Tag Archives: perfectionism

The Abusive Workplace

Photo Courtesy of One Connecticut

You work for someone vain, self-centered, and vindictive.  Someone who knows less about the job than you do.  You put in longer hours than he/she does, but his/her name is the one on the door.  You do the work, but he/she gets the credit.  You can’t remember the last time you received a raise.  And still you keep trying to please.

Sound familiar? A recent study indicates that the American workplace is “grueling, stressful and surprisingly hostile” [1].

We may view our work as a calling, enjoy our chosen field, and meet some wonderful people in that field.  Or, depending on the economy and our particular situation, we may not have much choice as to our job [2].

But we stay at some jobs far longer than we should, a fact which can negatively impact our confidence, our self-esteem, our relationships, and our health.  Why?  An abusive childhood can be a contributing factor.

Abuse can impact not only our personal, but professional lives.  There are many reasons victims tolerate abusive work environments and dysfunctional bosses.

Abusive Management Style

Does your boss manage at the top of his/her lungs?  Does he/she rant and rave over the least mistake…sometimes over no mistake at all?  Is scathing sarcasm his/her favorite style of communication?

Just as parents, spouses, and lovers may be bullies, narcissists, paranoiacs, or other abusive personalities, so too can bosses [3].

No Limits

Even work that is intellectually challenging and emotionally engaging can by physically draining.  In an ideal world, we would not have to choose between inspiring work and livable working conditions.  But ours is not, unfortunately, an ideal world.

As abuse victims, we set no limits for ourselves, exceeding all reasonable expectations.  We take work home nights, to the shore with us on weekends, and away on vacation. There are always more files, more cases, more projects.  Paperwork has a permanent place on the dining room table, and the nightstand beside our bed.

That fact facilitates avoidance.  We have no time for a personal life.  The endless hours we spend at the job, and the emotional investment – the very problems at work – serve to keep personal issues at bay.

The lack of limits, also, feels familiar.  We were raised in a setting where love required self-sacrifice to the point of self-destruction.  Reasonable boundaries were not allowed during childhood.  So we do not recognize them (and do not establish them) as adults.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism can play a role, as well.  Victims may strive to achieve unattainable levels of perfection.  That we fail demonstrates, again and again, to us what we mistakenly assume is our inherent “deficiency”.  In effect, we are compelled to re-enact the emotional experience of our childhood. Continue reading

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Abuse of Power, bullying, Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

Rescuing Ourselves

“The Rescue” by John Everett Millais (1855), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (PD-Art l Old-100)

There was finally a point in my teens when I realized that I would never be rescued from sexual molestation [1].

The shock of that revelation was overwhelming…as if all my trauma had been condensed into a single instant.  It felt, at that moment, as if I had been struck in the chest by a sledge hammer.

Trauma Beliefs

Traumatic childhood events (especially those involving a parent) can give rise to false core beliefs [2].  Often, such trauma beliefs are not articulated.  They may never be identified and consciously brought to mind.

But trauma beliefs can be enormously destructive – not only damaging our self-image, but crippling us.

Here are a few versions of such beliefs:  I am stupid; I am ugly; I am unlovable; I do not deserve to be cared for; I must do everything perfectly, or I will be rejected; I should be punished; I will be abandoned by everyone I ever love.

Self-Hatred

Deep inside, I concluded that I was unworthy of rescue, because I would never be the woman my mother was.  I would never be as kind, gentle, or generous as she was.  Most especially, I would never be as vulnerable or petite.  This translated into self-hatred.

That I developed weight issues in high school seemed “proof” of my deficiency.  Clearly, I had an innate flaw that went through to the bone.  So it appeared to me.  I became a perfectionist to offset this.

Acting Out Trauma Beliefs

Weight problems can be a source of torment and discouragement, especially in our culture.

Those of us with problems involving our weight try diets, weight loss programs, and gyms.  We buy expensive exercise equipment, and gadgets guaranteed to change our dimensions.  Some of us even have surgery, and still the weight comes back.

Weight issues are the symptom, not the disease.  Weight issues are a constant source of shame which is why, with some part of ourselves, we cling to them.  They reinforce our trauma beliefs.  That these false core beliefs were laid down so early in our lives gives them added strength.

Perfectionism is likewise a harsh taskmaster.  Perfectionism (another way of acting out trauma beliefs) insures a sense of inadequacy which is the reason it is so tenacious.  The bar is constantly out of reach.

What these two have in common is that they preserve the feelings we had as children.  Those feelings have simply found a new focus. Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

Perfection

“Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery” by Guercino (c.1621) at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (Accession No. DPG282) (PD)

Many abuse victims are tormented by perfectionism.  This is the unrelenting pursuit of perfection.  Perfection and perfectionism are not, however, the same.  One is, in fact, antagonistic to the other.

