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Why Abused Children May Strive for Perfection

If they can do everything right, then, perhaps, they won't be blamed.

Child evaluating herself in mirror.
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An abused child is an abandoned child in so many ways, as the child has been denied the love, care, and concern they have every right to expect from their caregiver. In situations of abuse, not only are love, care, and concern denied, but they are also often replaced with fears of no safety, no peace, and no trust. In such a dysfunctional environment, healthy development and the maturation process is damaged.

Children are both fragile and resilient. Their resiliency is shown through their ability to hope, trust, and endure. Their fragility is shown through an incomplete understanding of adult motives, reasons, and objectives.

Abused children become the receptacle of all sorts of blame. In an attempt to control their situation, some children will try to attain perfection. If they can do everything right, then, perhaps, they won't be blamed.

Childhood abuse can create a compulsion toward perfectionism in some children. That perfectionism coin, however, also has an opposite side. Some people believe perfection is possible and strive continuously to achieve it.

Other people believe perfection is impossible and continuously avoid attempting it. If you believe you must be perfect to be safe, but you also believe such perfection is impossible to achieve, then safety becomes impossible to achieve. The only way to avoid failure, when success is defined as perfection, is to avoid starting the task in the first place.

Here are five questions to consider asking if you or a loved one is struggling with perfectionism and abuse:

  • Do you need things in your life to be a certain way to feel safe?
  • Do you need people to act in a certain way to feel protected?
  • Do you demand perfection from yourself?
  • How do you feel when you fail?
  • Is doing something right more important than doing something together?

Perfectionism can perpetuate the abuse through the false belief that the unattainable is just within reach if you only try harder. Being told as a child that you had to do more, be more, to be pleasing is a terrible burden. Some children collapse under the weight and give up.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and the author of 38 books.

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