Five surprising things people do to try and feel better about themselves
There’s certain things I do that I always saw as strengths. It came as a real shock to me when I realised that whilst there was a lot that was good about those things, they also had an unhealthy element to them.
They went beyond being good qualities, to leaving me worn out, pressured and finding worth in what I did or how I did it rather than in who I was.
From an early age when we can understand what is approved and disapproved of by others, we attempt to adapt to that to feel OK about ourselves, to make others love or like us, to be acceptable, good enough, 'worthy'.
This can present itself in ways that Kahler identified as five common ‘Drivers’ that motivate us:
1. TRY HARD
2. BE PERFECT
3. HURRY UP
4. PLEASE PEOPLE
5. BE STRONG
In reasonable quantities these drivers are effective in creating functional and successful adults. But they are often over-done and can become destructive behaviours.
They can be an internal pressure to do things a certain way, e.g. with speed, perfection, little emotion, etc.
They might be (but not always) inappropriate or unhelpful in obtaining results, and tend to satisfy inner needs rather than actual events.
If you don’t feel good about yourself you can subconsciously put a lot of emphasis on one or more of these areas to try and prove yourself to yourself or to others. To feel worthy, likeable or loveable. So that others will value you or to help them tolerate you. To try and ease your bad feeling about yourself. To try and prevent others from thinking badly of you too.
They become a way of protecting ourselves and surviving negative messages we’ve heard, except the needs largely remain unsatisfied.
The past contaminates the present.
By recognising these in ourselves, and identifying which ones we exhibit the most we can assess whether they are positive or destructive in our lives.
Awareness and choice is the goal, rather than compulsion.
Are you driving your Driver, or is your Driver driving you?
1. TRY HARD
The TRY HARD Driver is process orientated. The process is more important than the product.
My value is based on whether I am trying hard.
TRY HARD is definitely one of the Drivers I identified with most.
It’s actually a bit of a mixed one when I think about it.
In some areas I got discouraged with myself and gained an attitude that I didn’t believe I could do things so I wouldn’t even try.
But because I felt so rubbish about that area of my life, looking back now, I can see I overcompensated in other areas. Things I DID feel capable of doing or that were within my grasp, I tried really hard in.
Later when I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something I didn’t feel good at, I tried mega hard in order not to fail or reinforce my negative view of myself.
Which was fine, sort of. It got me where I wanted to be, but it was massively driven by fear and self-loathing.
I feel sad when I think how much I’ve felt the need to try hard at things and sad when I think of the root of why that was.
If you, like me are someone who tries hard, then some of the strengths are:
- that you are well motivated
- you put in 100% effort
- you get some great results
However the downside is that you:
- may put in effort for the sake of it
- make things more complicated than they need to be
- be reluctant to receive help
- may spend more than is necessary to achieve good results
- discount something (a skill) if it ‘comes easily’
- give off the message that ‘life is a struggle’
- neglect self-care
- be overly consumed
- become stressed and exhausted
If you recognise these tendencies in yourself then there’s some things you can put in place, leaving you with the benefits of trying hard without the destructive element.
When you are trying hard at something:
- make time for self-care too
- have breaks
- have down time where you switch off and do other things
- carefully consider how much effort is really needed
- think about how much capacity you have realistically got
- set healthy boundaries
- don’t let it consume you
- acknowledge that you’re trying hard and notice what’s going on for you and why it is so important for you to do so.
2. BE PERFECT
Is perfection something you are constantly striving for and working towards?
- the work you produce
- how you want to be seen
- what your home looks like
- basically anything you put your mind or hand to
The focus is not on what is gained (90% in a test) but what is missing (the other 10%).
It is outcome orientated. Where the TRY HARD Driver is more about the process, the BE PERFECT Driver is more about the product.
The BE PERFECT driver may be very well suited to certain tasks or jobs: the high standard, a job well done, precision, attention to detail, accuracy, making sure it’s right, high quality results are attractive and effective. It has real strengths.
It's quality over quantity. It may be effective but not so efficient.
The downside can be it might make you slow, achieve less, you struggle to finish things and miss deadlines, are pedantic and possibly frustrating for others, it means you can never relax and puts a lot of pressure on. Change is threatening because not feeling competent in the new activity is uncomfortable . Creativity is compromised, because of not being willing to make a mistake.
Again, there’s some definite benefits but I guess it comes down to if it causes you problems and if too much emphasis is put onto perfection.
If it is where you find your worth, if you feel rubbish about yourself if you don’t manage to reach the standard you were wanting, if the pressure is crippling.
Do you want/expect others to have the same standards or does it only matter if it has your name attached to it? Are you harsher on yourself than on others? Could it be about being seen in a certain way?
Things to help manage this might look like:
- accepting that things don’t always have to be a really high standard
- knowing when to stop
- giving yourself boundaries (I’ll give myself this much time and then accept that I won't carry on with perfecting it further)
- considering before-hand what is realistic and/or necessary
- consider why perfection matters to me so much
3. HURRY UP
The basis of HURRY UP is that there is some additional value in doing something in a short time.
