When I was in medical school, one of my
professors said that you knew that a person had conquered his own narcissistic
problems when he could enjoy competing in a hobby where he did not possess great
talent. This means that the individual has enough healthy narcissism
(self-esteem) to tolerate and even enjoy situations in which he does not have to
be the best.
To truly compete, you must enter a
contest knowing that you could either achieve your goal or fall short. If either
of these possibilities is a certainty, it is not a true competition. Sometimes
you can be fairly sure that you will not finish first. In that situation, you
are competing to achieve a certain self-imposed goal. This goal might be to
finish above a certain percent, to beat one’s own previous record, or simply
to maintain one’s current level of expertise. If you are fortunate enough to
be sure that you will finish first, the goal might include beating your previous
record, or learning how to be a supportive leader to the competitors.
For many of us, competition is an extra
spice that keeps life interesting, keeps us on our toes, and stimulates us to
greater creativity and productivity. Sometimes, however, competition can be
toxic. It can become a pervasive lifestyle. You may feel anxious with each win
and crushed with each defeat. Even hobbies can become so driven by competition
that leisure loses its fun and playfulness.
Many of us know this from our own
lives. Successful people are often good competitors. Many of you may thrive on
competition. However being a successful competitor can be a double-edged sword.
You may also know the down side of competition. It can come between you and your
relationships. It can push you to drive too hard.
Competition is not just for work,
school and the playing fields. Some of the most intense competition takes place
at home. Almost any parent who has more than one child has experienced the
competition that can occur between siblings. Mild sibling rivalry can help
children learn about competition in a safe environment. Intense rivalry can
leave lasting scars.
It is important for parents to model a
healthy attitude towards competition in athletics and academics. If a parent
feels that his child is defective in one area, he may insist that the child make
it up to him by excelling in another area. If the child disappoints the parent
with his classroom performance, he had better be a stellar athlete. This can
promote an unhealthy narcissism in the child. He may feel that he has the right
to win at any cost—cheating, or sabotaging other players. Parents must also
model graceful striving, winning and losing in their own lives.
On May 14, 2001, Dr Watkins will be
giving a seminar, "Is Competition Good For the Child or Adolescent with
AD/HD?" at the annual CHADD Charity Golf Tournament. For information
contact the CHADD National Office.