Performance Addiction: The Dangerous New Syndrome and How to Stop It from Ruining Your Life

Overview

"The best book I've seen on how we can stop sabotaging our need for balance. Compulsive achievers will find here everything they need to gain the sense of satisfaction that's eluded them. This book is a must-read for men and women struggling with the mystery of why they're not happy. This is a most wise, helpful, and important book, and it's wonderfully readable."
-Mira Kirshenbaum author of Everything Happens for a Reason and The Emotional Energy Factor

"Every perfectionistic, hypervigilant person wondering why ...

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Overview

"The best book I've seen on how we can stop sabotaging our need for balance. Compulsive achievers will find here everything they need to gain the sense of satisfaction that's eluded them. This book is a must-read for men and women struggling with the mystery of why they're not happy. This is a most wise, helpful, and important book, and it's wonderfully readable."
-Mira Kirshenbaum author of Everything Happens for a Reason and The Emotional Energy Factor

"Every perfectionistic, hypervigilant person wondering why peace of mind is so elusive should read this book. Dr. Ciaramicoli totally nails the issue of performance addiction and offers all the help you need. A life-changing book."
-Dr. Charles Foster, author of Feel Better Fast

"A much-welcome, reader-friendly, utterly unpretentious call to sanity. With clarity and disarming simplicity, Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli exposes the futility and indeed the harm of our collective compulsive ride on the achievement treadmill. . . . Performance Addiction is a crash course in essential wisdom for today. Read it and give it to anyone about whose mental health and happiness you deeply care."
-P. M. Forni, Professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of Choosing Civility

"Integrating theory with compelling stories from his clinical practice, Dr. Ciaramicoli provides concrete, practical methods to address the growing problem of performance addiction."
-Richard Kadison, M.D.
Chief, Mental Health Services, Harvard University Health Services

Do you achieve goals without feeling fulfilled?
Do you think your hard work will win you love and respect?
Do you feel as if you're never doing well enough?

In this intriguing and prescriptive guide, Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Arthur P. Ciaramicoli explains this new psychological issue, revealing the reasons why the label of success so rarely leads to happiness. Performance Addiction gives you action steps for freeing yourself from the obligation to excel, finding new meaning in your work and relationships, and going beyond material reward to obtain genuine, healthy accomplishment throughout your life. Through illuminating self-evaluations and writing exercises, you'll gain a stronger sense of self, learn to balance your work and your personal life, and at long last find the satisfaction that comes from breaking your patterns of addictive behavior and finding new, better ways to accept and give love.

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What People Are Saying

Mira Kirshenbaum
"The best book I've seen on how we can stop sabotaging our need for balance. Compulsive achievers will find here everything they need to gain the sense of satisfaction that's eluded them. This book is a must-read for men and women struggling with the mystery of why they're not happy. This is a most wise, helpful, and important book, and it's wonderfully readable."Everything Happens for a Reason and The Emotional Energy Factor)
Dr. Charles Foster
"Every perfectionistic, hypervigilant person wondering why peace of mind is so elusive should read this book. Dr. Ciaramicoli totally nails the issue of performance addiction and offers all the help you need. A life-changing book."
—(Dr. Charles Foster, author of Feel Better Fast)
P.M. Forni
"A much-welcome, reader-friendly, utterly unpretentious call to sanity. With clarity and disarming simplicity, Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli exposes the futility and indeed the harm of our collective compulsive ride on the achievement treadmill. . . . Performance Addiction is a crash course in essential wisdom for today. Read it and give it to anyone about whose mental health and happiness you deeply care."
—(P. M. Forni, Professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of Choosing Civility)
Richard Kadison
Richard Kadison, M.D. Chief, Mental Health Services, Harvard University Health Services
"Integrating theory with compelling stories from his clinical practice, Dr. Ciaramicoli provides concrete, practical methods to address the growing problem of performance addiction."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471471196
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 7/9/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 235
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

ARTHUR P. CIARAMICOLI, Ed.D., Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and Instructor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, is the coauthor of The Power of Empathy. He has a substantial private practice, does corporate lecturing, and has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor as well as numerous national radio programs.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments.
Introduction: The Curse of the Capable.
1. What Is Performance Addiction?
2. Performance Addiction in Your Life.
3. Evidence of Performance Addiction.
4. The Scene of the Crime.
5. Image Love and Your Relationships.
6. Exceptional Mediocrity.
7. The Lure of Glamour.
8. The Quest for Glory.
9. Meaning and Joy.
10. Parenting and Performance Addiction.
11. Balancing Work and Life.
Resources.
Index.
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First Chapter

Performance Addiction

The Dangerous New Syndrome and How to Stop It from Ruining Your Life
By Arthur Ciaramicoli

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-47119-4


Chapter One

What Is Performance Addiction?

