While it’s important to set goals and strive to achieve them, taking ambition to the extreme can be extremely detrimental to your health. In fact, excessive self-demand, linked to dysfunctional perfectionism, can generate psychological discomfort. For example, you may experience feelings of guilt and self-flagellation.
In this article, we explore some of the possible origins of self-demand, the psychological problems it can bring, and some strategies to change it.
Self-demand manifests itself in the way you direct your behavior toward the achievement of unrealistic goals or the fulfillment of self-imposed standards that are too rigid and demanding. Therefore, this translates into dissatisfaction with what you do, an inability to recognize your achievements, and a strong and harmful tendency to self-criticism.
In fact, if you’re too self-demanding, you tend to evaluate your performance only using absolute criteria as a reference. In other words, you feel that you’ve simply either done things right or wrong. You don’t objectively assess any other factors that might’ve interfered with your success or failure. Consequently, you have an unstable and changing self-esteem. For example, you can go extremely quickly from feeling pride and joy to frustration and anger.
Along similar lines, if you’re too much of a perfectionist, you’ll view external validation as extremely important and you’ll be afraid of potentially negative evaluations.
In summary, self-demand and perfectionism are multidimensional characteristics. On the one hand, you create these excessively high-performance standards. On the other, you generate feelings of anxiety because you’re afraid of not meeting those standards.
Where does self-demand come from?
Being a multidimensional characteristic of your personality, self-demand can have different origins in relation to your own particular life story.
It’s possible that you’ve learned this kind of perfectionism. In fact, it may have its origins in the cultural norms of your upbringing. Alternatively, you may have learned it directly from your family.
For example, perhaps your parents overestimated your grades or were too strict with you. As a matter of fact, these learnings from childhood can be installed in your adult lives and lead you to develop harmful patterns of self-demand.
On the other hand, self-demand can also originate at different points in your personal history. It may be tied to a time when you felt like you could’ve tried harder to achieve a goal. Or, to a point in your past when you believed that, by trying harder, you’d reach a socially accepted standard of performance.
Of course, these dysfunctional forms of perfectionism may also have originated from the social relationships that you built. Perhaps, at some point, you compared yourself to someone else and wanted to imitate them. Or, you felt that it was necessary to push yourself excessively to be part of a group or to be accepted by your partner.
In reality, self-demand may have begun or increased its flow at different times in your past.
How does being self-demanding affect you?
In general, having little or no flexibility in the criteria that you’ve built can be the source of your suffering. In fact, being excessively self-demanding can generate symptoms of depression and anxiety. That’s because you feel that you’re just not good enough which affects your perception of your own personal worth.
This can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and lead you to be too competitive. Alternatively, you may experience feelings of isolation that can also affect your emotional relationships.
Additionally, these high levels of self-enforcement can often lead to inaction. Indeed, it’s possible that, due to the unattainable nature of your standards, you end up paralyzed. In effect, you’re unable to act because of the fear that the possibility of failure generates in you. This, in the end, will cause you to lose opportunities or not use your time in the best way. Consequently, it fuels the cycle of recrimination because your actions don’t match the idealized model that you’ve built for yourself.
Furthermore, it’s even possible that your body will be affected. In fact, the stress that often accompanies self-demand can cause insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, constant tiredness, and muscle tension.
Is it possible to change this behavior?
As we mentioned earlier, you learn self-demand. Therefore, you can unlearn it. A good first step is to change the way you talk to yourself. For instance, replace “I have to” or “I must” with a polite “I want to do” or “I’d like to do”. This will gradually transform the way you evaluate your own performance. In fact, it’s the first step toward seeing the reflection that your internal mirror gives you in another way.
Valuing your achievements and recognizing the effort you’ve put into achieving them can be another strategy to manage your perfectionism. Remember, there are some expressions of self-demand that are healthy. They’re the kinds that guide you towards goals, allow you to recognize and transform your mistakes, and help you in your personal growth.
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