The Effect Of A Mother’s High Standards (Read: standards that will just always be too high for you)

Illustration by Barbara Jenjaroentham – @barbsiegraphy

I got through the previous decade of my life because I was the best. I have been the best student to my professor, the best grandchild to my grandparents, the best neighbour to the people that have lived close to me, the best costumer to my gym, the best caregiver to my parents and the best employee to my boss. With whatever I did, I made sure I was the best.

Being the best is not just in my nature, it’s not that I am born with some crazy magical talent that makes me the best in everything. I don’t think highly about myself, I don’t see myself as a great person, nor do I consider myself in possession of any kind of brilliance or strength. I am not the best because I simply am, instead, I have to work extremely hard and give up almost everything in life to pretend I am the best, because feeling the best will never truly happen, but not trying will make me feel worthless.

I have been stuck in my own idea of what life should be like for me, stuck in my own high standards and believes. I know very well that I can not be the best in everything, I also know that I’m putting too much energy in trying, I know that trying to be the best will ruin my life, it will prevent me from living. However, till now, I have survived because of my high standards, I am where I am in life because I forced myself to do more than I should, because I always tried to be the best. And although I know the disadvantages of this way of living, the advantages seem to be greater.

This is actually what happens with many of our problems in life. We keep choosing predictability over the unusual, we keep choosing familiarity over change, even when we know that the thing we are familiar with will cause us pain. We humans are wired to be scared of change, no matter how positive something different can be for us, the change itself seems harder than the pain we already experience. We tend to get comfortable in what we know, even when we know it’s no good. This is phenomenon is called the repetition compulsion by Freud. It means that we will keep repeating our childhood pain, we recreate our trauma, we prolong our suffering, we just seem to want to keep reliving what destroyed us in the past.

Child traumas tend to trap us in self-destructive patterns that we carry with us all our lives. There is a great chance that the son of an alcohol becomes an addict himself or that a sexually abused girl will end up working as a prostitute. Our early experiences trap us for life, whatever we do, we subconsciously want to go back to that way too familiar traumatic experience. Not because we liked the pain, instead, the pain or trauma is what formed us, it has become what we believe we truly are or deserve. We have a tendency to create lifetraps for ourselves, traps that deep down tell us that we are no more or less than what we have been through, traps that make us identify ourselves with trauma. Our lifetraps become who we are.

My urge to be the best is one of my lifetraps, one of the trauma’s I have gone through that define me, even in my adult life. The lifetrap I’m talking about is called: the Unrelenting Standards Lifetrap. Like the ADHD label, this name is created by the point of view of the outside observer, since as a person with this lifetrap, you merely feel like you’re doing what is normal, what you’re obliged to do, while you at the same time believe that nothing you do is ever good enough. As described by Jefferey E. Young and Janet S. Klosko in their book Reinventing Your Life, “The primary feeling” related to the Unrelenting Standards Lifetrap “is pressure. You can never relax and enjoy life. You are always pushing, pushing, pushing to get ahead. You fight to be the best at whatever you do, whether it is school, work, sports, hobbies, dating or sex.”

The Unrelenting Standards Lifetraps is on of the few psychological topics in which I can recognize myself for 100 percent, it is the most clear psychological problem I have to work on. Usually when I read about any kind of mental health problem, I kind of agree but there is always a but, there is always something different for me. I guess every mental health problem is more like a spectrum, it has a range, which makes it hard to determine, or even admit, that it is me. This one however, is utterly clear, I have this problem, and I know precisely where it comes from.

I wasn’t born as the best, nor did I want to be the best at anything when I was a little girl. I was just myself, creative, chaotic, happy, introvert and sensitive, I did not care for what other people thought of me and I just tried to enjoy everything as much as I could. My mother however, was unable to see me as a good daughter and I was never able to meet any of her standards on what I should have been. On a daily basis my mother would tell me all the things that where wrong about me, like my boy’s toes, my fat knees and my impossible hair. In her eyes I was an ugly creature that got the combination of the worst genes, inherited from my father and grandparents because my ugly parts where never hers. She saw me as ugly from the outside, which probably causes the extremely low self-esteem I’m struggling with. But unfortunately she did not stick to just my physical appearance, she believed I was as ugly on the inside as I was to her on the outside, or maybe even more.

My mother believed I was always doing the wrong thing. I did not play as she wanted, I did not have the emotions she expected of me and I did meet the standards she had about what her daughter should be. My mother saw me as bad, everything I was, did or thought was abnormal to her, while her biggest fear is not being normal. Besides having to hear all about the terrible mix of genes that had created me, she denied me as a person. When I cried, she would tell me that I deserved what had happened. When I laughed she would tell me to behave properly. When I was afraid of something, she would tell me that I was a coward. When I was angry she would tell me to not overreact like that. She couldn’t relate to any of my emotions and when she was confronted with them she was hostile and dismissive of my feelings.

My mother wanted me to be normal, and for me, her normal was a kind of numb, a puppet that would pretend, a ghost. Whenever I wasn’t pleasing her, whenever I wasn’t how she wanted me to be, the real verbal abuse would start. You are a shame to your parents, you are ruining my life, you are not worthy of being my daughter, you will never have anything or anyone, you will always be a big disappointment, you will never be good enough, you will never achieve anything in this live, you’re worthless, you’re trash… And this is how my lifetrap started.

My mother’s verbal abuse lasted until I left her house, moved to another city and choose to limit the contact with my parents to birthdays and christmases. I finally escaped my mother’s never ending criticism, however, the lack of being called worthless on a daily basis started my urge to be the best. I think I just want to feel like a failure, and if I don’t try to be the best, I will not feel as one, I would just be normal. So I try to be the best because I know very well that I will never truly be the best, not at everything. I will never reach my goal, which means that in a way, I will always fail, I will always be able to find a reason to feel worthless. I have trapped myself in failing by trying to be the best. Not being good enough for my mother has trapped me into not ever being good enough for myself.

