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Young people manage to survive under the crushing circumstances

This pattern of behavior leads to unhealthy competition: how do young people manage to survive under the crushing circumstances

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Materiały Prasowe,
30.01.2024 16:50

Having a goal or cherishing a dream is natural for everyone, and these dreams are often born at the beginning of a new year. However, the efforts to achieve our aspirations can sometimes be hindered by bitter disappointments caused by a huge desire to compete with others. Where does this desire come from, and how does it affect our mental well-being? To obtain answers to these and other questions, Delfi spoke to psychologist Ugnė Juodytė.

How do young people perceive competition?

For Agnė (name changed) the start of the new year has sparked a wave of energy and self-confidence. The young woman believes that these qualities will help her achieve the high-flying goals that she has set for herself for 2024.

"My aspirations are for the most part related to self-improvement. I'm open to new experiences and challenges because they make me feel that I live my life to its fullest. I thought a lot about what I should do to make my dreams come true, and I am very well aware that it's only me who can overcome all the obstacles that could prevent me from achieving success," she says.

Aglė has agreed to enumerate the difficulties that typically make her tasks more challenging.

"I think that most often I am paralyzed by some inner fear. I'm afraid to disappoint myself and others. The idea of failing someone's expectations terrifies me a lot. Finally, my aspirations require lots of courage and vigor. I feel that sometimes I lack these qualities because I'm not a person who brazenly disregards the interests of others and is apt to indulge in a fiercely competitive race," explains Agnė.

Agnė has acknowledged experiencing similar emotions since childhood.

"I've never been an exceptionally brave person. I've always thought of how others may feel if I acted one way or the other, all the more so because I've always been and still am surrounded by people who are the complete opposite of me. I've noticed that some people are ready to pay any price to achieve their goals, even though it may negatively affect their relations with others and even their attitude toward themselves. Sometimes such determination seems fascinating because it looks like such people have the power to conquer the world. On the other hand, I often think that the price they have to pay can sometimes be too huge," says Agnė.

When asked what may determine people's attitude toward competition and why that attitude can be so different Agnė once more dwelt upon her childhood.

"I feel like my parents never instilled a competitive mindset in me. They never tried to make me think that my desires were more important than anything else. On the other hand, I've definitely seen a few quite opposite examples. One of my close childhood friends was always taught by her parents to pursue her ambitions regardless of the circumstances and to eliminate anything that could stand in her way. This attitude ultimately caused our friendship to end, as I always felt stressed and inferior in her company due to her constant need to be one step ahead of me," says Agnė.

Where does the need to compete with others come from?

To find out what drives people to compete and why many believe that competition is the only way to achieve their goals, Delfi spoke to psychologist Ugnė Juodytė. According to Juodytė, there are several factors that contribute to this mindset, some of which have deep historical roots.

"From an evolutionary standpoint, competition is viewed as a means of ensuring survival and propagating one's genes to future generations. This type of conduct is common among many animal species, including humans. Competitiveness can manifest itself in various activities such as hunting for food, seeking mates, and acquiring territories. Our ancestors who were capable of engaging in competition had better chances of survival and passing on their genetic legacy," explains the psychologist.

According to Juodytė, the desire to compete can also be triggered by personality traits and acquired behavioral models.

"Determination to compete and achieve ambitious goals can stem from high self-esteem and a desire for excellence," notes Juodytė.

People can also be influenced by their environment.

"A competitive mindset can be influenced by the community and culture we live in. For example, our education system and job market tend to recognize and reward individuals who achieve the best results, which can foster competition. Additionally, social expectations and values also play a role in shaping a competitive mindset," explains the psychologist.

However, the readiness to compete is not immanent to everybody. According to research, the competitive mindset is a multifaceted phenomenon that is determined by various psychological orientations.

"For example, the personal-development competitive attitude (PDCA) is related to higher self-esteem and enjoyment of the task in a competitive situation, whereas the hypercompetitive attitude (HCA) is often ascribed to lower self-esteem and high aggression. Scientists distinguish one more form of competitive orientation which is competition avoidance. It is characteristic of people who fear losing the affection and approval of others through failure in a competition," says the psychologist.

So, the reasons determining the orientation toward competition are numerous and all of them should be taken into consideration.

"The attitude can be determined by an individual's personal traits, family, school, and other circumstances such as cultural values and beliefs. Even genes can play a role. Studies suggest that the drive to compete can be linked to testosterone levels. Much can depend on self-confidence and particular situations that people can find themselves in," says Juodytė.

Pressure on those who are reluctant to compete

People who generally avoid competition often experience huge emotional pressure from those who willingly thrust themselves into competitive situations. According to Juodytė, such cases are common not only in professional but also in personal life. Those who experience the pressure may eventually lose confidence in their abilities and immerse themselves in bitter disappointment. To prevent this from happening, it is important to learn how to handle such kind of pressure.

"A set of well-defined personal values can help. Such values could serve as a guide in making decisions that are beneficial for an individual, not his or her environment. In order to maintain self-confidence, it is advisable to identify one's strengths. Additionally, the ability to set personal boundaries and communicate them to others could save from getting involved in meaningless and unproductive competition," says Juodytė.

On the other hand, those who are constantly putting themselves in competitive situations may also face certain difficulties and negative health effects.

"A never-ending competition can cause enormous stress and emotional exhaustion, especially if someone must continually prove their worth. This could lead to a so-called reward dependence," says the psychologist.

According to Juodytė, such people can feel constant anxiety and fatigue, and they can become prone to depression and panic attacks. Additionally, continuous competition can negatively affect relationships with others.

"Engaging in constant competition may harm relationships with partners and colleagues as such a behavior can be perceived as aggressive and domineering," emphasizes the psychologist.

Healthy competition and its limits

According to Juodytė, constant competition can lead to disagreements and tensions, especially if it is unhealthy or if individuals prioritize winning over everything else.

"Such situations endanger the relationships, reducing the trust and willingness to cooperate," she says.

Moreover, an uncontrollable urge to compete is typically accompanied by an array of emotions.

"The feeling of being underestimated or losing to others may stimulate the emotions of anger and envy. The desire to achieve one's goals at all costs may lead to aggression. The constant pressure to win and the fear of failure can cause stress and anxiety. On the assumption of being defeated one can be overwhelmed with sadness, grief, and sorrow," explains the psychologist.

To prevent this, it is important to pay attention to the limits of healthy competition.

"The competition should be based on respect among competitors. One should avoid crossing personal boundaries or insulting others. It is important to observe rules and moral standards. Unfair tactics and cheating are out of the question. The competition should be perceived as a path to self-improvement, not merely as a fight for victory," suggests Juodytė.

Lest the strong desire to compete should turn into a traumatizing experience, it is important to find the right balance that prevents stepping outside of healthy competition limits.

"I believe one should begin with self-reflection and discovering one's values, strengths, goals, dreams, and desires. This helps determine whether competition is worthwhile or not," says Juodytė.

However, there are more things to consider.

"To begin with, it is important to learn to compete with oneself rather than with others. One should also learn to set clear boundaries so that competition does not harm their well-being or relationships. Additionally, it is crucial to be ready to step back when competition becomes too overwhelming and demanding," says the psychologist.

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