When we have been deeply traumatized, perfectionism may be the only way for us to keep our sanity. And I know of many people for whom this is the reality. But at the same time this level of perfectionism can drive us mad because we are incapable of giving away even an ounce of our control, which makes it especially hard for the people we live and work with. We may hire someone to do work for us, but we need to control every aspect of it. That is emotionally draining. And not only that. Others will say that we are impossible to work with and that we are crazy, lunatics, fanatics. But that is the farthest from the truth. It is just trauma. What we need to do then is seek help to release this trauma. And by releasing it the need to always be in control will fade.
Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandra Cooze.
Sandra Cooze is an Intuitive Trauma Release Coach, Reiki Master/Teacher, Certified Traumatic Incident Reduction Facilitator, and Published Author.
Her book ‘Journey to Your Self — How to Heal from Trauma: Written by Someone Who Did’ is a teaching memoir that walks readers not only through her own story of abuse and healing, but offers strategies, exercises, and insights to support them on their healing journey. (https://amzn.to/2Mx16Wi)
Sandra teaches heart centered women how to live a Soul Aligned Life, while helping them release unresolved trauma and discovering their true potential.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Germany. My parents were both working full time, so my younger sister and I spent many afternoons with our grandparents. My grandmother was my rock. She gave the best hugs and made the most amazing hamburgers for Christmas Eve dinner. One of the fondest memories I have of my grandparents is that whenever their favorite waltz came on the radio, they dropped whatever they were doing and danced in their small kitchen. It did not matter if my grandma was cooking, or they had guests over for afternoon tea. They would just get up and dance.
As loving, caring, and protective as my family was, they could not have prevented any of what happened. Within the span of a decade, starting at age twelve, I was molested, sexually harassed, bullied, sexually assaulted, and raped. My life had been turned upside down. Gone was my childhood and my carefree, loving nature. Whenever I thought that it couldn’t get any worse — it did. It took me a long time to find my way back to myself. But once I began to heal, I discovered a strength and resilience I never knew I had. My past trauma instilled a darkness within me that helped me discover my light. And I began to realize that I could thrive not despite what happened, but because of it. I took my power back and turned my past into a force for good.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One neat custom that my mother passed on to me was the poetry book. A small journal-like book in which family and friends would leave a poem that was meant to guide me through life. The poetry book is an old tradition that has been passed on from mother to daughter for generations. To this day I cherish mine and the fond memories it holds. The first line of the poem my mother chose for me became my Life Lesson Quote. Never say: “I can’t do it.” This line helped me overcome and push through so many perceived obstacles, try out new things and outgrow myself time and time again. It helped me overcome fears and doubts and showed me what I am truly capable of. I made it a point to try everything at least once or twice before admitting that I was incapable of doing it and to be honest, there hasn’t been much that I was not able to accomplish as long as my heart was in it. And that in itself was a lesson that taught me that I can achieve anything I truly want to achieve.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The one movie that I always come back to and watch again and again is ‘Last Holiday’ (with Queen Latifah, 2006). It is the story of a woman who has been living in her lane and keeping her head down all of her life until that day when she finds out that she only has three weeks to live. She realizes how much of life she had allowed to pass her by. She then decides to fulfill the biggest dream she has had on her bucket list. Since she now has nothing to lose, she begins to open up, speak her mind and completely transforms. She begins to live every day as if it were her last without fear because she knows that time is running out. I know that this is just a movie, but it shows the story of so many of us who only change after receiving a wake-up call from the universe. We are all meant for greatness, we are all meant to achieve amazing things, but we are standing in our own way of achieving them. We are held back by trauma, fears, who we were taught we should be, and all those other limiting beliefs. I have been shedding those for the past two decades and I can tell you, life is so much better without being pinned down and held back by yourself. I am no longer afraid to reach for the stars. And this movie inspires me every time I watch it.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I would say that the first of my top three qualities is probably perseverance. A few years back, before I discovered my passion for trauma healing, I had an Etsy shop where I sold handcrafted bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Even though it was more of a hobby than an actual business, I dreamed of having my jewelry featured on TV and in magazines someday. I worked hard, made the right connections and within two years, my jewelry was used in two hit TV shows and featured in the gift guide of two online magazines. I had my heart set on it, and I pushed forward. But my true passion lay somewhere else, and so my Etsy shop slowly died down. The moment I realized that I could use my story and life experience to help others, I knew that I had found my purpose. It just felt right. No other career option even came close to making me feel as alive as this one did. Of course I then had to push through many obstacles, perceived limitations, and gut-wrenching doubts. I studied coaching and TIR and kept on pushing forward to break through to the next level. And just three years later, here I am — a heart centered entrepreneur and a published author, ready to push through to the next level in my journey.
