Yes, high ambition and standards of excellence may be the product of genuine ability and interests. But more often and less helpfully they are tangled up in and muddied by a compulsive ‘search for glory’.
These trends and criteria help identify compulsive drives
- an utter disregard for yourself or for your best interests. What sacrifices are made in the pursuit of an ambition? Your physical and mental health, your relations with family, your happiness and sense of integrity? Neurotic ambition is to pursue something no matter what it costs.
- indiscriminateness. The interest in a particular pursuit does not matter, rather it’s the drive to be the most successful, the most attractive, the most intelligent, the most caring that matters. Regardless of circumstances or ones given attributes.
- insatiability. Any sense of satisfaction from an achievement or recognition is short lived, if experienced at all. Our idealised image quickly creates relentless demands for more, for better, for faster. The escalation continues with hardly any respite.
- severe reactions to its frustration. Failure to live up to the standards we set ourselves may produce reactions well out of proportion to the actual importance of the occurrence. Whether panic, despair, humiliation or rage at self or others. The stronger the compulsive drive, the more intense the reaction to its frustration.
Healthy strivings arise from a propensity in each of us to develop our given potentialities. In contrast, compulsive drives, the search for glory, result from the need to live into an imagined and idealised image of ourself.
In practice we each fit somewhere along the continuum between healthy and compulsive. By looking within ourselves, we attempt to understand where the balance settles. To far toward the extremes noted above and we’re likely to be off course …
Reference: “Neurosis and Human Growth” by Karen Horney. Ch. 1 ‘The Search For Glory’