer: There is a cost. There is a cost to the high driving- 100%.  I’ve definitely been there in different areas. It’s interesting when I think of the overtraining and the overworking- once we went into quarantine and hit the pandemic and I was able to let so much of that go, it really changed my life to be able to understand what it was like to have more time for myself and to understand what it was like to build my day out from a different foundation.

[00:19:59] It was like, Oh my God, I have no one to show up for. I have no one to work for.

[00:20:07] Elisabeth: Yeah. I think sometimes we’re in it so deeply. It’s just the way that our life is, it’s the way that we’re used to feeling that we don’t even realize it until we have something that gives us a pause, like the pandemic from that constant state of doing and performing and working. Let’s touch on some of the ways that it can show up so people can see ‘do I recognize some of this in myself?’

[00:20:33] I think one of the very first steps to starting to heal this behavior, this response, and starting to move out of it, is just recognizing it. Starting to recognize when it shows up, recognizing that you have it in yourself, starting to parcel it apart. Doing a good job or having excellence in your work- it’s different than that.

[00:20:52] So when you have very rigid expectations or very high expectations of yourself and others, when you find that you’re highly critical of yourself and other people, when you experience anger and shame when you think you’re not living up to those expectations, if those emotions are linked often with your performance

[00:21:13] especially shame- that’s a big red flag that you’re in a perfectionism loop. If you work excessively long hours to prove yourself and your self worth, if you are constantly engaging in negative self-talk, like taking a minute just to listen to that voice inside of your head, What is it like? Is it pretty demanding?

[00:21:33] Is it harsh? Is it negative? Have you experienced disordered eating? If you experience periods of working incredibly intensely and then crashing. If you find that you crash after a lot of work projects or after social events or after something that you’ve been preparing for, if that is always followed by a crash then likely you are experiencing some perfectionism.

[00:22:03] If you find it very difficult to release control of those events and those work projects and if you find yourself becoming really obsessed with to-do lists, checking all the boxes, obsessively editing. These can all be little  tell-tales signs of the perfectionist at play.

[00:22:25] Jennifer: If you can, check in sometimes about your connectedness to the present moment. Do I even know what event I just left? Who did I speak to? What happened? It almost has a dissociative type of quality to it, right? Because at some point you just check out from your life.

[00:22:49] Elisabeth: That’s right. What is your experience of these things- are you really able to experience it fully? Are you able to enjoy it and have satisfaction and pleasure, or is it really just about performing and wondering what everyone thinks of you and trying to navigate that voice inside of your head that is judging yourself the entire time?

[00:23:14] Jennifer: And then what does it look like to be aware of when you’re in perfectionism? And then how do we then talk ourselves out of that and off that ledge?

[00:23:26] Elisabeth: I think that’s where having tools for self regulation really comes into play because it can be very challenging and scary to go against that voice. You and I were talking today, actually, about how you took an action this week to move out of perfectionism. Tell us a little bit about that, because I think this is a really beautiful example of starting to take action against that behavior.

[00:23:50] Jennifer: So I was in the landing page perfectionism, and this week also my dog wasn’t feeling very well and I had an emergency with her. And so just like the lens of the inner critic, the perfectionism, everything starts to go through there. The podcast came up. On Fridays I release short conversations related more to the NSI and Integration work that I do with myself and with others.

[00:24:17] And in the midst of all this other chaos that I was experiencing from the perfectionism, I couldn’t release an episode on the Friday that would’ve released before this episode, so no episode went out today. The only day that I had to record it I hadn’t slept, not one minute.

[00:24:41] My eyes were bleeding. I was exhausted. I had a headache. I never experience headaches. So automatically I know that as a physical sensation, I’m capped. I have reached my edge. The only time I had to record I wouldn’t have been able to show up in service. This podcast is an act of service for me, for you, for us, for this work, for what we believe in, in healing and community and what’s possible in the world.