Do you feel as if your life is in crisis? Every day, I meet people who are better educated, better paid, and better housed than their parents or grandparents were. But they are unhappy, and the unhappiness does not seem to be related to social or financial circumstances. Something else is going on.

Despite everything these people have going for them, they feel the curse of the capable. They never have enough time to do what they want to do. Their work has become a burden, the demands relentless. Worst of all, they feel removed from those who should be closest to them: family, friends, spouses, and children. And the more capable they are, the more likely they feel caught in a swirl of accelerating demands with diminishing time.

Is this happening to you? If so, why? And what can you do about it?

Are You Addicted to Performing Well?

Quite simply, performance addiction is the belief that perfecting your appearance and achieving status will secure love and respect from others. Now, I doubt that any of us are completely immune from this belief. Consciously or unconsciously, most of us have been led to think that excellent performance is a sure pathway to love and respect. This perception of the world and its rewards has been taught to usin our families and reinforced by our culture. But is it the only way? And will excellent performance really get us what we're after?

During some twenty-five years as a clinical psychologist, teacher, and commentator, I have been in a unique position to observe the many dimensions of performance addiction and its effect on young and old alike. I have worked with undergraduates and graduate students from Boston's most prestigious universities. I've found that people almost automatically assume that Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston College students -surely the models of outstanding achievement and excellent performance-are reveling in their personal success, confident of their futures. The reality is far different. Many of these students are deeply oppressed by the extraordinarily high expectations that have been placed on them and anguished by feelings of inadequacy. They feel dissatisfied with the fruits of their accomplishments. Many are alienated from parents and peers. Often, to my dismay, I see that patterns of addictive behavior are already well established.

My professional life as a clinical psychologist affords me another view, as well, as I treat a wide range of patients in the Boston area, from high school students to adults of all ages. As a consulting psychologist and a private clinician in a Boston suburb, I have clients who include teachers, nurses, social workers, construction workers, landscapers, college students, high school athletes, mothers, accountants, speech therapists, middle managers, engineers, salespeople, retirees, technical writers, ministers, priests, nuns, rabbis, store managers, musicians, models, radio hosts, human resource personnel, and guidance counselors, as well as CEOs, lawyers, and investment bankers.

I emphasize the diversity of this clientele because of what I have learned from them about the cross-cultural aspects of performance addiction. It's not a belief system limited to rich individuals at the pinnacle of their careers. No matter what your background, upbringing, or vocation, you may be suffering from performance addiction right now. If you have ever achieved a goal without feeling fulfilled, or have ever felt as if you just weren't good enough or doing well enough, it's probably not your career or bank account that's failing you. More likely, it's your belief system.

Have you ever thought to yourself, I will be loved or respected if ...? Everything that comes after that if is performance addiction. Once that belief system is fixed in your consciousness, actions become almost formulaic. To fulfill your deepest needs, you begin to think you must act better and achieve more. Feeling that others are measuring you by your deeds and accomplishments, you begin to measure your self-worth by the same standards, and wish that you could be more perfect. This is an impossibly false hope. If you buy into that wish, you become addicted to performing well. Then when good performance does not buy you happiness, you think you must perform even better. And when that, too, fails to deliver the psychic reward you seek, you decide you must try harder, go faster, be more dedicated, and make more sacrifices. That is the nature of addiction.

Performance addiction is insatiable. Don't think it can be satisfied if you make a certain amount of money, achieve great goals, or even become famous. It's not possible.

If you have performance addiction, you can't even give yourself permission to do an average job. It's just no longer an option. All the pressure is on being exceptional, extraordinary, and remarkable. The trouble is, if you can't give yourself permission to be average, be yourself, or do as well as you can, pretty soon the expectations set by others become the measure of your worth.

What Is the Source of Performance Addiction?

In this book, I'll help you discover the source or sources of performance addiction. But to do so, you need to return to the scene of the crime-where you first started to believe that you could buy love and respect by performing well. For many, the scene of the crime can be traced to an unyielding parent who demanded perfection in exchange for affection. But parental influence is only part of the picture. Another factor is the deep impact of cultural expectations.

Early in our development, most of us get a clear image of what it means to be successful. We learn that shame and guilt are attached to failure. What about the teacher who said you weren't living up to your potential? The group that snubbed you? The club that turned you down? In each of these situations, there's a clear message: Be more than you are, and maybe you'll be acceptable.

If I remind you of the scene of the crime, it's not to help stir evil memories or to settle old scores. I'd like you to view what occurred back then with a different set of eyes. Can you understand what happened? If you can revisit the scene and see it clearly, then you can decide for yourself whether you accept the implied promise. (That promise was: "Excel and you will be loved!") Or you can see the falsehood in that promise, which will free you from the obligation to excel and help you find your own ways to accept love and give it.