The second of my top three qualities is empathy. I can relate to each and every woman I work with. I know how it feels to be stuck in deep trauma. I know of the struggles, the doubts, the fears, the defeat, and the pain. I have been there. I have lived it for so many years. But I also know how it feels to have risen above my story. I know how it feels to be free. Understanding where my clients are coming from is the best gift I can give them as their coach. Being able to relate to their stories allows me to create a safe and judgment free space where they feel truly heard and understood, while at the same time providing actionable guidance to overcome their struggles.
The third of my top three qualities would be passion. I love what I do. Being able to help trauma survivors release their past and transform their lives is an incredible feeling. Witnessing my clients’ transformations is such a gift. It makes my heart sing and my soul dance. Not only does it give my own traumatic past meaning, but it turned it into a force for good.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?
Perfectionism is a trauma response. But don’t just take my word for it. Go and ask 10 people if they are a perfectionist and if they say yes, ask them if they had to experience at least one traumatic event. And I guarantee you, nine times out of ten, the answer is yes.
When we are experiencing a traumatic event — no matter the story — we lose our sense of being in control. Because whatever happened, we had no control over it. We feel powerless, everything and anything can cause a panic attack, especially when we have been so severely traumatized that we are now experiencing symptoms of PTSD.
Yet, at the same time, we don’t realize that we lost our sense of being in control, because we try too hard to make sense of what happened, try to cope with it. And so we compensate. We find a way to mimic that lost sense of being in control by controlling what we can. And that is how perfectionism is born.
The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
I am an artist at heart. I love to create beautiful things. And before I start a new project, I can often see it finished in my mind. And then I thrive to get that image onto a canvas or into an intricate piece of jewelry. Once I completed the vision I had, a feeling of peace and accomplishment instills within me. It looks exactly as I imagined, or even better. That is a positive aspect of perfectionism. It is created out of the vision of something beautiful and does not stem from trauma and the need to fill the void of the loss of being in control.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The negative aspect of perfectionism is that we only focus on everything that is wrong in the world and that needs ‘fixing’. But we never focus on what is right and beautiful. We judge everyone who does not meet our standards, and nothing is ever good enough for us. What we fail to see is that perfection lies in the beauty of the imperfect.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?
Perfectionism is a viscous cycle. It can paralyze us. The fear of not being good enough, of not doing a good enough job, of not being ready to take that leap of faith because we don’t know the outcome of that endeavor. All that comes back to perfectionism and the need to be in control. And that is really what it is. Controlling every aspect of every moment so that there are no surprises, and no one can ever attack us again because we are in control — this time. Perfectionism is fear based. And fear is an illusion — created by our mind to protect us, to keep us safe. But when there is no danger, there is no need for protection, which the mind does not register. Once we have been traumatized in any shape or form, we may feel as if danger is lurking around every corner. And perfectionism in a way is a stalling technique of the mind telling us we are not ready, it is not as good as it could be, it is not perfect. So we stay stuck right before we take that leap that would allow us to push through our fear and thrive.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Perfection is an illusion and with that it can never be achieved. Perfectionism in the business world is a stalling technique of the mind. We are not ready to release an online course, a company project, or a piece of art, because we don’t know what will happen once it is out for everyone to see. So we keep on tweaking, adding, taking away, and often end up changing the initial design so much that it does not even resemble the original idea we had. All because of fear. We stress over what other people may think, we fear that they will laugh at us, shun us, or judge us and our work. The thought that they could actually love it does not even cross our mind. I fondly remember what my editor told me when I was afraid of publishing my first book and kept on finding things that needed to be changed. She said: “At some point you will have to let it go and allow it to get out there. It is not meant to be hidden away. That is not its purpose.”