[00:25:10] I couldn’t have shown up in integrity and in alignment with that service. I would’ve just been pumping out an episode to just pump out a conversation because that’s what happens on Fridays. I had to have a real conversation with myself laying in bed in that moment to think about what road  I was willing to go down. I wasn’t willing to push my body anymore because I knew I had reached my limit. If there’s a headache,  I am there. That is my sure sign in my body that says something has got to change. I can push through so much, but I just knew that if I showed up to record, I wasn’t really showing up at all. I was showing up in perfectionism and who knows what kind of negative thought loops I would’ve gone into

[00:26:00] had a conversation released on Friday.

[00:26:04] Elisabeth: I think there’s so many great things to explore in this. First of all, it’s a great example of the difference between perfectionism and excellence. Perfectionism would have led you to pump out an episode, create this rigorous content schedule, and I gotta adhere to it no matter what.

[00:26:26] So I’m gonna show up and do the thing because I said I would and people will judge me if I don’t and I gotta do the thing, or else I’m failing as a podcast host. I’m failing as a businesswoman, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All the loops, right? And so you do it anyway. Excellence is like, I am going to live the work.

[00:26:43] I’m going to honor what this podcast is actually about. I know that I cannot show up in my fullest capacity and full self expression in this state. I’m going to honor that we talk about listening to and respecting the body and moving at the speed of the nervous system, and I’m going to work in alignment with what we actually talk about, even if that means I don’t

[00:27:10] check the box on the calendar. I don’t stick to the content schedule exactly. That is how we start to move out of perfectionism- looking and listening to our body, listening to the outputs that our nervous system is giving us and, and questioning ‘Why am I doing this?

[00:27:31] Where is this coming from and is it harmful to me?’ And is there even a point to it? Is it serving anyone or is it just this crazy thing that I’ve made up that I have to do? How can I start to see that, recognize it, listen to the body. Step number one- understand that perfectionism is a loop.

[00:27:57] And then what tools can I use to regulate around taking contrary action? So you are gonna allow yourself to not do that. And then, because I know you, I know that you probably did some stuff to make that safe for yourself. You did some drills, you did some grounding, you did your meditative practices.

[00:28:16] You do the things that you know will help you create that felt sense of safety around taking an action that is moving out of that behavior.

[00:28:26] Jennifer: It was quite nice actually once I got through the regulation. I made the decision and regulated. You’re right, I did the practices to support my decision and not have a stream of thought loops later that I failed you- my audience. I failed you on Friday, but I don’t feel like I did that because this is all about showing up in integrity and in alignment, and it’s a great gift. This is our gift and I don’t wanna show up 

[00:29:06] Elisabeth: In a state of dysregulation.

[00:29:08] Jennifer: It’s hard enough to sit here and show up so honestly and vulnerably- to do it dysregulated would just further push me so far out, and I’m not willing to sacrifice my body like that anymore.

[00:29:24] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. And we talk a lot about too, about how people’s nervous systems are always responding to one another and showing up as a safe container for people. That includes this podcast when we show up we regulate ourselves prior so that we are talking to you guys from a grounded and

[00:29:43] fairly regulated nervous system state because even just the energy and the vocal tone and the way that we talk on this podcast has an effect on other people’s nervous systems that are listening. We all affect each other and so it really is of highest service to care for ourselves and to care for our nervous system and to do things when it’s right, when it’s in alignment with our body and our nervous system so that we can do it fully.

[00:30:08] And I think that is really the most important step in moving out of perfectionism.

[00:30:14] Jennifer: I was thinking about unrealistic goals and timelines and how important it is to use time management. Maybe it’s time blocking as your tool for time management and something that maybe I need to pull into my practice a little bit greater, but what is reasonable

[00:30:34] from where I stand at my level of knowing and expertise? Maybe something is gonna take you the rest of this day. Maybe it’s gonna take me a week to figure it out. Maybe I need to look at some tutorials. Maybe I need to prepare myself better to take the action so that when I need to take the action I feel more supported.

