From my psychologist’s chair: What happens when our best traits turn out to be bad (for us)?


How does this happen?


a) What are your best qualities?


b) What aspects of yourself do you hate?

If you say, for example, that you are loyal, responsible and/or exceptionally hardworking, you would probably put these under a).

These are stirling qualities and, if you possess them, could be seen in a highly positive light. After all, they contribute significantly to a happy, well-adjusted and successful life. 

However, under certain circumstances these qualities can cause an individual to experience significant problems, especially if they are extreme.

Sometimes traits that served us well in childhood are no longer so useful, or may even backfire on us as adults!

Take perfectionism for example. If you were perfectionistic and highly responsible as a child, probably everyone gave you a great deal of positive strokes, including parents and teachers, after all you were always obliging and gave no-one any trouble!


Over the years in my psychology practice I have seen many clients who are model citizens and do everything “right”, but they complain that they are exhausted, stressed, burned-out and have no time for themselves. This is a difficult pattern to break, because of all the positive “pay-offs” that the behaviour pattern has for the individual (such as a sense of control and satisfaction that comes from ticking all the boxes, and ticking them well) and for the significant others in their lives who can often coast along comfortably because the perfectionist in their lives takes care of everything!

Sometimes the mere suggestion from the psychologist that they consider learning how to moderate their perfectionistic tendencies can bring on anxiety and even panic attacks, and is usually met with extreme (often unconscious) resistance.

If the burned-out individual can overcome this resistance and can make the necessary behaviour changes that can enable a more balanced life, this is not the end of the story unfortunately. Because the default tendency of the person is to be a perfectionist, there will be a need for a continuous high level of vigilance and commitment to maintaining the necessary boundaries and a “good-enough” approach to their numerous responsibilities in life in order to prevent backsliding.


However, I strongly believe that it is worth the effort!


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