As the world watched Lance Armstrong finally admit that he had repeatedly used banned substances to fuel his unparalleled Tour de France wins, many were left with a pervasive, nagging, "Why?"
Why did he feel the need to use? Why did he repeatedly lie, even under oath? Why did he bully others around him?
During his interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance described his previous image as the perfect hero: one who overcame a deadly diagnosis of testicular cancer, repeatedly winning the Tour de France and having a happy marriage and family. "It's just this mythic, perfect story, and it isn't true," he said.
Was it Armstrong's desire to be perfect (or viewed as perfect) that fueled his pervasive lies? Much evidence supports that the answer is "yes."
Armstrong has the classic signs of perfectionism, including:
• Being intensely competitive and not being able to stand others doing better than you. It has been documented that, starting as young as 11 years old, Armstrong was extremely competitive, with a narrowed focus on winning.
• Doing something "perfectly" (at least in the eyes of the beholder) or not at all. Armstrong engaged in doping as a means to win. His desire to be the best led him to use illegal substances.
• Being obsessive in the desire to be perfect (in Armstrong's case, to win and have a positive self-image). Armstrong admitted to his obsessive nature: "I took that attitude -- the ruthless, relentless, win-at-all-costs attitude."
• Demanding "perfection" from other people: While Armstrong continued to deny it during his interview with Oprah, teammates have described interactions with Armstrong encouraging (some may say bullying) them to use performance-enhancing drugs so that Armstrong's team would win. As David Coyle, who wrote a book about doping and the Tour de France, told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday night, "Tyler Hamilton [a member of the US Postal Service Cycle Team with Armstrong] gets a phone call: Be on a plane tomorrow. We're flying to Valencia to do a blood transfusion. That's what happens."
• Trying to hide any flaws or perceived weaknesses. Armstrong admitted to bullying others in an attempt to maintain his deception. "I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative, and if I didn't like what somebody said, and for whatever reasons in my own head whether I viewed that as somebody being disloyal or a friend turning on you or whatever, I tried to control that."
• Persisting at a task long after other people have quit. We can see this in Armstrong's perseverance in riding in the Tour de France, including his comeback in 2010. We also see this persistence in the years and years he kept up his long strand of deceptions.
• Finding faults in others and correcting them when they are wrong (or when you want others to think they are wrong). Armstrong was very public in the past against the people who accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs. For example, when asked by Oprah about Armstrong's former massage therapist, Emma O'Reilly, who testified regarding Armstrong's doping habits, Armstrong responded, "She's one of the people who got run over and got bullied." "You sued her," Winfrey responded. Armstrong: "To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people ... I'm sure we did."
• Being highly aware of other people's demands and expectations. As noted at the beginning of this article, Armstrong was very aware that others saw and expected his "perfect" life.
Yes, it appears as though a sense of perfectionism was one of the contributing factors to Armstrong's pervasive lies. This is not to say that all perfectionists are dishonest bullies who will go to any length (even breaking the law) to achieve what they want. As a recovering perfectionist who works with many other perfectionists, I can attest to this.
However, it does call into question the role of perfectionism in Armstrong's huge web of lies that have damaged his image, destroyed others' reputations and lead to a worldwide infatuation with #LieStrong.
What do you think?
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