Q: My husband seems driven. No matter how much success he achieves in his job it is never enough. I am curious if his need to drive himself so hard has anything to do with trying to make up for never being able to achieve enough to satisfy his father when he was a youngster. He was beaten every week for not getting good enough grades.
A: People have a variety of reactions to being abused as children. Some adults who were abused as children feel an internal pressure to achieve and to outperform everybody else.
You describe your husband as driven to work so hard because he never felt “good enough” as a youngster. One of the traits that some adults abused as children have is the obsession with trying to outperform others in an attempt to feel OK in the inside. This is both painful and fruitless. Even when these adults have obviously succeeded they often do not feel they have been good enough, done enough, or believe someone else could have done better.
Other adults abused as children have the opposite reaction. They do not have the confidence that they can accomplish anything, so they do not try. Because success increases one’s visibility and being visible may make some feel unsafe, i.e., associated with being hurt, success may represent danger to be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, abuse is common in every socio-economic group. The good news is that we are talking about it openly, and many psychotherapists and organizations are available to help adults who were abused as children.