[00:30:54] Elisabeth: Yep. Absolutely. And speaking of timelines and being realistic with our timelines and having that be one of the ways that we deconstruct perfectionism- I think this is a really important place to talk about perfectionism and healing. A lot of times we can find ourselves putting that same perfectionistic slant on our healing process that we do in other areas of our life, like our work, our body, our relationships, and trauma healing especially, can’t be fast.

[00:31:31] It can’t be. Trauma itself is too much, too fast, too soon. It’s an overwhelm of the system and that pushes it into these protective responses. And so when we’re putting the same pressure on ourselves to heal in these timelines that we just invented with our cognitive mind the same way that we do in other areas of our life, the same way that we’ve been putting this pressure on ourselves in a state of dysregulation, then we’re just gonna continue to dysregulate our nervous system with our healing practices.

[00:32:05] You really can’t rush your healing. It’s about progress, not perfection, it’s not linear, and your nervous system is not necessarily gonna get on board with what your expectations are for that to look like. Calibrating those expectations, being realistic with yourself about your capacity is really the only way to safely start to do that.

[00:32:28] Jennifer: I think not only what we expect from our healing practices, cause we talk about integration a lot, integration sometimes is just finding safety in the pause. Letting it be, letting it come into you like how does this settle back into my body and what does it look like for me to move forward from this new place?

[00:32:49] Thinking back to food and being healthy and how I feed myself. Perfectionism in the food prep, right? Everything has to look a certain way and healing. You have to just let the pieces fall because you don’t know what it’s going to look like. You are creating a new work of art that is you

[00:33:12] from the inside out. Maybe you’re gonna try some acrylic one day. Okay, let me throw some oil on here. What’s a watercolor like? You really have to be a little bit creative and settle into play a little bit too. So that you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna try this and it might not work.

[00:33:28] I’m gonna throw this in here today and see how this lands into my healing practice. Do I like cold plunge? Does that work for me?’ I might like it. I might not like it. 

[00:33:42] Elisabeth: Yeah, there’s this process of a little bit of experimentation and assessing and reassessing what works for you, assessing and reassessing the dosage that’s right for you, and knowing that all of that takes time because safety really doesn’t come from urgency and pressure. 

[00:33:59] If we have this rapid timeline, that’s not where our body and our nervous system is gonna start to find safety in those practices. Working with people’s nervous systems and working with my own, I’m having to continuously remember how important minimum effective dose is and realize that a lot of times the work has to be much less intense, much less stimulating, and much more subtle than I’m often expecting.

[00:34:33] You know, that it has to be really dialed down.

[00:34:36] Jennifer: I love that you use the word subtle. It’s really subtle sometimes, and if we are racing through to the next spot, to the next place and climbing the ladder you’re gonna miss the subtle messages. We always say with disease states in the body- the body whispers, but eventually the body’s screaming at you.

[00:34:59] You can’t avoid what it’s been hitting. So in the integration spaces, cuz it’s really about this NSI work where I really got familiar with what integration means and entails. It wasn’t in plant spaces, it was here and integrating the inner child and the lessons that I’m learning about perfectionism and how my toxic shame shows up.

[00:35:19] And what’s it like to listen to the inner critic with an altitude that is new because awareness is a neutral place to be. But when you’re in your healing journey, your awareness as it expands, you can really get hard on yourself about your level of awareness.

[00:35:38] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that especially when it comes to nervous system work with people with complex trauma it really has to be calibrated and that can feel really frustrating at times. Like it can feel frustrating to actually honor our own capacity and know that this is gonna be an unfolding

[00:36:02] that takes some time. It is also important to remember- because you talked about the subtle changes- and sometimes it’s hard to feel those. Sometimes they feel like nothing at all, and it’s really important to remember that that’s not true. Our nervous system is always adapting. It’s never not adapting.

[00:36:22] And so as we are creating this new stimulus, we are creating adaptation, we are making a change and it’s very easy to push that change too far, too fast and recreate these strong protective outputs. So it really becomes about how subtle can we make the input, what would be the smallest, observable change?

