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.
Many of us grew up in an atmosphere of conditional love. We got affection, approval, or attention when we were successful or perfect. It was a constant, endless pursuit of their love. Alternately, you had loving parents who gave love and approval when you met their high expectations and standards. Perhaps your parents modeled unrelenting standards: perfectionistic, orderly, status-oriented, or high achieving. You absorbed their attitudes and behavior. No one ever said to you, "You must do very well." Others felt inferior to their peers or felt that their parents were inferior, and they tried to compensate through high achievement or status.
While people with Unrelenting Standards tend to be very successful as adults, they aren’t used to see success. They’ve spent a lifetime focused on the lack, and they are much more likely to remember feeling defective, excluded, or lonely. Regardless of how hard they tried, they rarely got the respect, admiration, attention, or love they wanted. Doing very well was treated as just average. Praise was rare.
The basic problem with Unrelenting Standards is losing touch with your natural self – to focused on order, achievement, or status to attend to basic physical, emotional, and social needs. Things that make life worth living – love, family, friendship, creativity, and fun – take a back seat to your obsessive quest for perfection. No stopping to enjoy your success. Finish one thing and move to the next. What you just accomplished becomes meaningless.
Your relationships almost certainly suffer. Only perfect partners and friends will do, and you can’t settle for less. And once you are in a relationship, you’re critical and demanding – they have to live up to your standards. Since the standards do not seem high to you, you feel that your expectations are normal and justified. At any rate, you spend little time with the people you love. You just do not have the time: too busy working, putting the house in order, or advancing your status. “The time will come when I can relax and find a partner or spend time with your spouse and children,” you think, but it never comes and life feels empty.
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