Perfection as a Standard

Perfection has special significance for abuse victims.  As children, abuse victims come under constant and unjustified criticism.  Harsh criticism may be accompanied by still harsher punishments, penalties far beyond anything a loving parent or guardian might administer for a childish infraction.

With time, victims conclude that perfection alone would satisfy their tormentors.  We strive to achieve that.  In reality, no amount of effort could attain the impossibly high standards set for victims.  But the effort is ingrained in us, as is the self-criticism.  So perfectionism begins.

The Need for Approval

As adults, abuse victims are frequently motivated by a need for approval.  We become “people pleasers”, conditioned “to feel bad about [our]selves and to please, appease, accommodate others” [1A].  Studies show that perfectionists of this type may “exhibit…‘a strong sense of duty, which masks underlying feelings of personal inadequacy’ ” [1B][2].

Dirt and Cleanliness

Sexual abuse can add another layer of torment.  Child victims may be too young to understand what exactly is being done to them, other than that it is a painful violation.  The violation is commonly, however, associated with cleanliness issues.  This is especially true when children are accused of being “filthy sluts”, “dirty whores”, and the like.

Having been made to feel “dirty”, children may rub dirt onto their skin and clothing.  They may soil themselves, even if long since potty-trained.  In the alternative, they may wash unceasingly; may bathe and change clothes several times a day.

As adults, the victims of sexual abuse are likely to have difficulties with sex.  They may view sex as threatening and disgusting; themselves as soiled by it.  Some can feel nothing sexually.  Others treat sex as a commodity.  Far too many throw themselves into frenzied sexual activity, in a desperate search for the love of which they were deprived.

Most abuse victims do not grow up to become prostitutes.  A great number of prostitutes (male and female) were, however, abused as children

Washed in the Blood

Verses can be found throughout the Bible which refer to cleansing [3].   These are not concerned with soap and water, but with sin and repentance.  They convey something of the power of God to forgive whatever wrongs we may have done, and “cleanse” or rid us of the evil done to us.

The Bible’s cleansing verses are not meant to suggest that abuse victims are somehow filthy or defiled.  The child victims of abuse – even sexual abuse – have NOT sinned, sexually or otherwise.  And God, above all others, understands the extent to which their adult actions may have been impacted by the sins inflicted on them as children. Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Prostitution, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

Unbiblical, Part 3 – Humility v. Lack of Worth

Many, if not most, victims will conclude from the abuse inflicted on them that they have little or no value. They are likely to view God as angry and withholding, unconcerned for their welfare. This applies whether the abuse is emotional, physical, sexual or in the form of neglect.

When in all humility Christians describe themselves as undeserving of Salvation or compare their righteousness to “filthy rags” (Is. 64: 6), abuse victims can readily identify. However, abuse victims are inclined to view themselves as irredeemable.

Having been treated like filthy rags, having been taught that love must be “earned” – and never is – victims may, even as adults, wrestle with shame and believe that they are worthless. This can drive them toward legalism (Christianity as perfectionism), in a frantic attempt to obtain the love they have been denied.

But God values every life. His love is freely given.

Christ said:

“ ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ ” (Matt. 5: 5).

He said:

“… ‘Whoever receives this little child in my name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great’” (Luke 9: 48).

Christians must, first and foremost, demonstrate God’s love to abuse victims.  If they fail in this, the shame is theirs.

This series will continue next week with Trusting God, Self, and Others

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

6 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

The Feeling of “Sinfulness”

As abuse victims, we can be tremendously hard on ourselves.  The slightest misstep, the smallest error may seem a catastrophic failure. More than that. An unpardonable sin disqualifying us from love (even, in a spiritual sense, from Salvation, itself).

The feeling of “sinfulness” — that vague sense of guilt with no real cause — is just one of the scars left by abuse. We relive the trauma of having been treated as worthless. This opens wide the door to depression.

The feeling of “sinfulness” rebounds from the abuser to us because there is no punishment this side of eternity sufficient to fully offset the harm done to us. The best we can do is strive to forgive and move on.

It bears repeating that abuse victims were innocent victims. But acknowledging this intellectually will not always translate into our accepting it emotionally. A childhood filled with negative experiences must be overcome.

Legalism

Though the feeling of our own “sinfulness” can at times be overwhelming, the conclusions drawn on the basis of that feeling may not be accurate. The situation is complicated by the fact abuse victims must re-learn as adults to trust their own feelings.

Unfortunately, some Christian sects feed into this by emphasizing Salvation through works, i.e. through our own unrelenting efforts, rather than through  faith in Christ alone. This can readily morph into legalism (a focus on the letter of the law, at expense of the spirit).

Legalism marries well with the perfectionism to which abuse victims are prone.

But being unworthy of Salvation is not the same as being worthless.  Christ died for our sins despite our unworthiness — victims and non-victims alike. That actually highlights our value in God’s eyes.

We were never worthless, except to those who abused us. Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Justice, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse