Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!




Chapter 3 Tempering Idealism

Tools for Handling Control Issues

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

What is idealism?

Idealism is the:

  • Holding on to a set of beliefs which are a rigid system of the way life is supposed to be.
  • Philosophical foundation of a lifestyle in which you find yourself always bucking the system at home, school, work, or in the community.
  • Belief system you have adopted about how things should be done which often gets challenged by the way things are in reality.
  • Fantasy or dream of how your life should be which often interferes with your accepting the here and now realities of life.
  • Underlying motive behind your attempt to control people so that they meet your ideal image of the way they should be, act, achieve, react, live, etc.
  • Set of goals of how reality should be if it were perfect, a set of goals to shoot for 100% attainment.
  • Set of beliefs which if adhered to too rigidly often gets you into trouble with authority figures in your life since you are apt to rebel against such authority if the system is not right and not in accord with your ideals.
  • Block which prevents you from playing the political game of going along with the mandates of the authority which temper your beliefs and shoulds about the ways things should be.
  • Set of beliefs which, if held too rigidly, can open you to criticism for being too pie in the sky, non-pragmatic, or out of touch with reality.
  • Blind spot that can keep you off focus in your home, school, work, or community life because of your disappointment about others not accepting or living up to your ideals.
  • Mask you often hide behind when you are unwilling to admit that you are unmotivated, too lazy, or not interested in doing what is expected of you at school, work, home, or in the community.
  • Underlying current which prevents your healthy adjustment to a situation because it is so out of synch with the ideal way you think things should be.
  • Set of norms against which you judge others and which gets you into trouble with the others, especially if they are authority figures who don't meet the norm.

What are the negative effects of being overly idealistic?

If you continue to be overly idealistic, then you could:

  • Experience poor adjustment at school, on the job, or in the community because you could become identified as a gadfly, rebel, or a person with a chip on your shoulder.
  • Have problems and get in trouble with authority figures who are not functioning in a way you believe correct and you've let them know this.
  • Become very depressed, despondent and despair over how imperfect life is at home, school, work, or in the community.
  • Find it difficult to fully accept anyone the way they really are and chronically attempt to control them so that they can become the way they should ideally be.
  • Resent any attempts to help you recognize the rational, pragmatic, and political strategies for coping with a less than perfect or ideal life.
  • Find that your tenure is short on any job with a boss and, after a series of job failures, you might need to seek a job where you can be your own boss and not have to deal with less than ideal bosses or employees.
  • Become so hypercritical and controlling over all of the people in your life that they shy away and become more distant and cool with you.
  • Become the fall guy or scapegoat for any problems or trouble in the system at home, school, work, or in the community as a means to quiet your outspokenness and to lay the blame and responsibility for the problems on you.
  • Be misunderstood, ignored, undervalued, rejected, nonapproved, unsupported by the people in your home, school, work and community systems.
  • Be so frustrated in not being able to control people to meet your ideals that you regularly experience anger, temper, and raging outbursts against these people.
  • Turn into a cynic or become fatalistic, hostile, pessimistic, and negativistic.
  • Be so blinded by your shining ideals that you forget others are free to have their own opinion and become discouraged when you think no one is listening to you.
  • Experience a lowering of your self-esteem because you are not capable of living your ideals in your life spheres.

How is overidealism a control issue?

Overidealism is a control issue because:

  • It is your attempt to put the locus of control in your hands to get others to be the way they should be for you.
  • It is at the root of your need to overcontrol situations, people, places, or things in order to ensure that they come into compliance with your ideal image of the way reality is supposed to be.
  • You can resort to coercion, intimidation, or threats to get people, places or things to come into line with the ideals you expect them to have.
  • It often is at the base of your need to fix or be a caretaker because you see something less than ideal or perfect and impulsively reach out to change or care for it.
  • In your need to politically espouse your ideal belief system, you can utilize manipulation, conning, storytelling, promise making, favor swapping, and bargaining to get people, places, or things into line with you.
  • It often can blind you to the uncontrollables or unchangeables in your life so that rather than admit to powerlessness and then let go of them, you conversely work harder to change and bring them under control.
  • When you find it difficult to detach from others, it is often your idealized image of the way you are supposed to act, be, or behave that keeps you emotionally hanging on to these people.
  • It is often a barrier to your ability to gain self-control over your life because your idealism blinds you to what is reasonable, realistic and achievable for you in your life.
  • Behind your need to gain control and power over other persons, places, or things is the idealistic image or fantasy of the way your world is supposed to be and how only you have the answers to bring your world into synch with this image.
  • You are willing to sacrifice your own resources, energy, spirit, physical stamina or health in order to get your ideal image of the way life is supposed to be actualized in the lives of the people, places, and things with whom you come into contact.
  • It encourages a lack of moderation or compromise in your efforts to control others so that you can feel sane in an ideal world and at peace with the ideal way in which people should treat you.

What is the irrational thinking which results in over-idealism?

