Friday, December 21, 2018

The tyranny of should

One of the readings for my Deep Vocation class is a chapter from a 1950 seminal text by Jungian analyst Karen Horney titled "The Tyranny of the Should." Horney could have written this just for me. It's about the neurosis of perfectionism, of continually striving to be something we aren't or aren't enough of (kinder, slimmer, more fit, more generous, more patient--you name it).

It's not the desire for improvement that is the problem, says Horney. It's ignoring whether what we want is even feasible. Often times the demands we place on ourselves (or others) are too rigid and too difficult. What's more, they don't take into account conditions that must be met beforehand (support, environment, stress, etc.). The demands may not be unrealistic in themselves, she says, but they can show a complete disregard for those conditions needed to fulfill on the demands: for example, trying to be patient and kind with everyone when we're exhausted.

Two other ideas of hers intrigue me. First, we can easily distinguish between shoulds and genuine desires because shoulds "always produce a feeling of strain," which just gets worse the harder we try to change our behaviors. Second, self-hate lurks behind most shoulds that we impose on ourselves and a need to control lurks behnd most shoulds that we impose on others.

As a One on the Enneagram, perfectionism can be my middle name. I'm looking at these ideas now when shoulds pop up. 

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