The Perfection Pressure Cooker

This month Genell Howell, LMHC, CSAC, SEP discusses about a common trait we see with our internalizing students.


The Perfection Pressure Cooker


Many of us strive to be better at our jobs, school or in our home life. We look for ways to improve and succeed. Perfectionists are also looking for success, however, they impose unrealistic standards upon themselves.  People with perfectionistic tendencies are consistently striving for the best; constantly trying to reach something bigger and better.  They are often the adolescent with a 4.3 grade point average, homecoming king or queen mixed with being a star lacrosse player or lead performer.


Perfection is often accompanied with debilitating anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. Goals become black and white and even great accomplishments seem inadequate. Clients who fit this criteria usually present with rigid thought patterns and an “all or nothing” attitude. Pressure builds as they internalize the intense need to succeed and the acute fear of failure.  Emotions are pushed down further and further, until eventually, the pressure cooker explodes, and the person collapses. The collapse differs from person to person. In some people we see increased incidents of isolating and school/ extracurricular refusal, even in a sport or activity that at one time gave them joy. In others, the level of internalized rigidity is embodied to such extent that it may cause significant physical and somatic complaints, resulting in a myriad of doctor visits chasing a phantom pain.


Drawing on the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) at Pacific Quest, students experiencing perfectionistic traits learn to utilize self regulation. They begin to employ healthy regulatory coping skills, releasing emotions they have spent years suppressing. They learn that balance is essential. Through learning about vulnerability and shame reduction, they begin to understand that it is okay to have faults and imperfections. Throughout this process students use somatic techniques and art-based Jungian depth methods to access and honor deeper emotions while beginning to break the perfectionist cycle.


Interrupting and rewiring the family system is critical. While students enrolled in Pacific Quest are busy tapping into imperfections, the parents step away from the intensity of expectation, supporting their child’s growth and healing. A family systems approach redefines success and expectations, creating healthy growth for the future.


Written by Genell Howell, LMHC, CSAC, SEP

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