[00:36:45] And allowing that really small change to be a big win and calibrating our expectations to recognize those wins and really starting with very small steps so that we are continuing to move the work in a positive direction. Because it’s easy to not move it in a positive direction.

[00:37:08] Jennifer: Mm. And can we talk a little bit too about some of the limiting beliefs that come along with perfectionism and how they do sound protective to us, and then how that creates the behavior and then it just continues in the loop. Can we just talk about the importance of the limiting belief factor?

[00:37:29] Elisabeth: Yeah. At a deep level, we have these core beliefs that we develop usually very early in our development that are there to ensure our needs are met, our survival needs, attachment, love, safety. It can feel very true that if I don’t look a certain way, if I don’t perform a certain way- I am not worthy.

[00:38:02] I’m not lovable, I’m going to be rejected. I’m not safe. And so even when we try to cognitively move beyond perfectionism

[00:38:16] it can be really threatening to our survival brain that is still operating under this protective belief of I have to be X, Y, or Z in order to stay safe, to maintain my attachments and my social connections and to be okay really, right? It does not feel okay, Let’s just really simply, it just doesn’t feel okay to move out of the behavior.

[00:38:44] It doesn’t feel okay to not look a certain way and show up at an event. It doesn’t feel okay to not work those extra five hours in preparation that are exceeding your boundary, it does not feel okay to disappoint someone. And so while cognitively we might understand it is okay, I’m safe. I will survive this inside of our body

[00:39:12] it doesn’t-  our heart is racing, our palms are sweating, maybe we dissociate. So that is why it becomes really important to have some tools for regulation around taking those new actions as we start to move against those contrary beliefs and starting to examine the beliefs and how they’re driving our behavior

[00:39:30] because eventually, if we just keep pushing past them, that just leads to its own stress and burnout.

[00:39:39] Jennifer: And I think too, when I think about the limiting beliefs, if I can do this perfectly, I won’t get hurt. If I can control this and do it perfectly, and it’s that level of  ‘If I can control this’, it’s like how often has that worked out for us?  How often have you done it so perfectly as best you can?

[00:39:58] It’s never good enough, and it always is still gonna fall apart.

[00:40:04] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think I talked about this in another recent episode, but recently I have been really trying to scale back on my work hours just to give myself more free time to be and to feel and to experience emotions and to be just floating around doing whatever comes to me. So I’ve set this day of the week where I’m going to not engage in work at all.

[00:40:36] Cognitively I know that’s what I want and I know that’s perfectly reasonable and that everything will be just fine if I’m not available for one day and yet I wake up in a state of panic every time. I feel like I have to run, I feel flight. I feel like I need to get out of here.

[00:41:02] I’m not okay. I need to run. Sometimes I’ll move into a little bit of fight response and I get really angry about it all. I have to do a lot to discharge the emotions. Most of those mornings start out with a good cry and then a lot of self-regulation to make it safe so then I can start to have that day and enjoy it and be present for it.

[00:41:24] But right now it takes quite a big load of regulation and practice. And it’s been a real process for me to start to allow myself to have vacations where I don’t have any kind of movement practice. I mean, I can take a walk or whatever, but there’s no exercising and allowing myself to play with periods of life where I rest and I recover and I give my body some downtime.

[00:41:55] That has been a delicate process where I have to practice minimum effective dose with changing that behavior too, so that I’m not pushing myself into panic or any kind of flashback. It’s this fine line between creating change and doing enough stimulus to create change, enough behavior change to make an impact in our life and to move out of these patterns and exceeding our own minimum effective dose.

[00:42:26] And we’re kind of straddling that all the time.

[00:42:28] I will say it’s definitely been a slow unfolding where my perfectionism came in with that too. I need to be in more flow. I need to not be so rigid with myself and then I have to do that immediately and I’ve gotta live this whole different life and be a completely different person right away.

