On Perfectionism

On Perfectionism

Inspired by a conversation with a loved one about the roots of perfectionism, I had a quick conversation with a generative AI tool that I found to be helpful.


Speak to perfectionism from the perspective of a jungian and of an experienced counselor/therapist for adult children of alcoholics.

💬 Answer

Perfectionism, when viewed through a Jungian lens and the perspective of an experienced counselor or therapist specializing in adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs), offers a rich tapestry of psychological insights and therapeutic implications. Both perspectives, while distinct in their origins and methodologies, converge on the understanding that perfectionism often serves as a protective mechanism, albeit one that can lead to significant psychological distress.

Jungian Perspective on Perfectionism

Carl Jung’s analytical psychology provides a unique vantage point on perfectionism. Jungians might interpret perfectionism as an overidentification with the persona, the social mask that an individual presents to the world. This overidentification can be an attempt to compensate for feelings of inferiority or inadequacy rooted in the individual’s shadow, the part of the psyche that contains repressed weaknesses and faults. From a Jungian standpoint, perfectionism could be seen as an effort to keep these undesirable aspects of the self hidden not only from others but from the self.

Moreover, Jung’s concept of individuation, the process of integrating the conscious with the unconscious to achieve self-realization, offers a pathway through which individuals struggling with perfectionism can find balance. By acknowledging and integrating the imperfections and vulnerabilities hidden in their shadow, individuals can move towards a more authentic and whole self, reducing the psychological pressure to be perfect.

Counselor/Therapist Perspective for ACoAs

Counselors and therapists working with adult children of alcoholics often encounter perfectionism as a common trait among their clients. For ACoAs, perfectionism can stem from a childhood environment where unpredictability and chaos were the norms. In such environments, perfectionism emerges as a survival strategy—a way to avoid criticism, gain control, and seek approval from their alcoholic parent(s) or other significant adults. It’s a learned behavior that provides a semblance of safety and predictability in an otherwise unstable environment.

From this perspective, therapy focuses on unpacking the origins of perfectionist tendencies and addressing the underlying feelings of inadequacy, shame, and fear of failure. Therapeutic work may involve helping clients recognize how their perfectionism is a response to past trauma and how it affects their current relationships and self-esteem. Techniques may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to challenge perfectionist thinking patterns, along with approaches that foster self-compassion, acceptance, and emotional regulation.

Integrating Perspectives

Both the Jungian and therapist/counselor perspectives for ACoAs suggest that healing from perfectionism involves a journey towards self-acceptance and integration. This journey may include:

  • Exploring the roots of perfectionism: Understanding its origins in family dynamics and personal psychology.
  • Embracing the shadow: Acknowledging and integrating the parts of oneself that are imperfect or seen as weaknesses.
  • Developing self-compassion: Moving away from self-criticism towards a more compassionate and accepting relationship with oneself.
  • Challenging perfectionist thoughts and behaviors: Using cognitive-behavioral strategies to identify and alter perfectionist patterns.

Ultimately, both perspectives aim to help individuals find a balance between striving for excellence and accepting imperfection, leading to a more fulfilling and psychologically healthy life.