Take the Performance Addiction Quiz

Clearly, the search doesn't end with discovering the source of performance addiction. The next step is to deal with it. In this book, you'll find many examples of men and women who have come to terms with performance addiction by challenging the false formula of achievement equals love. But before you read further, here are questions that will help you find out whether you have performance addiction, and, if so, how severe it is. Only yes or no answers are required. Give the first response that comes to your mind. A simple scoring mechanism follows this quiz to help you evaluate your answers.

The Performance Addiction Quiz

1. Did you seldom feel listened to as a child?

2. Did you worry that if you didn't please your parents you would lose their love?

3. Did you question whether your parents truly loved each other?

4. Did you often feel guilty?

5. Did you seldom have fun with your parents outside of achievement-oriented situations?

6. Were your parents quite conscious of your physical appearance?

7. Did you experience one or both parents as critical people in general?

8. Do you have memories of specific childhood hurts that have never left you?

9. Were you easily humiliated as a young person?

10. Were you considered to be a very sensitive child?

11. Do you believe your past mistakes make you unlovable today?

12. Do you want unconditional acceptance, with no criticism?

13. Do you feel irritated when people close to you are not being capable and efficient?

14. Do you always have a to-do list in your mind or in your pocket?

15. Have you considered or have you already had cosmetic surgery?

16. Are you chronically dissatisfied with the way people respond to you?

17. Do you often feel you have to work much harder than others to excel?

18. Do you wonder if anyone really loves anyone else for who they are rather than for what they do?

19. Are you frequently trying to perfect the way you speak?

20. Are you frequently trying to perfect your appearance?

21. Do you often discover that people are far less critical than you imagined?

22. Do you have trouble tolerating your own imperfections?

23. Do you have trouble tolerating others' imperfections?

24. Do you often wonder how much money others make?

25. When friends, relatives, or colleagues have success, do you feel you don't measure up?

26. Are you unable to stop perfectionist thinking even though you know it's irrational?

27. Are you afraid that if you were not so driven you would be lazy?

28. Do you feel guilty if you just hang out and do nothing?

29. Are you afraid of trying to learn new things for fear of being humiliated?

30. Deep down, do you think you're "not much"?

31. No matter what you think of yourself, do you find that you can't stop thinking about yourself?

32. Does your self-voice tend to be punitive rather than understanding?

33. Do you tend to generalize about yourself in a negative way under stress? (Do you say things to yourself like "I'm so stupid!" or "I'm so fat!"?)

34. Are you seldom content to be with one person in one place for very long?

35. Are you easily bored in conversation?

36. Does your energy pick up when the conversation is about you?

37. Do you like being idealized by others?

38. Do you tend to idealize others?

39. Do you feel pressured to impress others in order to secure their love?

40. Do you fear that loss of status will lead to loss of love?

41. Are you afraid you don't know what true love really is?

42. Have you seldom felt loved the way you want to be loved?

43. Is it difficult for you to truly trust others?

44. Do you question whether you have true friends?

45. Are you afraid your long-term love relationship is based on what you do for each other rather than a deeper sense of love?

46. Do you have sexual relations infrequently?

47. Are you seldom "present in the moment" during sex?

48. Do you weigh yourself daily?

49. Are you intolerant of weight gain?

50. Are you intolerant of the aging process?

51. Do you imagine if you could perfect certain body parts your life would be dramatically improved?

52. Do you compare your financial situation to others?

53. Do you notice the cars people drive and rate those people accordingly?

54. Do you feel uncomfortable and less worthy in a home that is larger and more extravagant than your own?

55. Do have a sense of inferiority in relation to people who have more education than you?

56. Do you tend to attach certain personality characteristics to those who attended prestigious schools?

57. Do you rank people according to the affluence of the town or city where they live?

58. Do you feel deprived when a neighbor or friend has a more attractive spouse than yours?

59. Do you fantasize about being with someone who is far more attractive than your spouse or lover?

60. Do you think that if you were more attractive you would be with a different spouse or lover?

61. Do you think that if you were more successful financially you would be with a different spouse or lover?

62. Do you tend to think that others have had an unfair advantage in terms of the success they have achieved?

63. Do you measure another person's success apart from the quality of that person's relationships?

64. Do you measure success without giving much weight to a person's character?

65. Assuming that you know how to care for your body, do you find that you are seldom consistent with your self-care measures?

