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Releasing Perfectionism and Simplifying the Holidays: Unpacking Roots in Childhood Trauma

As the holiday season makes it way in, the air is filled with anticipation, festivities, and the often unspoken pressure to create the perfect celebration. However, the pursuit of flawlessness can turn a joyful time into a stressful ordeal, especially for individuals grappling with perfectionism rooted in childhood trauma. Here, we'll explore the impact of perfectionism during the holidays, discuss the transformative benefits of doing less, and delve into how childhood trauma can contribute to the development of perfectionistic tendencies.

If any of this resonates, try to listen with compassion to the part(s) of yourself that have learned that in order to feel love and acceptance that everything on the outside had to be pristine.

The Perfectionism Trap

Perfectionism is like constantly trying to nail a flawless performance in the grand theater of life. It's the relentless pursuit of an unattainable ideal, where every action, decision, or creation is expected to meet an impossibly high standard. Imagine setting up an elaborate domino structure where each piece needs to stand perfectly, and any deviation feels like a personal failure.

In this pursuit of perfection, there's an inner critic playing the role of a strict judge, constantly evaluating and pointing out the tiniest imperfections. It's as if you're on a quest for the perfect cupcake recipe, and even if your cupcakes are delicious, you can't help but focus on that one tiny crack in the icing, convincing yourself it diminishes the entire batch. Some people do not even realize they may have strong, perfectionistic parts of themselves because they are so focused on "what's next?" Perfectionism often disguises itself as a diligent work ethic or a commitment to excellence-these are two different things.

It's like having an internal overachiever who not only wants an A+ but expects to effortlessly juggle multiple A+ tasks simultaneously, all while wearing an invisible superhero cape. The fear of making a mistake or falling short of expectations becomes the ever-present companion, whispering doubts and anxieties into every decision.

At its core, perfectionism is akin to chasing a mirage. You believe that once you reach that elusive state of flawlessness, everything will fall into place and life will be perfect. You will finally "arrive." However, the journey is marked by stress, anxiety, and an incessant need to control every detail. So when your relationships have conflict, you show signs of signs of natural aging, you make a mistake a work, or when your home is not exactly the way you want it, you feel internal tension and become your own bully. You may even revel in characterizing yourself a "Type A" personality.

Perfectionism leads you to believe that if you check off all of the boxes (and then some) that you will obtain happiness and freedom. The irony is that breaking free from perfectionism is the gateway to more energy, joy, freedom, and being deeply connected to yourself and others...quirky flaws and all.

Ultimately, perfectionism is a demanding roommate that never takes a break. It's that inner voice telling you that success is measured by flawlessness, forgetting that it's the beautifully imperfect quirks that make life rich and meaningful. The desire to create flawless holiday experiences, from meticulously decorated homes to flawlessly executed meals, can lead to overwhelming stress and anxiety. The pressure to meet unrealistic expectations, whether self-imposed or influenced by societal standards, can dampen the joy that the holiday season should bring. For the perfectionist, the pressure to meet societal or personal standards during the holiday season may intensify feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism, hindering the ability to fully engage in the joyous moments the holidays can actually offer.

The Roots in Childhood Trauma

For some individuals, perfectionism finds its roots in early experiences, particularly those related to childhood trauma. The desire to create flawless holiday experiences may be linked to a deep-seated need for approval and love, often stemming from parental expectations and conditional affection. In environments where love is contingent upon meeting high standards, children may internalize the belief that their worth is tied to their ability to be perfect.

Traumatic experiences during childhood can disrupt a child's sense of safety, leading to the development of perfectionism as a coping mechanism. The pursuit of perfection becomes a way to create a meticulously crafted facade, shielding against the vulnerability exposed by trauma. In environments where caretakers neglect, abandon, or abuse, children may flip the script and cope by being the "good kid" as a means to try to get to parents will stay and love them.

Changing the Narrative: Doing Less, Simplifying, and Gaining Power

In the face of perfectionism, a powerful antidote lies in the simplicity of doing less. What if, instead of striving for perfection, we embraced the idea of doing less and simplifying? The best part is that we can still maintain aspects that bring joy, such as a neat and tidy home, healthy relationships, or good food) but release an of the "extras" that cause stress and pressure. Contrary to the belief that more is better, the act of simplifying can be a powerful tool for regaining control, preserving energy, and fostering a sense of contentment.

  1. Prioritize What Matters Most: Identify the aspects of the holidays that bring you the most joy and focus on those. Whether it's spending quality time with loved ones, enjoying festive traditions, or savoring special moments, prioritize what truly matters to you. Perhaps what matters most to you is something wholly different than the "usual" holiday traditions. This is awesome and should be protected at all costs. How can you help make what matters most to you happen this year?

  2. Embrace Imperfections: Understand that imperfections are a natural part of life. This is to be human and proof that we have air in our lungs and beating hearts. Instead of relentlessly striving for the unattainable, shift into embracing the beauty of imperfection and the authenticity it brings to your celebrations. Lumpy mash potatoes? No problem. Don't want to attend 4028385 gatherings and pretend to like everyone? This is your permission slip to focus on yourself and your peace of mind.

  3. Set Realistic Expectations: Release the pressure to meet unrealistic expectations. Set achievable goals and recognize that it's absolutely OK not to have everything perfectly curated. The holidays are about connection and joy. Don't rob yourself of these opportunities. You are capable of change.

  4. Simplify Traditions: Consider simplifying your holiday traditions. Choose a few meaningful activities that bring joy and create lasting memories rather than overwhelming yourself with an exhaustive list of tasks.

  5. Delegate and Collaborate: Share responsibilities with family and friends. Delegate tasks, involve others in the planning process, and collaborate to create a shared experience. Have conversations with trusted loved ones about The Mental Load and be upfront and clear on what your needs are. This not only lightens the load but also strengthens connections.

The Energy of Simplicity By simplifying and doing less, individuals can reclaim their energy and power during the holidays. The act of letting go of perfectionism opens up space for creativity, spontaneity, and a deeper connection with the essence of the season. Rather than feeling drained and exhausted, embracing simplicity allows for a more meaningful and fulfilling holiday experience. Healing Perfectionism

Understanding the roots of perfectionism is a crucial step toward breaking free from its grip. For individuals navigating perfectionism rooted in childhood trauma, seeking support from mental health professionals, engaging in therapy modalities like EMDR, and fostering self-compassion are essential components of the healing journey.

Parting Words

This holiday season, consider the liberating power of doing less and simplifying. Break free from the perfectionism trap and recognize the roots of these tendencies, especially if they stem from childhood trauma. By embracing imperfections, prioritizing what truly matters, and seeking support for healing, individuals can reclaim their energy and create a holiday season filled with genuine moments of connection and joy. The true magic of the holidays lies not in perfection but in the simplicity of shared experiences and the warmth of genuine connections.


Erica Wilcox, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in intensive Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in East Hampton, CT. She is the Founder and CEO of Wilcox Wellness, LLC and is an EMDRIA Approved Consultant, helping clients and therapists alike celebrate their truest selves. Schedule a consultation by emailing


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