As he left the office last night, Naomi’s boss gave her some instructions that struck her as ridiculous, betraying a lack of understanding for the flow of work during the evening shift. As she talked about him, she sounded scornful. Because she felt so angry, she wound up doing virtually nothing, which in the end made her feel “guilty” because she’d wasted time that she might have used to develop other projects.
She went on to talk about one of her colleagues, a highly ambitious man a few years her senior, who has recently enjoyed some rather public success. Whenever one of his projects receives attention, he gets very excited and tells everyone at work about it. Naomi said she looked down on him for caring so much, that it really wasn’t such a big deal. Again she sounded scornful.
I could see she felt envious of her co-worker, but that didn’t seem primary. Instead, I talked about scorn as a way of disparaging his hard work, putting herself above him, and convincing herself she needn’t try to compete.
Next, Naomi talked about her difficulties in committing herself to a career path — to believe she had made the right choice and then to work hard in order to advance. She couldn’t shake the fear that the perfect job might be waiting for her out there, somewhere else; she didn’t want to end up like everyone else in her family, “settling” for less and never pursuing her dreams. Sometimes she thinks she should just quit her job and move to another big city to start over.
Then came talk of Jim, the young man she’s dating: he wants them to become an exclusive couple, but she refuses to tie herself down. Mr. Right might be out there waiting for her, and she’d never meet him if she were in a committed relationship.
I linked these subjects and showed her how the idea of perfection stops her from doing or getting something real. She believes the “perfect” career is waiting for her, which stops her from doing everything she can to excel at her current job. She acknowledges that she does want to succeed, very much, with her current employer. Likewise, the ideal partner awaits, so she lacks interest in the real man, Jim, who seems deeply interested in her.
Naomi said she had a hard time considering she might work hard at her job and advance slowly, bit by bit, getting better at it: she’d never operated that way. Throughout high school and college, she’d always succeeded by producing something amazing early on, impressed her teachers and then coasted along on her reputation afterward. In her relationships, she’d always pushed away the decent guys who wanted to be with her, and yearned for the unattainable men.
In other words, I said, she’d rejected the real relationship, clinging to the perfect fantasy instead. We spent most of the session tracing this theme: over and over, in various aspects of her life, we could see how an expectation or a fantasy of something ideal blocks her from achieving something “pretty good” in real life.
Annoyed businesswoman photo available at Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 19 Apr 2012