Are you a perfectionist with unrelenting standards?
Do you regularly find fault in everything you do?
Do you feel pressure to complete tasks to an extremely high standard – and then never feel satisfied with the outcome?
Do you constantly chase a sense of achievement that never comes because you are looking to achieve more?
Do you feel like you need to operate at your best and give your best at everything you do?
Do you criticise yourself for small mistakes? Tend to feel stressed most days? Constantly focus on tasks and performance, and find it difficult to stop and slow down?
If you answered yes to any 5 of these, you likely have something known in psychology as an unrelenting standards schema.
What is the Unrelenting Standards Schema?
The unrelenting standards schema is defined as:
The underlying belief that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards of behaviour and performance, usually to avoid criticism. Typically results in feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down; and a hypercritical nature toward oneself and others. Must involve significant impairment in: pleasure, relaxation, health, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, or satisfying relationships.”
Unrelenting standards typically present as:
a. Perfectionism: inordinate attention to detail, or an underestimate of how good one’s own performance is relative to the norm;
b. Rigid rules and “shoulds” in many areas of life, including unrealistically high moral, ethical, cultural, or religious precepts;
c. Preoccupation with time and efficiency, so that more can be accomplished.
How do Unrelenting Standards affect our lives?
People with unrelenting standards are constantly stressed and pressured. It’s common to feel there is always something to be done and never enough time to do it.
High internal standards are a given and because perfection is rarely ever achieved, those with unrelenting standards tend to feel agitated, irritable, angry and annoyed. This can sometimes extend to deep feelings of inadequacy and shame when the impossible standards set for themselves aren’t reached.
The impact of the unrelenting standards schema can be significant, leading to exhaustion, burnout and difficulty experiencing joy and having fun.
Because of the stress, people with unrelenting standards are prone to a range of health issues. The constant adrenalin from the throttle of stress and pressure takes its toll on the cardiac system, increasing the risk of heart disease and cardiac arrest.
Even a relatively healthy lifestyle will not protect against the risks presented when stress hormones are constantly elevated. In addition to added pressure on the cardiac system, when stress hormones are activated, the immune system is suppressed, increasing susceptibility to diseases such as cancer and autoimmune disorders.
Unrelenting standards can also lead to relationship problems, as some people with this schema may also be hypercritical of others.
However, the behaviours associated with unrelenting standards, especially at work, can be highly rewarded, and this makes it difficult to change, or recognize the longer-term problems associated with it.
Where do Unrelenting Standards come from?
Unrelenting standards typically develop in children where families value people by how well they perform or achieve in certain areas.
Very little importance may have been placed on having fun, connecting to others, emotions and relaxing. The emphasis was more than likely placed on performance and doing well.
If you can relate to this, you would’ve received love and attention when you performed well or exceeded.
It can also develop in families where criticism was common and little praise was received as children, leading to feelings that you never did well enough. You may have grown up feeling as though you could have always done better or achieved more.
What if There was a Middle Road?
Would you like to travel comfortably at 80 rather than pushing constantly at 100?
The law of diminishing return states that after a certain point, any additional effort pays out less. Maybe you owe it to yourself to stop and enjoy the consequences of your hard work!
Just like any entrenched habit, the unrelenting standards schema can be changed; acknowledging you identify with this schema is the first step.
Second to this, it’s important to think about what realistic and reasonable standards and expectations would look like, across your work, relationships and other commitments, to allow you to sit in the middle of the road.
Thirdly, learning skills to cope with anxiety and changing your habits will help you in adjusting to a new, more durable set of standards.
If you would like professional support to help you with unrelenting standards, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Tara Pisano, BA (Psych) (Hons), M Psych.
Tara Pisano is a Brisbane psychologist with a special interest in early intervention in adolescents and young adults, as this is when three quarters of mental health conditions emerge. In her practice, she draws on a range of evidence-based therapies such as CBT, DBT, IPT, ACT and Motivational Interviewing, to promote recovery and positive outcomes.
To make an appointment with Tara Pisano, try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Askew, C. (2019). Unrelenting Standards. Schema Therapy Online. https://www.schematherapyonline.com/unrelenting-standards/
- Dartnell, D., & Treadwell, T., Travaglini, L., Staats, M., Devinney, K. (2016). Group Therapy Workbook: Integrating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Psychodramatic Theory and Practice. Outskirts Press.
- Oberg, B. (2012). Never Good Enough: BPD and the Demanding Parent Mode, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, June 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2012/09/never-good-enough-bpd-and-the-demanding-parent-mode.