Until you bring the unconscious into consciousness, it will rule your life and you will call it fate. Paraphrased from Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols.
Do you feel a need to please everyone and take care of everything to be sure they’re all happy? Are you always rushing to do everything as fast as you can? Are you a perfectionist, believing everything has to be exactly right, perfect as possible? Do you feel like you’re trying hard but still fall short? Are you determined to tough out whatever happens no matter how you actually feel?
If so, you may be driven by one or more of the Five Transactional Analysis (TA) Drivers identified by psychologist Taibi Kahler. These Drivers are ways you learned as a child to get through life in your family, at school, and with friends. They were undoubtedly helpful then. That’s why you adopted them as part of your personality and your beliefs about life.
In the long run, while they have some remaining benefits, they make life as an adult more difficult than need be. They cause a lot of stress, anxiety, depression, and negative physical symptoms because they sap your energy, foil your best efforts to achieve them, decrease your self-esteem, and interfere with your ability to enjoy life.
The problem is that you are driven to do them. They take away your choice of how to react to others and situations. They force you to adhere to them. At times we all choose to do these things for a period of time in particular circumstances. On a job or in a crisis, for example. Driver behaviors are not a choice, nor are they just for certain circumstances. They are based on subconscious, erroneous thinking that drives us nearly all the time for nearly everything.
See if you recognize yourself in any of these five psychological Drivers. If so, don’t worry. You can escape their tyranny.
Five Psychological DiversBe Strong– This Driver insists that it’s not OK to show your emotions and it makes sure you never do. Anger may be the exception because it is usually viewed more as potent and powerful than as weak and needy. You are never to let on to any weakness. You’re supposed to shoulder everything that comes your way. No matter how unpleasant something is, you’re to be stoic as a rock. You must keep your feelings to yourself. And for heaven’s sake, never ask for help. If you can’t maintain this stoic composure you withdraw before anyone can notice you’re becoming emotional. That is just not allowed and would be humiliating to you.
- A Be Strong Driver can make you good in a crisis. You can take care of other’s problems, though sometimes you are irritated with their emotions, believing they are too sensitive and need to “Buck up.” As for your problems, they can’t be your fault. How could they be? Since you have trouble connecting with your feelings, you may not even what they are. When people ask how you are, you always say “fine.” If others notice an emotion, you deny it again with “I’m fine.”
This makes relationships difficult. Those who love you may feel cut off from you emotionally and therefore find being close and intimate with you difficult. You probably don’t understand this or are irritated by common refrains like “You don’t ever your feelings.” “I never know what you’re feeling.” To others, they may complain that “Whatever goes wrong, it’s always my fault, never his.” For you, such folks are too sensitive and you may be impatient or disapproving of their show of feelings. This can diminish a loved one’s self-esteem and cause problems with children who are afraid to cry, get mad or feel afraid.
- Hurry up– The Hurry Up driver pushes you to do everything as fast as you can. You’re in a rush, rush, rush. Eat fast, talk fast, drive fast. Always on the move, taking on lots of things at once, squeezing in just one more thing into an already packed schedule. No matter how fast you go, you complain there’s never enough time. You’re impatient with yourself and others who slow you down. Having to wait for drives you crazy. You’re foot tapping, finger drumming or pacing around, pestering functionaries or service providers who “waste.” your time. If really pressed, you may blow up in anger.
You cut corners to finish one thing so you can get on to the next. Good enough is good enough for you; you’re rarely thorough. You may let things go if they’re going to take too long. In all this rush, there’s barely time to relax or enjoy what you’re doing; you’re busy “beating the clock.” You may even feel out of breath as you race through the day and burn the candle at both ends. Most likely you are chronically tired but when there’s nothing to do, you feel at a loss and can’t sit still.
Your fast pace may earn you kudos at work because you get things done, focus, and dig in to finish assignments. On the other hand, if you’re not careful, the product may be shoddy or subpar, because there “wasn’t time” to do more. Oddly, having so much gone at once, you are often late and make miss appointments. Friends, family, and co-workers may have a problem with you because they can’t keep up, feel pressed by you, or left out of your life. They may say, “Slow down.” A spouse might complain, “She/he never has time for me. Once they get home and eat, they crash in bed before we have time to talk or do anything together.”
- Try Hard– The Try Hard Driver compels you to exert maximum effort for anything you undertake. And you expect yourself to take on everything. But for you, all the effort you make is never enough. You crave recognition for all the work you do, but can’t accept it when it’s given because you know it’s wasn’t enough. To yourself “I’m never enough.” You could always have done more. You could have tried harder. It could always have been done better. So you’re never truly satisfied with what you achieve. You’re driven to be ever-improving yourself, trying hard at being better and better.
This Driver comes front and center whenever you receive a compliment. Your first response isn’t “Thank you,” followed by feeling good about what you’ve heard. Instead, you erase the praise by responding with something like, “But there was so much more I could have done.” Or “Well, there are other things I could have included.” Ironically, you crave praise but reject it when given. You don’t feel appreciated for all the hard work you do. You may end up feeling disappointed, angry, or bitter that you “have to” do so much and you may expect others to do more. You can’t understand how easily they can do things while you’re trying so hard.
While persistence is an upside for you, trying so hard is exhausting and can lead to burnout. But, no, you have to keep trying. Sometimes the endlessness of what you require of yourself results in anxiety about whether you can do it all. Actually, you don’t always finish things you’ve undertaken because the effort you expect of yourself feels too hard. Then you really feel like a failure, convinced that you have to try still harder and do still better.