- We have to have faith in ourselves and our abilities. I am sure that when you started that new project you were all excited about it, you were in flow and alignment with your creativity. That is the feeling you need to hold on to. Shut all the other thoughts and feelings out that try to instill fear within you. Focus on yourself and your project. The more love you put into it, the more authentic it will be, and people will resonate with this authenticity. Tweaking and adjusting is not authentic. It alters what had already been perfect — not considering your vision, but what you believe others want to see.
- It is ok not to have it all together. Especially as moms, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Raising our children, being there for them 24/7 while needing that perfectly spotless house out of fear that someone could just walk in, telling us that we are lazy for not cleaning or doing laundry or whatever else needs to be done. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have everything under control. But that is not necessary. If you need a clean house to function that is one thing (I know I do), but don’t do it because you think it is expected of you. You are perfect in every way and what you do is always enough. And that really is all that it has to be — enough. Your children are clothed, fed, and they know that they are loved by you. Cut yourself some slack. You are important, too and deserve — yes even need — time to relax and do the things you love because ultimately, if you don’t, you will lose yourself and that is a hard journey back, especially when trauma is involved. So honor yourself and your own needs. Because ultimately, you are the most important person in your life. Without you, your life does not exist.
- We are being taught that perfection is something we should strive for. But we haven’t been taught that it is our own view of perfection that matters. Because perfection is a point of view. What one person sees as perfect another sees as flawed. But we were raised to please others or seek others’ approval — I know I was. I was taught that self-pride stinks. I was taught that being proud of myself and my accomplishments was a bad thing. I was taught that I could shower others with complements and praise, but not myself. So for the longest time, I needed validation from others, because I was taught to never give it to myself. And so whenever I achieved or created something and did not receive any acknowledgement for my efforts, I thought that it was not good enough and so I tried harder and harder. But of course the praise never came since others weren’t raised the way I was. And even though I have been working hard on releasing this nonsensical limiting belief, it still creeps up every once in a while. That’s how ingrained it is within me.
- When we have been deeply traumatized, perfectionism may be the only way for us to keep our sanity. And I know of many people for whom this is the reality. But at the same time this level of perfectionism can drive us mad because we are incapable of giving away even an ounce of our control, which makes it especially hard for the people we live and work with. We may hire someone to do work for us, but we need to control every aspect of it. That is emotionally draining. And not only that. Others will say that we are impossible to work with and that we are crazy, lunatics, fanatics. But that is the farthest from the truth. It is just trauma. What we need to do then is seek help to release this trauma. And by releasing it the need to always be in control will fade.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement it would be a complete overhaul of the mental health support system, including insurance. Trauma healing is not a one-size-fits-all method. It can’t be. Just as we are all individuals, our needs too, are individual. What works for one person, may not work for another, bur rather than having a system in place that would help a survivor figure out which approach would be best for them, we send them to counseling, give them medication and then they have to deal with it themselves. But there are so many wonderful modalities, practices and approaches out there that all can bring amazing results in releasing trauma. If I had the ability to change anything, I would first design a questionnaire that would help a trauma survivor determine which approach they feel most drawn to. This questionnaire would be handed out by therapists, social workers etc. at the end of their time together to determine the best course of action as continued support for the survivor. Then I would have insurance cover all healing modalities, so that everyone has full access to them. Trauma is not a life sentence, and no one should suffer from the aftermath for the rest of their lives, but that is what most survivors are forced to do. And that is unacceptable.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to meet Meryl Streep. Her ability to immerse herself in every role she plays is phenomenal. I would love to discuss with her how that shapes her sense of self. So many people spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they truly are, and I am wondering if she knows who she is, or if she is trying to find herself through the roles she plays.
How can our readers follow you online?
I love meeting and connecting with people. Follow me through my website www.riseaboveyourstory.com, as well as on Facebook @riseaboveyourstory, and Instagram, LinkedIn, and Clubhouse @sandracooze.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!