NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, January 18, 2016

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

In two prior articles, Perfection vs. Good Enough and Overcoming Perfectionism, I address perfectionism and it's relationship to anxiety.  In this article, I will address the connection between perfectionism and core shame, which develops in early childhood.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

What is Core Shame?
Let's first start by defining core shame.

First, it's important to understand that core shame is different from an appropriate sense of shame, which is adaptive.  An adaptive sense of shame helps children as well as adults learn to behave in ways that are essential to emotional learning.

So, for instance, if a child hits a playmate in anger and he realizes that his action hurt his playmate, he will most likely feel an appropriate sense of shame and remorse about his behavior.  This is part of his emotional learning that his behavior has consequences and the shame is a signal to him that this is not the way to behave.

The shame that he feels is about his behavior and it will help him to learn how to interact with others when he feels angry.  If there are adults to help him, they will teach him that he can do other things that are healthier for himself and other ways to express his anger.

Core shame is a pervasive sense of worthlessness.  There is also usually a fear that others will see that you're worthless and a "fraud" (see my article:  Overcoming Impostor Syndrome).

As opposed to healthy shame, which is about behavior, core shame is feeling ashamed of who you are as a person.

Core shame often results in a strong need to be "perfect," which, of course, is impossible because we're all imperfect as human beings (see my article: Healing Shame in Psychotherapy).

People who feel core shame often feel like they're unlovable and they will be abandoned by others (see my articles: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable and Overcoming Fear of Abandonment).

Feeling unlovable and having a fear of abandonment often result in self perpetuating life events.  So, for instance, people who feel unlovable and who fear abandonment, often shy away from relationships or behave in ways that alienate others.  Often, if they do chose to be in a relationship, they will unconsciously choose romantic partners who are unreliable and who will abandon them.

How Does Core Shame Develop and How Is It Connected to Perfectionism?
As I mentioned earlier, core shame develops at a very early age.

When attachment and bonding go well, babies develop a sense of secure attachment.  But when mothers are unable to provide a secure sense of attachment, usually because they didn't internalize a secure attachment with their mothers, infants will eventually develop insecure attachment which will have repercussions for them as young children and as adults.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame

One of the repercussions of insecure attachment is core shame.

Since young children are naturally egocentric, they believe that if their mother is neglectful or abusive towards them, it must be their own fault.  They don't understand that their mother's misattunement is due to the mother's problems.  They're too young to understand that their basic emotional needs aren't being met.  Instead, they believe that, as children, they're unlovable and worthless.

These feelings of being unlovable and worthless develop into an unconscious need to be "perfect."  If this unconscious belief could speak, it would say something like, "I know that I'm unlovable and worthless, but maybe if I'm perfect, people will love me.  So, I must do everything that I can do to be perfect."

This is a very simple explanation to how core shame develops.  A more comprehensive explanation would include the how attachment develops and the various forms of insecure attachment (see my article:  The Impact of the Early Attachment Bond).

In my next article, I'll continue to discuss the relationship between core shame and perfectionism and how these problems can be overcome in psychotherapy:  The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame: A Clinical Example.

Getting Help in Therapy
Core shame and perfectionism are common problems that many people struggle with throughout their lives.

If you're struggling with these issues, you can overcome them in therapy with an experienced psychotherapist who has an expertise in these areas.

Rather than struggling on your own, you can get help from a licensed mental health professional so that lead a more fulfilling life.

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

I have helped many people overcome core shame.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.