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Monday, January 25, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame: A Clinical Example

In my last article,  I began a discussion about the relationship between perfectionism and core shame by defining core shame and discussing how it often begins in early childhood.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

In this article, which is Part 2, I've provided a fictionalized scenario to show how core shame develops and how it can be overcome in psychotherapy.

Alan grew up an only child in a household with his parents.  They lived in his maternal grandmother's house.

His grandmother was a domineering woman.  Even though his parents were in their 30s when they had Alan, his grandmother treated his parents as if they were children.

She had her own apartment in her house, but she spent most of her time in their apartment overseeing their daily routine, criticizing his parents, and overruling almost all of his parents' decisions.

Alan's father, who was frustrated with the grandmother's behavior, would urge his wife to stand up to her mother.  But even though Alan's mother was furious with her mother's behavior, she was too intimidated by the mother to stand up to her.  So, the grandmother continued to rule the roost with an iron hand.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

Alan tried to stay out of his grandmother's way because he was afraid of how critical she was of him.  By the time he went to school, his grandmother was overseeing his schoolwork and criticizing almost everything that he did.

He really tried to be perfect in everything that he did to ward off his grandmother's criticism.  But, no matter how perfect he tried to be, she was still critical.

Alan developed into a shy, withdrawn child.  He got good grades, but he was afraid of raising his hand in class because he feared being wrong.

His teachers called his parents up to school several times over the years to talk to them about Alan's shyness and lack of self confidence.

Although his parents understood why Alan had developed these problems, they both felt powerless to stand up to the grandmother.

When Alan moved away to college and got away from his home, he began to open up more.  He excelled academically and became more social.  But he still carried a sense of core shame within him that he tried to hide from others, and he was still a perfectionist.

By the time he entered into his first serious relationship after college, Alan's core shame became evident to his girlfriend as she got to know him better.  She also worried about all the pressure that Alan put on himself to be perfect and suggested that he seek help with a mental health professional.

When Alan came for his session of therapy, he thought he was supposed to already know why he was having problems.  He felt deeply ashamed that he had not already figured out the source of his problems.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

When his therapist told him that he wasn't expected to know the source of his problems and, in fact, it was her job to help him discover the source of his problems, he was somewhat relieved.

After the therapist heard Alan's family history, she suggested that they use EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help him to overcome his shame and the need to be perfect (see my articles:  What is EMDR? and How Does EMDR Work?).

By processing his early childhood traumatic experiences with EMDR, Alan could feel something shifting in him emotionally.

Rather than blame himself for not being perfect and feeling ashamed about this, he had a deep sense that it was his critical and domineering grandmother and his passive parents who had problems when Alan was growing up.

Alan gradually worked on his anger and fear for his grandmother as well as his anger towards his parents with EMDR.

After processing his early childhood memories, Alan's core shame and need to be perfect were alleviated.

Eventually, Alan felt compassion for his grandmother, who was raised by very critical and abusive parents.  He also felt compassionate for his parents, who were too afraid to stand up to the grandmother.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

By the time Alan completed treatment, for the first time in his life he felt free of the core shame and the need to be perfect which had weighed him down since early childhood.

As I mentioned in my prior article, the need to be perfect often comes from a deep sense of core shame that develops in early childhood.

Most people who experience the need to be perfect often don't make the connection between core shame and perfectionism until they come to therapy.

Experiential therapy, like EMDR, is most effective in helping clients to overcome core shame which is at the root of perfectionism (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Getting Help in Therapy
Core shame is often at the root of many presenting problems in therapy.

Since core shame is usually unconscious, it's hard to overcome on your own.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist, who has expertise in helping clients to overcome core shame, you can free yourself from the childhood experiences that are at the root of core shame.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

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