06/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Are You So Hard On Yourself?

The results of last week's quiz showed that just about everyone has a case of Perfectionitis. Fellow Huffington Post blogger, Dr. Cara Barker did a 10 year study on this challenge. Her work entitled, World Weary Woman: Her Wound and Transformation came to the same conclusion. Here is what we found: There are not a lot of people who are living in healthy self-acceptance. The culture just doesn't support it.

The Bra and Pantyhose Problem
If you are a working woman, you are likely to have the added pressure of managing both work and home life. If you are an entrepreneur, you are trying to do everything. If you are a woman working in a corporate environment you may have to work harder than the men to prove yourself. Sorry guys this is an ailment that is more prevalent in women. Basically, if you own a bra and have ever worn pantyhose, my money is on the table that you have a touch of the old Perfectionitis bug.

Our society, founded on the Protestant work ethic, seems to think the Impossible Workload is just peachy keen and even necessary for success. People get more strokes for achievement than for being happy, so they willingly take on what is in fact a toxic work schedule. Magazines are full of stories of uber women who cook as well as Martha Stewart, are as slim as Kate Moss, run an empire like Oprah, and claim to have a dreamy marriage, all on three hours of sleep a night.

Pop quiz: Is it better to be successful or happy?

News journals sing the praises of executives who hardly rest like they're a new, improved breed of capitalist warrior, above and beyond the mere mortal who needs a daily eight hours of shut-eye and eight glasses of water. "Extreme Jobs (and the People Who Love Them). 80-Hour Weeks? Endless Travel? High Stress? Bring It On!" was the cover caption on an edition of Fast Company magazine. Next to the article was a cartoon of a woman holding a cell phone: "I Have No Life . . . and I Love It!" Boy, she sure needs an anti Perfectionitis prescription!

Lydia's Story
More and more companies are demanding insane work loads as a norm. A member of an audience of women executives drove the point home dramatically. Lydia is a slim, vibrant brunette with bright eyes. A partner in a large law firm, she was about to retire. "In the late 70s and early 80s the hours I put in made me look like one of the hardest-working people in the firm. If I worked those same hours as a young lawyer who had just joined the firm today, I would be fired as a slacker." Her voice lowered as she continued. "My daughter is a young attorney who is trying to become a partner at a law office in New York City. She works such long hours that the stores are closed by the time she goes home. Sometimes she just doesn't have the time to go buy toilet paper, so she steals some to take home from the firm's supply."

Etiology: How the Heck Does It Happen?
Two things come together to bring on a bout of Perfectionitis: a culture that values high performance above everything else, and a person with low self-esteem who has assimilated those values and is motivated to try to live up to them. When somewhere inside you believe you are unworthy, inadequate, or incompetent, it's easy to start living from the outside in. You do things to get approval from others--the culture, your boss, family, teacher, colleagues, or children--instead of doing what is a healthy choice for you.

As a kid it is easy to equate being good with being loved. Your good manners get applauded. The bad ones are punished. As time goes on, your value as a person may seem to be based on how you perform. In some families there is even the message that if you don't excel at school, sports, or socially, you are a big failure. Behavior, then, appears to be a magic wand. It has the power to get you more love. How intoxicating! It casts its spell time and time again.

If you were like me growing up, you thought, "Boy, I want to be loved all of the time, but I can't be good all of the time. I can only be good some of the time. If I can't be good all the time, I must be bad inside. That means I have to work extra hard to do things really, really, really well."

Like so many other women, you become a champion self-nitpicker. You chide yourself about your weight, your career, your woefully single status. *

Bottom Line:
Self-criticism is a convoluted defense mechanism: "If I am hard on myself, then other people won't have to be."

Pop Quiz Answer: Happy= Successful

* Excerpted from Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for The Savvy, Sassy
and Swamped
(Oak Grove Press) with permission.

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Eli Davidson is a nationally recognized motivational speaker and executive coach. Her book, Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for the Savvy, Sassy and Swamped, (Oak Grove Publishing) has won three national book awards. Eli is a reinvention catalyst, who can transform your professional and personal life from Funky to Fabulous with her 10 trademarked Turnaround Techniques that create rapid and remarkable results. Check out her blog at

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