Therefore HURRY UP will probably:
- rush at things
- talk rapidly
- interrupt and finish others’ sentences
- try and do more than time allows
- be good in a crisis
- do things at the last minute
- see action as more important than accuracy
- not bother to read the instructions properly, just get on with it
With the consequence that:
- they are often late and miss deadlines
- they leave people behind (literally and metaphorically)
- they plan time badly (‘I can’t waste time’ so they rush around and don’t plan things)
- they have poor judgement over how long and how much energy a job requires
- go from procrastination to panic ('It’s OK, I work better under pressure’. Then cut corners to meet the deadline)
- they are prone to make mistakes in terms of poor quality and inattention to detail
- will be driven to despair by someone with the BE PERFECT driver.
But they work under time pressure because their energy will be high.
'I should have got this done by now' may be a constant feeling that plagues you.
It, like the others, comes down to feeling bad about yourself and trying to compensate. In this case by means of HURRY UP.
It's an attempt to show your worth by being quick and getting lots done.
4. PLEASE PEOPLE
The basis of PLEASE PEOPLE is that someone has to find satisfaction in you performing a task, or at least not be displeased.
Therefore PLEASE PEOPLE will probably:
- tend to be apologetic
- give way relatively easily
- try and avoid conflict
- never question anyone or things that will be disagreed with
- worry about upsetting other people
- not begin unless someone will notice them working
- give, give and give some more but struggle to take or receive help
It can end in resentment, which results in the Driver shouting louder. ’Why do I feel resentful, I’m such a horrible person’. You’d then try even harder to please others to convince yourself or others that you’re not too horrible after all.
This can be exhausting!
Don’t get me wrong, doing things for others can be incredibly satisfying and bring joy.
The problem comes where:
- it becomes a compulsion
- you feel you have to
- not doing so would leave you feeling wretched
- it’s not balanced with meeting your own wants and needs
- you feel obliged
- you know inside you don’t have time or capacity but you still do it
- you don’t want to but you do
- you’re overstretched and exhausted
- you live at a pace that feels beyond you and are far too busy
- you neglect yourself
- people start using you and taking advantage
- saying ‘no’ feels impossible
- you can never address issues that need to be addressed
- you find your worth in pleasing others
If you have low self-esteem and feel rubbish about yourself it can be very easy to get lost in this. It can make you feel better about yourself and is a subconscious attempt to try and convince others you’re better than you feel, that you are worth something.
However you feel, you are worth something.
You are worth a great deal.
You don’t have to prove it to anyone.
Learning to love and accept yourself may be a journey you need to begin.
Learning to set boundaries and to say 'no', along with creating a balance you are happy with will be important.
5. BE STRONG
Are you someone who likes to be seen as being strong?
Maybe you'll be admired and esteemed for how well you do at coping, how much you can put up with.
When you were young and were worried about something you may have been told ‘Don’t be so silly, pull yourself together', or ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine’.
The messages you received may have been that feeling things, crying and struggling is weak and shameful.
If seeking support wasn't welcomed, encouraged and responded to with care and understanding then it's soon learned that it isn't worth bothering.
Far more affirmation was given when you were brave, hid your feelings and kept going, so that became the way to behave instead.
It may be that wasn't particularly the case as a child, but now, with the people you are surrounded by, it is.
Being strong seems far more acceptable than showing your feelings, or letting them affect things. And so the BE STRONG Driver kicks in.
Therefore BE STRONG will probably:
- put a lot of pressure on themselves
- have the feeling that they are on the verge of cracking up or not being able to cope any more
- shoulder responsibility or additional burdens well
- be super cool under pressure - not ask for help (I must cope on my own…)
BE STRONG is very good at accommodating poor conditions or putting up with things that many would find unreasonable.
But you may let things bottle up and then snap (in private?)
I've kept up very unhealthy habits in the past because my ability to be strong made me feel better about myself.
Others seemed to like it too.
I now recognise it as a symptom of my low self-esteem and trying to compensate for the bits of myself I didn't like.
Understanding that all feelings are valid, that they have something to teach us and that sometimes adjustments do need to be made to match what we can cope with.
Learning to relax, admitting to being weak sometimes, accepting that emotions are important.
As is learning to accept yourself.
These are all important parts of not letting BE STRONG have a negative impact on your life.
These Drivers all have positive and negative aspects to them.
The negative side is normally about using them to compensate for what you (or others) consider to be lacking in you, to make you (or others) feel better about who you are, in a detrimental way.
Either how you view yourself negatively, or how others do.
I'm thinking of the phrase 'everything in moderation'. These are all great qualities, but we have to be aware if we've taken them too far. It's about having the right balance in life.
Awareness and choice are the goal, rather than compulsion.
Are you driving your Driver, or is your Driver driving you?
Out of the five Drivers: TRY HARD; BE PERFECT; HURRY UP; PLEASE PEOPLE; and BE STRONG which do you identify with most?
Can you recognise them playing out in your life?
Can you see the parts of them that are great and the parts that are unhealthy?
Which would you like to explore and work on?
As always, if you'd like to explore this some more I'd love to be alongside you, supporting you on that journey. Counselling is an ideal place to explore these sort of things. You can contact me via the email below.
Ruth Gorrie - Coventry, CV2 firstname.lastname@example.org 07561 047 349