[00:42:47] And if I don’t, then I’m failing. And so it’s this weird perfectionism on perfectionism, if that makes sense. Perfectionism about deconstructing perfectionism and allowing myself to be more relaxed about that too.

[00:43:02] Jennifer: Well we talked about it and I remember telling you like, Hey, I don’t work on Mondays, but I might do something that is active for the business. Maybe I’ll do some writing that day, or maybe I do something but I don’t structure it and I don’t have any constraints around it. I just do it if it hits me and I get an idea for this podcast or for my Spirit Path business, I do it and I act on that

[00:43:24] because I get the download, I get the channel, and then boom, I’m at it. Okay, I’ve been inspired and I need to get this down. I don’t necessarily consider it working because this work is my purpose. So when I’m in that flow, it might come up on a Monday and I won’t deny that’s what it looks like.

[00:43:44] And sometimes it’s about titrating the work down so that one day it feels safe to not be here on Monday.

[00:43:52] It’s all we can do. You can’t just like, boom, tomorrow I’m not ever gonna do that again. I’m never gonna pick up this pack of cigarettes. I’m never gonna have that drink again. I’m never going to eat that donut. I’m never going to… And start setting those hard lines in the sand and then the minute you start to cross over ’em here comes all the negative, all the responses, all the activations. And it’s just like, okay, next Monday I’m gonna just take it down. Every Monday I’m just gonna take it down a little bit less, a little bit less, a little more time in nature, a little bit more time doing this and using that spectrum to just know that it is always moving and calibrating and I’m just titrating down until one day Mondays is just a day where I’m in flow. I might work, I might not.

[00:44:45] Elisabeth: Yep. I think that’s beautiful and I think more broadly too projecting this out into more collective environments, it is important to think too about how, especially if we’re business leaders, entrepreneurs, we own our own business and we have a team, how this mindset and this

[00:45:09] reaction, this perfectionism can move into our organization and that can be really harmful as well. So there’s a lot of research backing that. Organizations where internal pressure levels are supported by external pressure levels to perform lead to a lot more burnout, a lot more detrimental effects on the organization.

[00:45:33] There’s a lot more sick days, the people in the organization experience poor physical health overall, there’s more physician appointments, higher rates of absenteeism, and a wide variety of health problems. There’s a lot of studies that show it’s harder to recover from illness in that mindset of perfectionism than people who have heart attacks.

[00:45:59] It takes more time to recover from the heart attacks if they have those perfectionistic qualities and they’re more susceptible to future heart attacks, and that overall- of course, there’s a link between autoimmune disease-and it can really lead to an unhealthy and quite costly work environment when we let that become pervasive in our work, in our organizational culture.

[00:46:29] Jennifer: I mean, when you think about it from that perspective and when you think about heart attacks being so related to ACE scores. Things are coming at you from multiple different angles. Maybe you’ve recognized yourself in the organization that Elisabeth just described. Is it worth it?

[00:46:52] Elisabeth: Yeah, and I’m glad that you mentioned Ace scores. There is also a lot of research that people with higher ACE scores, this seems obvious given that it’s part of a reaction to trauma- but there is a link between the higher ACE scores the more likely you are to have this characteristic of extreme perfectionism and the more that that impacts your overall health that is validated by research.

[00:47:26] Jennifer: If I can do this perfectly, I can stay safe.

[00:47:30] That’s your body, your work, your time, your family. That’s everything.

[00:47:36] Elisabeth: Another problematic thing about that is that perfectionism also often keeps people who have trauma from getting effective help with the trauma because  they might be highly traumatized, but they’re very good at covering it up and performing on the outside and appearing really well functioning and

[00:47:59] underneath the surface, there’s all of that dysregulation. Behind the scenes there’s a lot of emotional reactivity and maybe even self harm or extreme numbing behaviors. Perfectionists are really good at shining it on to the outside world and not seeking the support that they need because then they have to show.

