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  • Writer's picture Zalman Nelson - Therapist

Never Quite Good Enough: Unrelenting Standards Life Pattern

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Standards are a challenge for many of us. We constantly strive to achieve extremely high standards that we set and obsess over money, status, order, power, and recognition. These things become our top priority at the expense of happiness, health, pleasure, and satisfying relationships. And we judge others by the same rigid standards. As with all Life Patterns, it has a source in youth. Any childhood memories where you feel anything other than the best was a failure? Or, that nothing you did was quite good enough?

In a word, the Unrelenting Standards Life Pattern is pressure. Relax and enjoy life? No way. Too busy straining at the edge of our limits; too busy pushing to get ahead, fighting to be the best at whatever we do: school, work, sports, hobbies, dating, etc. Everything has to be perfect and the best.

Of course, we don’t see it as “unrelenting.” We see it as normal levels to achieve. Others see how unrelenting they are. They see our success, while we take it for granted. “Oh, that? It’s nothing special. That’s why I expect of myself.” It’s an impossibly intense way to live and the body reflects the stress: irritable bowel, headaches, high blood pressure, ulcers, colitis, insomnia, fatigue, panic attacks, heart arrhythmias, obesity, back pain, skin problems, arthritis, asthma, or any number of other physical problems are common.

Unrelenting Standards also means lots of dealing with failure – feelings of frustration, anger, and anxiety over not meeting the standards. And lots of obsessing over time: so much to do and so little time. And then there’s the depression – what’s life worth with all that we’ve failed to achieve? Yet, we push on, convinced that one of the things we’re doing will finally bring us satisfaction. But it won’t because it’s our approach to everything that makes genuine pleasure impossible. Meet one standard and we’ll find another. We’re only comfortable when striving.

Here are some common causes. Your parents’ love for you was conditional on your meeting high standards. One or both parents were models of high, unbalanced standards. Your Unrelenting Standards developed as a way to compensate for feelings of defectiveness, social exclusion, deprivation, or failure. One or both parents used shame or criticism when you failed to meet high expectations.