66. Do you exercise too little or too much?

67. Are you on a diet at least once every year?

68. At least once a week, do you have three or more alcoholic drinks in a single day?

69. Do you take sleep aids monthly or more often?

70. Do you consider exercise and proper sleep and nutritional habits low priorities in your life?

71. Do you drink more than three caffeinated beverages per day?

72. Do you often eat comfort foods, especially in the evening?

73. Do you seldom think about the quality of your relationships?

74. With each passing year, do you think you become less desirable to others?

To score this quiz, add one point for every yes answer. Add up the total number of points, and use the following to rate the level of your performance addiction:

Score Your level of (yes answers) performance addiction

60+ Severe 50-59 Significant 40-49 Moderate 30-39 Mild 20-29 Low

No matter what the level of your addiction, you will find useful questions and self-evaluations in this book. There are questions to ask yourself, recommendations for what you can do, and exercises that will help guide you through an exploration of performance addiction. Using these specific guidelines, you can trace the origins of the beliefs that cause some level of performance addiction in your behavior. And you can use the exercises to help replace those beliefs with a more balanced life.

In addition, I'll let you be a fly on the wall so that you can listen to intimate discussions I've had with people at all levels of performance addiction. While I have, of course, altered names and some details of my clients to preserve anonymity, the dilemmas they face are unchanged. I hope that by sharing their stories, I will help you come to your own conclusions about the origins of your own performance addiction.

As you free yourself from the unconscious control of performance addiction, you will find yourself with greater energy. You don't need to focus on idealized outcomes or constantly direct your energy toward elusive success. As you overcome performance addiction, you'll discover new meaning in your work and relationships to help you go beyond material reward.

Continues...


Excerpted from Performance Addiction by Arthur Ciaramicoli Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2004

    Exceptional and Helpful Book

    This book is extremely useful. The chapters on Image Love and Relationships, Exceptional Mediocrity, Meaning and Joy, and Balancing Work and Life are exceptional. The introductions to each chapter, the use of specific human examples. the questions provided to enable the reader to explore the seriousness of his or her own performance addiction problems and the suggestions offered for conquering this addiction are superb. The positive examples provided at the end of the book, and the realistic tools to help one assess progress in conquering this addiction are helpful. I believe this book will benefit a large number of people and encourage some to seek professional help to assist them in their human growth and development.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2004

    A Model Under Pressure

    I have been working as a model for 6 years. My life is extremely pressured. I am always trying to perfect my work, my body and my children never quite seem to accomplish the way I would. When I saw Dr. Ciaramicoli on Good Morning America I could not believe the story told by one of his clients. She could have been my sister. I got the book last night and read through till 2am. This book is my savior, a guide to change the relentless demands that I place on myself as those close to me. I never realized why I have such difficulity parenting and loving. The chapters on Image Love and Performance Addiction and Parenting make so much sense. I wish I had this book earlier but hopefully it is not too late for me to change the course of my life. I know I drive people close to me crazy, now at least I have a map to help me to relate better and work with less intensity.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2004

    Powerful and Insightful

    I have been struggling with trying to perfect my body and get ahead all my life. In my family it was a way of life, and our society seems to support the idea that only the beautiful, wealthy people find happiness and love. I am so glad a friend in my woman's group recommended Performance Addiction. I had never read anything so powerful and helpful. I had no idea that my obsession with my looks and getting ahead could be an addiction. Most importantly, I don't feel alone as every member of our woman's group scored high on the quiz in the first chapter. The quizzes throughout and the writing assignments really make you think through the false ideas we have all grown up with in this 'success at all cost' society. I thank Dr. Ciaramicoli especially for the chapter on 'Parenting and Performance Addiction' as it would break my heart to pass this affliction on to my daughter. The chapters on 'Image Love and Your Relationships' and 'The Lure of Glamour' are must reads. The stories are insightful and very real and make the book come to life with real people that I could identify with. The author's idea of sharing the answers to the chapter quizzes with someone close to you took courage, but it really hepled me to open up to my husband and he to me. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is struggling with trying to have a meaningful life with balance.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2004

    Excellent Read

    I saw Dr. Ciaramicoli's interview on CNN and immediately thought he was talking about me directly. I am a young professional who has struggled, along with all my friends, to look better and better and to climb the corporate ladder at the same time. I am constantly tired and worn out, and find myself having less and less fun as time goes on. I keep trying harder to meet the standards, I thought people would respect and yet all the hard work just makes me feel exhausted, even when I succeed the good feeling only lasts for a short time. I had no idea that this trend was a new addiction in our society. I bought Performance Addiction, took the quiz in Chapter one scored in the severe category. Every one of my friends, I have given this quiz to has scored moderate to severe. I am so thankful that someone has identified what I have been experiencing and given me a way out. I have found this book so interesting and helpful, I can relate to so many of the stories of Dr. Ciaramicoli's patients. The chapter on Image Love and Your Relationship and The Lure of Glamour gave me insights I really need to practice and the final chapter Balancing Work and Life will be my bible for a long time to come. I recommend this book to every perfectionist who want to get off the treadmill and enjoy life. A Corporate Executive from Boston

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 29, 2009

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    Posted September 25, 2009

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