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Overachieving and Trauma




Overachieving is a pattern of setting and striving for exceedingly high goals and standards, often to the detriment of one's own well-being. It stems from a fear of failure and a desire to prove one's worth. Overachievement can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and burnout, as well as long-term mental health consequences.


But why do we overachieve? Most people assume it’s in their DNA or a part of their value system, but studies suggest that the tendency to overachieve is less a result of nature and more a consequence of nurture.


Childhood trauma can have long-term repercussions on a person's life and one form of it is overachievement. Let’s investigate the association between childhood trauma and overachievement based on data from peer-reviewed studies and present practical recommendations to prevent burnout by resisting the pressures of overachieving.


Academic Success


Childhood trauma involves negatively impactful experiences that occurred during childhood like emotional neglect, stressful childhood events or abuse. Depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and difficulties maintaining relationships are just some of the more obvious adverse outcomes that research has linked to traumatic experiences in childhood. However, less obvious outcomes include perfectionism, people pleasing and overachieving.


Those who have suffered early trauma may have an irrational fear of failing and a need to continuously show their worth. At some point overachievers received the message that to to have intrinsic needs met like love, validation and attention, they need to perform. This can drive them to constantly push themselves to achieve more than is healthy, at the expense of their own happiness and well-being.


A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress indicated that persons with a history of childhood trauma were more prone to participate in workaholic behaviors, such as establishing unrealistic goals and working excessively long hours to fulfill them. This inclination to overachieve can also be found in other spheres of life, such academics, athletics, or hobbies.


The Dark Side of Overachievement


While overachievement may seem like a great attribute, it can significantly damage mental health. The ongoing pressure to succeed and the perception that one's self-worth is related to performance can result in anxiety, stress, and burnout.


Additionally, the high expectations established by individuals who over achieve can be unrealistic, leading to emotions of failure and disappointment, resulting to a vicious cycle of overachievement, burnout, and low self-esteem.


Burnout is one of the most common complaints among overachievers. Overachievers are constantly pushing themselves to meet high standards, which can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. As a result, they may experience a physical and emotional breakdown known as burnout, which is characterized by feelings of fatigue, lack of motivation, and decreased performance. Overachievers may experience feelings of low self-esteem and disappointment when they fail to meet their own high expectations.


Practical Advice


If you recognize your own inclinations towards overachievement and it’s disrupting your quality of life, here are some helpful suggestions:


Identify the fundamental cause: Understanding the link between past experiences and current behavior can help you realize the underlying fear of failure and the desire to show your worth, which could be the first step towards stopping the cycle.


Set challenging goals that are attainable: Try setting goals that live in that sweet spot between reasonably attainable and challenging. Overachievers can set their aims on extremely high goals bordering on perfectionism. Trying to live to impossible standards is a great way to experience frustration and burnout.


Prioritize self-care: It is crucial to prioritize self-care and engage in activities that enhance physical, emotional, and mental well-being to prevent burnout and maintain a balanced existence.


Seek support: Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or obtaining professional help from a therapist or working with a coach can help you address your inclinations towards overachievement and make beneficial changes.


Finally, the tendency to overachieve is a complicated issue that may have its roots in early adversity. Individuals can enhance their mental health and overall well-being by breaking the cycle of overachievement by becoming aware of the connection, setting realistic objectives, engaging in self-care, and reaching out for support.

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