I always thought my perfectionist tendencies were just part of my personality and not something I could do a lot about – turns out, I was wrong.
When I started my training, it was transformative, and not a little unsettling, to realise that many of my character qualities and personality traits were not in fact what I thought they were.
Gabor Mate states in his book “When the Body Says No: Exploring the stress-disease connection”, that:
The emotional contexts of childhood interact with inborn temperament to give rise to personality traits. Much of what we call personality is not a fixed set of traits, only coping mechanisms a person acquired in childhood. (p. 127)
As children, we learn early on to adapt our behaviour to either thrive in our environment or simply survive our environment.
So my perfectionism, for example, was a way to adapt to, and survive, a very critical home environment.
As I started to fully grasp this, I started to have an identity crisis of sorts.
Not only was I not who I thought I was, much of my behavioural patterns and ways of being in the world were in fact ways I learnt to survive the world.
For example, I had always been someone who was very accommodating, flexible, and go with the flow. And I had seen this as a positive trait of mine. But the flip side of this was poor boundaries and complete disconnection from my own needs and wants.
I learnt this way of being in the world as a way to not rock the boat, and to stay out of harms way. I learnt it was safest to simply not have any needs of my own. And less painful to pretend I didn’t have any than to realise they were not being heard or met.
A lot of grief and anger came up for me through this process of realisation.
Who might I have been if I had not adopted these survival mechanisms? What might I have achieved? How might I have lived life differently? It was an important stage in my healing to allow my Inner Child her anger and grief and to be fully seen and heard.
So to realise that my “personality traits” were not fixed, was good and bad news for me. Good in that yay, I could change these things if I wanted to. Bad in that I couldn’t blame “that’s just the way I am” anymore.
But mostly I found this news extremely exciting. I could recreate myself!
How about you? Are there things you have come to accept about yourself as “just the way you are” that may in fact be adaptive coping mechanisms?
Start to explore and see. You might be surprised!