Some of these disorders are rooted in chemical or hormonal imbalances in the body, and treatments can involve counseling, psychotherapy and/or medication. I'll leave those to the professionals. Others stem from extreme internal stress, and that's where I'd like to concentrate.
There's a big difference between being the best and being your best. While it may not be possible for all of us to be the best, we can certainly apply ourselves to be our best. This holds the advantage of not having to measure our progress against that of others. While this is often viewed as a necessary ingredient in competitive pursuits, it doesn't need to take center stage. And it certainly doesn't need to dominate in everyday life.
While it's healthy to set goals, the balance is tipped when we create too much pressure on ourselves and go headlong into the area of perfectionism. An article by Elizabeth Scott, "Are Too-High Expectations Wrecking Your Inner Peace?" summarizes some common pitfalls:
All-or-nothing thinking: Perfectionists set high goals and work hard toward them. However, a high achiever can be satisfied with doing a good job, even if their goals aren't completely met. Perfectionists will accept nothing less than perfection. "Almost perfect" is seen as a failure.
Critical eye: Perfectionists are far more critical of themselves and of others than are high achievers - spotting every tiny mistake. They home in on these imperfections and have trouble seeing anything else.
"Push" vs. "pull": High achievers are pulled toward their goals by a desire to achieve them, and are happy with any steps made in the right direction. Perfectionists, on the other hand, tend to be pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them - and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure.
Unrealistic standards: Often a perfectionist's goals aren't even reasonable. They can set even their initial goals out of reach.
Focus on results: High achievers can enjoy the process of chasing a goal as much as actually reaching a goal itself, while perfectionists see the goal and nothing else. They're so concerned about avoiding the dreaded failure they can't enjoy the process.
Depressed by unmet goals: While high achievers are able to bounce back fairly easily from disappointment, perfectionists tend to beat themselves up when their high expectations go unmet.
While it sounds like the old Army motto, "being the best we can be" is a lot more realistic than the illusions we sometimes suffer from attempting to being the best.
Perfectionist behavior often stems from a need to exert control in one's life. Constantly setting the bar higher and higher, though, can be unhealthy and unrealistic.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, take a look at the toll they're taking. There are definitely healthier ways to learn to accept oneself - and to be our best.
Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and founder and chairwoman of The Arnold Agency, an integrated marketing communications firm in Charleston. Reader comments or questions may be mailed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or e-mail livinglifefu...@arnoldagency.com.