hat

I don’t care if it hurts,
I want to have control.
I want a perfect body,
I want a perfect soul.

(Radiohead)

Sometimes it feels as if you’ve got to do everything perfectly – to be perfect, in fact. It’s like a voice ringing in your head: ‘Don’t you dare get it wrong! Surely you’re capable of doing everything right, so go on, seek options, work hard, pay attention, analyse, and obtain the best result!’ So you set to work, and you’re constantly seeking new, better options. You rewrite a sentence in a letter a hundred times, trying to find the right words. You go through dozens of websites with descriptions and reviews of merchandise, trying to choose the best. You plan the menu for a party up to minute details. You create extensive tables and graphs in an attempt to plan the best ever holiday trip. Still, that voice in your head keeps nagging: ‘It’s either perfect or nothing at all!’ And sometimes, in the end, you’re so exhausted with this interminable analysis that you don’t care anymore. Better nothing at all.

This internal voice is one of five “drivers”. I’m very familiar with it myself. It is called the “be perfect” driver.

Such driver behaviour is first developed in our childhood, most often as a means of adaptation to certain “negative” messages perceived from our parents. It can happen in many ways. Imagine that, for example, somebody’s parents often used to complain that there is no-one to mind the child, and because of this they have no “private time” for themselves. They would say this in the child’s hearing, without paying much attention to the fact (or perhaps thinking that a child of four wouldn’t understand anything anyway). And thus the child gradually starts to believe that nobody needs him, and that the parents would be happier on their own. It is a difficult realisation to live with, and the child begins to seek ways to wriggle out of it. ‘When I do everything right, my parents boast about me to their friends. Therefore, if I keep doing everything perfectly, my parents will continue to need me’, the child thinks, as if justifying his right to existence.

From now on, in every situation the child and later the grown adult will seek the “correct” solution. As time goes on, tidying up one’s toys, saying something clever or reciting a little poem will turn into getting good grades, choosing the “right” profession, finding a “suitable” partner. And even when the negative messages and the driver will long have been deployed into the unconscious, the behaviour patterns will stay.

In consequence, while such driver behaviour has obvious negative consequences (picking on oneself and on others, emotional burnout, lack of energy), it also fulfils the very necessary function of ensuring survival under deep parental prohibitions. This is why it is important to be very careful when working with drivers.

The people led by the “be perfect” driver will usually analyse a situation efficiently, and will brilliantly find an optimal solution. They tend to be voluble in conversation, speaking in long phrases with numerous relative clauses in an effort to express their thoughts perfectly. When answering a question, they will often look to one side or stare into distance, as if trying to find the correct formula or to read the right answer in the depths of their conscience.

There is an antidote to the ‘I have to be perfect’ conviction. This is it: ‘You may be yourself – you’re actually good enough as you are’. Of course, it can be formulated in different ways (for example: ‘You don’t have to be perfect – it is sufficient to be good enough in something’, ‘You don’t always have to get the best grade in whatever you do: sometimes you may allow yourself to get merely a good one’), but the general idea is the same. Try to invent other formulas, read them and think about them. If you feel they are met with strong resistance, the driver might be masking some heavy parental prescription. In that case, better not insist to get rid of driver behaviour quickly. First it is important to analyse why you have developed such a scheme of action, and modify certain deeper convictions.

It is important to understand that in certain situations these drivers may prove useful. So you may allow yourself to employ them when necessary, but also let yourself relax from time to time.