[00:48:24] the imperfection to someone else. So often the people who really need the help with this don’t get it because they’re good at projecting a certain image and they’re very terrified of allowing that image to be dismantled.

[00:48:43] Jennifer: It’s shattering an illusion. It is taking a brick and shattering the mirror of illusion and that is really scary to do all in one throw, right? We need to chip away at it, not throw a brick through the glass.

[00:48:59] Elisabeth: Yeah. There’s a lot of ways ss an individual to start to deconstruct this, to start to just recognize it and then work on regulating around taking contrary action. But I also think as a society, there’s things that we could all collectively look at at how our organizations, how our constructs, how our different systems really promote this way of being that is harmful to all of us.

[00:49:31] Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

[00:49:33] Jennifer: As usual it’s always very enlightening. It’s interesting to hear all the different types of perfectionism, cause sometimes I’ll not have thought about that and then I’ll find myself in something that you’ve said. Maybe it isn’t even something that’s happening for me right now, but I can find myself when I did work for different organizations, when I did work for other people and how I hid so much in my work. 

[00:49:57] Elisabeth: Lord, me too.

[00:49:58] Jennifer: Yeah, couldn’t overwork me.

[00:50:02] Elisabeth: Yeah. I think I’ve said this one here before, but I used to always have this thought in my mind, ‘I may not be the prettiest person in the room, I may not be the funniest person in the room, I may not be the smartest person in the room, but you cannot outwork me.’ And that was like my motto,  my identity was everything.

[00:50:20] If I hustle hard enough no one can out hustle me. I’m scrappy. I can pivot and I will get it done.

[00:50:32] I’m talking about over a decade living in that state, not even realizing  that motto was kind of insane. Like I talked about in the very beginning, it was a badge of honor for me- that I would work myself into the ground.

[00:50:51] Jennifer: How did we get rewarded? Well, I got more shifts. I got to be the head teacher. Maybe I was promoted to a manager. Maybe I got more responsibility, more money, more, more something and it took me more and more away from myself and away from my home.

[00:51:07] Elisabeth: I had a successful business that was built on the back of my workaholism and perfectionism. Perfectionism about my body, perfectionism about overworking and eventually as I began my healing process, and that really started with nervous system training. When I started training my nervous system, I started moving out of those patterns of perfectionism and workaholism.

[00:51:32] And when that started to happen the business did not last. It was unsustainable. When I started to make changes- because I was now not operating from that state of extreme dysregulation- I was realizing, ‘Oh my God, I wanna rest. I wanna have boundaries. I want to care for myself’. And that really, really, really did begin with training my nervous system.

[00:51:55] I didn’t even mean for that to happen, it’s just what happened as a result of starting to work with my nervous system and the structure of the business could not sustain those changes, and I had to let it go. And so I think sometimes these skills will serve us for a while and we can reach a certain place, but one, there’s a cost.

[00:52:14] There’s a cost to our health. There’s a cost to our ability to be present and enjoy our life, to have functional relationships and to experience pleasure and joy and all those good things, right? So there’s a huge cost. Also eventually that breaks, you have to have new skills, new tools, and it’s just not sustainable.

[00:52:37] Jennifer: Well, I don’t know what we have coming up next in our lineup of recordings after perfectionism. So stay tuned. It’s what we love to do- just take these really deep dives and explore. It’s like taking a torch into a cavern or a cave. It’s like, okay, what can we shine onto these walls?

[00:53:03] Because there’s so many nuances and trauma responses.

[00:53:07] Elisabeth: Yeah, there really is. It’s endlessly fascinating to me and intense at times, but again, I am  grateful for everyone who listens. And if you find yourself in this episode, if it helps you, if you resonate with it and you feel compelled feel free to share with people. We wanna reach as many people as possible.

[00:53:32] So share with your communities, your friends, anyone that you think might be benefited by this episode or the complex PTSD series or any of the other episodes.

[00:53:43] Jennifer: Yeah. Growing our community is how we heal and change the world together. So thank you all so much.

S2 E36

Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE