We live in a culture that moves at hyper-speed and constantly pushes us to our limits. Nevertheless, our performances as employees, wives, mothers, homemakers and community members are expected to be impeccable, and if we should somehow fail to meet these high standards, we may feel as if we are being judged and condemned by the prying eyes of everyone around us. Even if we are not actually under surveillance 24 hours a day, somehow it feels as if we are; we have been deeply conditioned to accept outstanding achievement as the only true virtue, and we have internalized the super-high expectations of a society that tricks us into believing our sense of self-esteem should be dependent upon what we accomplish and on how others perceive us. Fortunately, there is a rebellious streak inside all of us that resists this constant pressure to succeed and to be all things to all people. We are able to acknowledge and pay homage to these high expectations without succumbing to them, and while they may continue to shape us subliminally, they do not control everything we do or the way we feel about ourselves. But sometimes these societal forces have colonized our minds and souls so thoroughly that we no longer have the ability to distinguish between the things we really want to accomplish and the things we believe we are supposed to do, and it is out of this confused existential state that the overachiever complex emerges.
The Unbearable Strain of the Endless Quest
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the desire for personal success and the constant motion that the quest for it often requires, the inspiration for these efforts should come from deep inside of ourselves, from the place where our true spirit dwells, not from outside sources that we are responding to automatically and robotically. Our attempts to achieve and succeed should have their roots in a healthy, already-existent sense of self-esteem, rather than being motivated by its absence. When the need to achieve is driven by outside forces, it will leave us in a constant state of restlessness and disquiet, always striving and searching for that final great accomplishment that will banish the stress, anxiety, guilt, frustration and depression forever. Unfortunately, salvation always seems to lie just beyond the horizon, and no matter how many fantastic, admirable, remarkable, or unprecedented things we achieve, somehow our trip through the long valley of our lives never seems to quite reach that distant outpost. A compulsion to achieve for the sake of achieving puts the human organism under so much emotional and physiological stress that it strands women in a mindset which leaves them incredibly vulnerable to the lure of drugs and alcohol. While people who are truly excited about life and have learned to harness that enthusiasm to help them achieve are too busy to waste their time with mind-altering substances, those who are driven by internalized standards inherited from parents, peers, employers, or society in general are perpetually haunted by their feelings of inadequacy and often welcome the escape that chemical intoxicants can provide. Because women trapped inside the prison of the overachiever complex are under pressure all the time, once they give in to the temptation to use alcohol or drugs to relieve their misery they tend to return to their newfound chemical ally again and again, until they develop a compulsive need for their drug of choice that is every bit as strong as their compulsion to achieve.
Learning to Look Within
Common sense would strongly suggest that women whose drug or alcohol habit is intertwined with an overachiever’s complex will need psychological counseling for both. This is certainly true, but when mental health issues co-occur with addiction or alcoholism, the substance abuse should always be addressed first. Not only is addiction a potentially life-threatening condition, it will also be impossible for an addict or alcoholic to effectively deal with her other problems when chemical dependency is still altering her perceptions. Coping with negative emotions like anxiety, stress, depression, guilt and feelings of inferiority can lead many to turn to drugs and alcohol, since these chemical substances will relieve the angst for at least a little while. But these substances offer ephemeral comfort only, while the addictions that can result from indulging in them will stay with women for a lifetime. In order to heal, those who suffer from an obsessive need to achieve perfection and success in every area of their lives need to find the sense of inner peace and balance that they misplaced long ago, and the one thing we can say for sure is that nothing they drink, smoke, snort, or inject will ever help them rediscover it.