The extremely complicated thing about living with this lifetrap is that for me, only my mother’s opinion counts. I keep looking for her approval, I will not be good enough for me until I’m good enough for her, and this, I believe, the second part of my way to keep myself feelings worthless in life, because I will never be good enough for her.

I used to be a great student at university, and often I got the highest grades. After receiving my grade or talking to a professor about how good my assignment had been, I would always call my mother to tell her how good I had done. My mother however, did never congratulate me with any of my grades, instead, she would ask me about something I had failed in, like cleaning or exercising, and I would feel bad. The same happened when I graduated, when I got my current job, when I got my first house, when I moved in with my boyfriend… it was all just never good enough. I was either reckless, or I made a mistake, I wasn’t what she wanted me to be and she could never support me. So I keep trying to be better, because I need her to tell me just once, that I have done good.

The difficult part for me, is that this person that is so hard on me, is my mother. Admitting that I will never be good enough for her, admitting that she will never give me the supportive, all-accepting, nourishing and safe love a mother should, is for me like giving up on having a mother, accepting that I don’t have, and will never have a mother. And this hurts, because I believe everyone in this world wants to have a mother, or needs the kind love of a mother gives, while I have no idea what this real mother love is like.

For me it’s strange to see closeness between mother and daughter, it’s almost impossible for me to understand how it is to love your parents, because for me, they’re just two people that payed for me to get where I am now, while trying to hold me back at getting there. Maybe I owe them something for the money, but I don’t feel love, I don’t feel connected in any way. It’s almost like we signed a business contract, we pay for your school and food, we can take our shit out on you, and you join our Christmas diners and important birthdays so we can pretend we are a happy family. I am missing something extremely important and this actually makes me scared of ever becoming a mother myself, because what if I as well, can not give my child the love he or she should have, what if I make my child feel as lonely as I am, just because I have never known this love myself…

But what if I start accepting that my mother will never be my mom? What if I start accepting that the people who made me are just not made to be my parents? What if I can let go of my urge to be accepted by them and instead start being responsible for finding the love they lack in someone or something else? What if it turned out that everything I miss in my life is already there and that without them I will be finally free to see it?

Because I had and have mother love. I had my grandparents who loved me like their own child. I have my boyfriend, who accepts me like my mother should. I have my bunny who shows me that I am very well capable of loving a tiny creature that relies on me. I have my many plants that spread mother-nature-love all around my house. I have people that care about me, I have things to be proud of, I have a good life, I have good health, I have enough, I am someone… As soon as I let go of my parents, my life turns much brighter, I become a much better person for myself and suddenly I can see what I have and be happy with it, I feel like finally I can stop being the best.

Looking for a mom in my mother hurts me, wanting her acceptance affects my life in a negative way and any form of communication with her will turn me into something less than I am. No matter how hard I will try, no matter how good I am, for her, I will always be this worthless little girl that she is ashamed of, not because I am, but because she is unable to accept me in any way, because she decided that I wasn’t good enough for her. I have to ignore her judgement, I have to make my opinion of me my own, I have to break free of her unrightful and unfair point of view, because without her, I am good. Letting go is the way to go here, but letting go of your mother is not easy, even if she just brings negativity and pain, because it’s hard to admit that you don’t have a mother.

I’m not very sure how to truly change this though. I mean, it’s one thing to say and understand this, but even though I now logically know that she will never be what I want, the hope for her to be my mom does not disappear overnight. But what I can change right now, is to stop being the best and do what it is I really want to do with my time. I can start trying to do what I believe I should do, lower my standards and make some room for joy in my life. And although my mother does not like this and shows her disappointment whenever I speak with her, this is my first step towards the mother-free live I am worthy of having. A life in which I can be me. A life I can enjoy.

The Unrelenting Standards Lifetrap

Do you feel constantly irritated with yourself for not meeting your own standards? Are you always aware of time and feel a constant sense of pressure? Do your achievements feel empty? Do you speed up when you feel exhausted? If you recognize yourself in of the previous question you might be trapped in unrelenting standards like I am. I have included a questionnaire below from Reinventing Your Life by Jefferey E. Young and Janet S. Klosko, that can help you to figure out if this lifetrap applies to you. If it does, or if you generally struggle with your mental health, help from a profesional is very important. From experience I can say, that when you’re digging in your own mind, it’s better to have someone there with you who knows what you might find.

1. Completelty untrue of me
2. Mostly untrue of me
3. Slightly more true than untrue of
4. Moderately true of me
5. Mostly true of me
6. Describes me perfectly

10-19: Very low. This lifetrap does not apply to you
20-29: Fairly low. This lifetrap may only apply occasionaly
30-39: Moderate. This lifetrap is an issue in your life
40-49: High. This is definitely an important lifetrap for you
50-60: Very high. This is definitely one of your core lifetraps
If you have any 5 or 6 ‘s on this questionnaire, this lifetrap may still apply to you, even if your score is in the low range

1. I cannot accept second best, I have to be the best at most of what I do.
2. Nothing I do is quite good enough
3. I strive to keep everything in perfect order
4. I must look my best at all times
5. I have so much to accomplish that I have no time to relax
6. My personal relationships suffer because I push myself so hard
7. My health suffers because I put myself under so much pressure
8. I deserve strong criticism when I make a mistake
9. I am very competitive
10. Wealth and status are very important to me
(Add your scores together for question 1-10)
“The Unrelenting Standards Questionnaire”
Reinventing Your Life – Jefferey E. Young and Janet S. Klosko

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