Saturday, April 01, 2006

Compulsive Competence

Decades ago, in an upper-level class on personality difference the professor would interview a subject each week and we would analyze the subject. Tom was an outstanding teacher and therapist with absolutely no voice inflection or visible emotion. That's an aside. One class he interviewed a young man. When he was done and the subject left, he asked for our first impressions.

I jumped in, "He's the healthiest person we've seen so far. He's getting good grades, keeping a variety of healthy relationships, maintaining athletics and an obligation to the military. He has a long-term plan for his life. We haven't seen anyone doing that well in so many areas. His life seems balanced."

"You're exactly wrong," Tom said, "That kind of compulsive competence is a sure sign of early childhood trauma."

I'd never heard the phrase 'compulsive competence' before and it had to bounce around in my head for awhile. Let me get this straight- if everything is going well, you're screwed up? Taking control of your life and forcing yourself to do your best is a sign of being screwed up? Hell with it then, I'm proud to be that screwed up.

Tom was right in a way, though. And Kevin was right in his comment on the last entry- you don't become strong or smart if your life is easy. All of your strengths arose from your hardships. The most interesting and the best people I know (like you, Kai) outgrew and overcame. They outgrew and overcame real problems. They categorically did not create problems in their head so that they could fit in with their angst-group peers.

So cherish what made you You. It wasn't easy. Good. Cause I don't know anyone who had a perfect childhood who was worth a shit as an adult.

To all the Compulsive Competents out there, welcome to the club.


Anonymous said...

Do we have so little to do, so little stimulus that we have to spend time analyzing ourselves, our every move, thought, reaction, emotion? I long for the sabretooth days. All one can say to sum all this up is: moo quack meow.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Heightened awareness of our species was a horrible accident.