Unrelenting standards


My DBT therapist is also a trained schema therapist. When I started with her, a year a go next week! We talked about schema therapy and she did an assessment of what Young, the founder of schema therapy would entitle my core ‘life traps’.

For those interested, the founders have written a popular layman’s book which in a self-help kind of way goes through the life traps. I highly recommend it as an accessible, informative and I have found, helpful text. It is called ‘Reinventing your life’ by Jeffrey Young and janet Klosko. In it the authors describe each life trap, it’s origins and ideas for how to become ‘free’.

One of my core life traps (unfortunately there are a few!) is ‘unrelenting standards’. The blight of perfectionism, the never good enough feeling, the driven-ness that zaps energy, time and any kind of happiness. I am on the war path… I’ve had enough.

Just to give a little example. For my A level music I had to write a 3000 word dissertation. It was in the days before word processors and I hand wrote the essay. I like hand writing very much- so that wasn’t a chore. However, I made a mistake in one word. I had a fit… And even with my teacher encouraging me to not worry about it, I couldn’t tolerate the thought of either tippex or a crossed out word. I re-wrote the page- no big deal, but it also meant that I would have to squeeze in a word on the following page- so the long and short of it, I ended up re-writing the entire dissertation because of one word.

My struggle with this life traps means I not only have intolerably high standards for myself- I expect that of others- especially professionals… Incompetence (or something I perceive as incompetence) borders on the most unforgivable attribute. I become judgemental, critical and generally not very nice. However, I am aware that I show far more understanding and tolerance to others than I do show myself… Life is unpleasant living with this life trap!

But the question I have- is how do I do things differently? I don’t know how to do things differenty. I just don’t know what it ‘looks’ like.

In my session on Friday I asked this question. In the text book, the authors suggest only doing something at 80% of my ‘normal’ effort… But again what does 80% look like? Penelope suggested I start by working out what 100% looks like… And then 10% and then 50%… And then depending on the context and importance of the task I decide what % I want to work at. This is so liberating for me!!!! SOOOO helpful!

Monday evening I am hosting a knitting evening for cancer research. 100% would mean me home baking 2 cakes I have never tried before. I am very tired at the moment, away with friends… I don’t need the evening to be 100%. I have peace that 80% is one cake. A cake I know how to bake would be 70% and a shop bought but nice cake would be 65%. I have delegated home made scones and fairy cakes to two others… I think 65% is fine. Good enough. How lovely. 65% is far better on my body and mind!!!!

I’ve already used the strategy a number of times… I am grateful for skills that help me change the way I’ve always coped.

Thanks for listening.



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