- Be Perfect – Under the spell of this Driver, you must never make a mistake. Everything has to be done perfectly, exactly right. You must not only succeed at everything you take on, but you must also be outstanding. This motto fits you: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest ‘til your good is better and your better is best.” You must check every detail, dot every “I,” cross every “t.” Cover every base. That takes a lot of time and energy.
Your drive to do a superlative job makes you a good worker and could enable you to become quite successful. On the other hand, it may take you longer than desired to complete things. And despite your best efforts glitches arise and you fall short of your sky-high standards. Failure is devastating, especially if it was something you did “wrong.” Heaven forbid if others point it out or someone else succeeds where you’ve “failed.”
You pass on or quit at things you don’t think you’ll be the best at, or if you can see others will be better. Even though you do things very well, your achievements may be disappointing because, sadly, perfection is elusive and near impossible. Even as you’re working on a goal, you will be berating yourself for each “stupid” little mistake you make and have to correct. You are a consummate nitpicker. Not only at yourself but also at others. This can cause relationship problems. You hold others to your same high standards and they often fall short. You can be impatient, irritated, critical, and even demeaning. Also because you do so well, others may be jealous or resentful. They may not like you and criticize or tease you about “overdoing” everything. Those close to you like spouses and children may feel bad about themselves and lose confidence in their abilities.
- Please Others– With a Please Others Driver (also called Please Me) everyone else’s happiness is more important than yours. You focus first and foremost on what others want and need and go out of your way to provide it, even at your own expense. You want approval from those you please and seek assurance that you’ve pleased them. When they’re not pleased or don’t seem to notice, you feel distressed and work harder to please and earn their appreciation.
On the upside People Pleasers are good with people, outgoing, upbeat, and friendly, always with a ready smile. This makes you a great mother, wife, friend, and family member. You probably have many friends who rely on you. But inwardly you’re not so sunny and bright. You fear rejection and anxiously seek any sign of disapproval. People may say you’re too sensitive. Criticism is particularly hard. It means you have failed to please. Feeling guilty about that, you find yourself apologizing a lot, even for the smallest things.
Conflict, disagreeing, saying “no,” or asking for what you need are also difficult. You’ll avoid them at any cost. So setting boundaries to prevent being taken advantage of becomes nearly impossible, leaving your needs unmet. In the most extreme case, you may not know what you need. For example, if someone asks what you’d like to do, you may reply, “What would you like to do?” Given how kind and considerate you are of others, you feel confused about why they don’t consider your needs the way you consider theirs. Instead, they seem to take you for granted and expect more and more. You’re left feeling used, unappreciated, disappointed, angry, and resentful. You would never express this openly, but your displeasure may seep out in passive-aggressive ways such as shutting down to affection, complaining to others, or making little snide remarks.
See Yourself Here?
Many people are subject to one or more of these Drivers. But really, if you think about it, none of them are achievable. They don’t work.
– You can’t always be strong. Even if you try to bury them, you have feelings whether you want them or not.
– Always trying hard hinders your ability to achieve what you want to do.
– Not everything has to be done fast. Sooner or later racing through life just wears you down.
– Perfection is not possible, period. You will always fail at this impossible expectation.
– There is no way we can please everyone and trying to do so means you only rarely please yourself.
Trying to do the impossible erodes your confidence and self-esteem. It’s exhausting, anxiety-producing, depressing, and can affect our health. Substance abuse; back, neck and shoulder pain, breathing issues; heart and GI problems, for example, along with other ailments can be associated with living this way.
What Can You Do About It?
First, you have to understand why you’re driven. These drivers are defensive decisions made long ago when you had to depend on others to meet your basic needs and had few choices or skills for how to gain the love and care you needed. As an adult they are outdated, but out of your awareness they just keep on automatically doing the job they were given to long ago. Neurologically they have installed in the area of you your brain called the dorsal striatum. It’s the part of the brain where habits reside. It is a completely unconscious, non-thinking area of the brain.
You must make the driver’s behavior conscious. Once brought into our awareness, long-standing habits like these can be replaced. You can make new decisions about the best way to attain the love, success, confidence, and self-esteem you need to enjoy life. Like adopting any new habit, it will take determination, time, and effort … and a firm belief that this is possible. As one client who had to be perfect and tries really hard to be sure to please others once told me, “I can see that I’m doing this, but WOW! I feel driven. It just takes over and pulls me in unless I actively stop it.”
You have to commit to the effort it takes to change them. Believe me, whatever effort is required will be worth it. You’ll be free to live life at your own pace, define yourself, set boundaries, relax, make your own choices, and unencumbered by all the limits these drivers impose on you.
You will probably need help. “It sounds so easy,” that same client said. “Just don’t do that. But saying it and doing it is a whole different matter.” Here’s why. Acting on these Drivers (habitual ways of behaving) and the erroneous thoughts that support them are woven throughout your brain into integrated patterns of beliefs, values, memories, actions, and emotions. Counseling can help you use your brain to re-wire these patterns and replace them. I’ve found the most helpful approach is a combination of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Compassion/Supportive Therapy, and Transactional Analysis. A professional who understands the issues and has these skills can help you untangle the interdependent inroads, keep you on track, support your efforts and, most importantly, enable you to feel good about yourself while you do it.
It’s not your fault; there is nothing wrong with you. You need some new habits. So reach out. You don’t need to feel driven any longer.
© 2021 Sarah Anne Edwards
Sarah Anne Edwards, Ph.D., LCSW5769