Perfectionist or Pleaser? Five traits that can hold us back

We’ve probably all heard of someone described as a “perfectionist”, but perhaps we’ve not thought more about what this means, or why some people are this way. There are some helpful theories in Transactional Analysis—a style of counselling and psychotherapy—that examine this urge to be perfect, as well as some other common tendencies.

In TA, we call these urges “Drivers”, after a theory developed in the 1970s by a psychologist named Taibi Kahler. Drivers are kinds of rules by which we live, often without being aware, in order to feel OK in the world.

Have a look at the list below:

Be Perfect

Try Hard

Please Others

Be Strong

Hurry Up

Often people relate to one or two in particular. Do you? At first glance they might seem like positive traits. Isn’t it a good thing to try to get things done perfectly? Isn’t it nice to please others, or to be strong? I would say yes and no. It’s true that these traits can be positive, but what if someone only feels like they are a good person if they get things 100% perfect all of the time? What if someone only feels OK when they are pleasing others, even if it’s at the cost of their own wellbeing, needs and wants? What if someone’s idea of being strong is to never ask for help, never let on that they are struggling? These are the sides of Drivers that can be unhelpful, and can make us feel stuck at work or in our relationships.

Sometimes I talk with clients about which Driver they relate to, and discuss the pros and cons. What aspects of being strong or pleasing serves us in our day to day life, and what is holding us back? Talking about this can be helpful. Firstly, it makes us aware of what is perhaps a deeply ingrained trait we have but were not conscious of. Once we are aware, we can choose to do things differently. I’ve seen this happen time and time again in sessions with my clients. Someone with a “Be Perfect” Driver can learn that it’s not just OK but normal and healthy to not get everything perfect all the time. And perhaps that drive to do everything perfectly was holding them back as it meant they never tried anything new or took any risks. Another person with a “Be Strong” Driver can learn to ask for support occasionally, and perhaps this in turn then makes them feel more connected to the people close to them. A person with a “Please Others” Driver can learn that they too are important and have needs, and it’s OK to put themselves first sometimes.

This kind of change can take time, and sometimes the process can be painful, as Drivers are often rooted in our past experiences. But being more aware of what our Drivers are and why we have them can be a helpful tool in understanding our thoughts, feelings and behaviours better. And that understanding can lead to change.

Take care of yourself when thinking about these things. And if it is something you want to look at more closely, and you think it could be difficult or painful, then consider getting some support from a trained and qualified counsellor or psychotherapist. 

If you want to find out a bit more about the pros and cons and characteristics of all five Drivers, have a look at these helpful descriptions by The Link Centre.

Photo credit: Jonathan Hoxmark via Unsplash

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