By Renee Rose, Shaan Saar LLC July 19th, 2021
Over Achiever. Perfectionist. Type A.
I've been called all of these things and for years wore it like a badge of honor. For so many perfectionists it's like a super power. Until it's not.
Inevitably burnout kicks in and when you have underlying trauma the time between peaks and valleys becomes more and more narrow. My own default settings have been shaped by my both my family of origin and acquired patterns for dealing with stress.
In a sea of Instagram memes and infographics we've all seen the phrase Perfectionism Is A Trauma Response. While it certainly can be associated to deep traumas, perfectionism is an epidemic in our culture. And it's a crippling one. It's also a response to a pathological fear rooted in past and present situations. Perfectionism opens the doorway to overfunctioning; doing more than is appropriate and more than is healthy for yourself or those around you.
In brief, your hyper productivity may not only be a symptom of unresolved trauma but it's quite likely being perpetuated onto those closest to you and hard-wiring negative behaviors that will be need to be resolved down the road. The very thing we've been working so diligently to prevent, and a toxic trait in its own way.
We can do better.
Why do I feel a need to be perfect, anticipate everyones needs and control my sphere of influence?
Overfunctioning is common response to anxiety. How we react outwardly, internalize, deflect, pause or experience stress and anxiety is important. For caretakers; women specifically, the fastest strategy we have for regaining peace of mind is to become over responsible for those around us. While our family, friends, colleagues all undoubtedly reap the rewards of that over-responsibility and we become lauded caregivers, super achievers and in our own minds empaths capable of anticipating the needs, feelings and emotions of everyone around us. We absorb the energy; good or bad and the overfunctioning (over-responsibility) becomes the most effective way of managing anxiety and tension.
Signs of overfunctioning
Being driven with goals for yourself and others others based on what you or they should be doing with their lives.
Doing things for others that they can do themselves because it will take you less time, be done better or create less mess.
Feeling like everything in your life is top priority and you've already scaled back as much as possible.
Mindreading the wishes of family members and loved ones without asking their input.
Furiously completing tasks for others when you are bored, anxious or distressed.
The feeling that asking for help is a sign of weakness and means you are less effective than you should be.
Always volunteering for the most challenging parts of a project or event.
What drives overfunction?
In general fear is the umbrella for overfunction. And while fear can be a primary motivator for making positive, productive changes in our lives, it's also something that keeps us stuck.
A deeper reasoning behind overfunctioning is a fear that we or those we love will somehow miss out on experience. Alternatively the fear of being judged or seen as less than among peers, colleagues and loved ones and finally, the gripping fear of failure. Considering what fuels those can help us to confront our vulnerabilities and deal them head on. If you're finding that they lead to self destructive behaviors (being a workaholic, self neglect, emotional eating, etc..), emotional duress and loss of deeper satisfaction in your life even though you're flooded with activities and fun things I would suggest taking a look at your fears and associating them to what is driving your overfunction.
Fear of the past:
Failing to succeed or perform as expected.
Relationships that ended badly.
Being told or made to believe that you were not enough.
Being envied or hated for your success or personal attributes.
Constant negative or competitive comparison.
Fear of the present:
Consumed with responsibility.
Concern for keeping yourself and your loved ones safe.
Once we've explored our fears we can truly address the underlying issues and begin to find real solutions to what drives behaviors like overfunctioning. Confronting those fears can help us address them productively, head on and open a door to ask for help to create more manageable lives.
To some extent I still consider myself to be an overfunctioner by nature. My family modeled strong work ethic for me so it took me many years to realize that the hyper productivity was also a result of the extreme fears I held onto in regard to my past and present experiences. At the end of the day, like so many other individuals who do too much for others I realized I was genuinely robbing others of the experience to learn, build or express their own strengths.
When I was able to lift my hand off the steering wheel and allow for a more organic process, my family and career began to flourish. As a solution minded fixer it was a bit hard to swallow the idea that I was inhibiting the growth of those I loved so much; and burdening my own life with minutiae. We certainly aren't meant to handle everything ourselves and re-inventing the wheel doesn't always mean we're going to do it better. Allowing ourselves the grace to be imperfect creates an opportunity to measure our experiences and works in terms of joy instead of hardship and opens a door to the exploration of fulfillment and soul work.
Renee Rose is a mother of two and Trauma Support Specialist and Defensive Tactics, Crisis Communication Educator at Shaan Saar LLC. Her educational background in Emergency Management and Forensics from the University of New Mexico at Hollomon Air Force Base and The American Military University has helped shape the trauma informed self defense program at Shaan Saar Krav Maga. She serves as lead women's instructor for the Trauma Informed Self Defense program, speaker, educator and creator of the Survivor's Master Class "Glory Through The Storm".