  • They should know what they are supposed to do.
  • Life should be perfectly in line with what has been promised when we were encouraged to live a good life, work hard, and treat others fairly.
  • The goals of the organization should always be the goals of every member of the organization.
  • We should always act, think, and feel like everyone else who is a member of this group, family, school, work site, church, or community.
  • It should be easy to make friends in a situation which I have freely chosen to join because everyone in the situation should be just like me.
  • They should be as committed to this goal, job, or target behavior as I am.
  • Everyone should be as sincere, trustworthy, and honest in their dealings with me as I am with them.
  • If I have been willing to make these sacrifices for them, they should show their appreciation to me for this.
  • They should work as hard as I do.
  • They should be as generous, giving, and caring as I am.
  • They should know how I feel about them, what I want from them, and what I need in my life.
  • They should appreciate me for what I do around here.
  • People should be nice to one another around here if we are going to be successful.
  • Everybody should fit in with everybody else around here in order for us to reach our goals.
  • Arguments, disagreements, and differences of opinions should not occur around here.
  • Everybody should be as clear and precise about our goals here as I am.
  • If I am here for you, you should be here for me.
  • You should respect my work just like I respect yours.
  • They should only hire, appoint, or select people for this job, task, or responsibility who are appropriate.
  • Everybody should put in an honest day's work for an honest day's wage.
  • I should do everything perfectly in order to meet my standards so as to encourage others to follow my example.

What is the way to reduce the impact of your idealism in your life?

In order to reduce the impact of idealism in your life you need to follow these steps.


Step 1: Identify in which life spheres your idealism creates problems for you. The life spheres are:

  • Marriage or relationships with significant others
  • Home life
  • Parenting or child management
  • School
  • Work
  • Community involvements
  • Church
  • Recovery Program
  • Friendships

Then for each life sphere follow the next steps.


Step 2: Identify the ideals, the shoulds and the must do's which create problems for you in each of the life sphere you identified in step 1.


Step 3: Identify what controlling behaviors result from your idealism.


Step 4: Identify the non-productive or negative behavioral responses you receive or witness which arise from your idealism.


Step 5: Identify the irrational beliefs, the shoulds, must do's, or perfectionistic tendencies at the base of each of your ideals which create the problems for you.


Step 6: Take each irrational belief, should, must do, or perfectionistic tendency and identify a healthier, more rational, and more realistic alternative substitute which will tone down your ideals.


Step 7: Do anger work and other emotional-release work to get your emotional and feelings life more integrated into your new, more rational, healthy and realistic thinking.


Step 8: Identify new, more politically reasonable, realistic, and rational behaviors which will encourage your success and happiness in each life sphere.


Step 9: Implement the new, politically sound behaviors and monitor the effect they have on the people in each life sphere.


Step 10: Reward yourself for being more rational, realistic, healthy and politically sound, for your new, less idealistic behaviors. Use self-talk to remind yourself that:

  • There is only one person in life you can change or control - it is you!
  • You don't always have to be the most perfect, most ideal, or best achiever in order to achieve success in life.
  • Things don't always have to go your way in order for you to feel happy and successful.
  • It is OK for you and others to experience failure or mistakes - it is not the end of the world.
  • Perfection is not always possible in this lifetime. The only perfect being is God.
  • It is OK to accept the political realities of life to survive around here.
  • If it comes to the point where I can no longer survive around here, it would be healthier for me to leave the situation than to stay and be destroyed.
  • If I stay around here knowing that it will eventually destroy me, then it is my own choice and I can no longer bitch or complain about it.
  • It is better to keep my idealistic and perfectionistic attitudes to myself than to inflict them on others who have no desire to become like I want them to be.
  • If I cannot live with this reality, then it would be better for me to leave the situation than to inflict others with my rigidity, irrationality, unhealthiness, and over-controlling, better than thou attitudes.
  • I am responsible for my own life and happiness. I am deserving of my efforts at making my ideals more realistic so that I can be successful around here.


Step 11: Continue to implement more realistic, less idealistic, and less perfectionistic behaviors in all of your life spheres. Continuously monitor how you are allowing your ideals to control your life and the lives of others.


Step 12: If you fall back into an overly idealistic state in one or more of your life spheres, return to Step 1 and begin all over again.

What are the steps to temper idealism?


Step 1: In your journal answer the following questions in order to assist you to work on tempering your idealism so that it is less of a control issue for you:

  • How do you display idealism in your behaviors and actions in life?
  • What are the negative effects of overidealism in your life?
  • How do you use your idealism as a control mechanism in your life?
  • How do you feel about idealism being singled out as a control issue in your life? How valid is this concept for you?
  • How do you feel about the idealism of other people in your life? Do you feel they use their idealism as a control issue?
  • How does their idealism and your idealism clash or conflict? What types of problems does this cause for you?
  • What irrational beliefs or unhealthy thinking results from your overidealism?
  • For how long has overidealism been a problem for you? When was your idealism greater? Lesser? More of a problem? Less of a problem?
  • How have you dealt with your problems arising from overidealism?
  • How do you feel about shoulding yourself or others to be, to act, to think, and to feel in ideal ways?
  • How badly are you suffering in your life from the negative consequences of your idealism and how badly do you want to change this?
  • How willing are you to play the political games in life in order to survive?

Step 2: Once you have done an assessment of the impact of over-idealism in your life, then answer the following questions for each of your life spheres. Take each of the following life spheres one at a time and complete all of the questions in your journal before you go on to answer the same questions for the next life sphere.


The Life Spheres Impacted by Idealism

  • Marriage or relationships with significant others
  • Home life
  • Parenting or child management
  • School
  • Work
  • Community involvement
  • Church
  • Recovery
  • Friendships


Questions to be answered for each life sphere:

  • What are the ideals in this life sphere which create problems for you?
  • How do you try to control other people in this life sphere by your idealism?
  • What are the negative results of your controlling through overidealism?
  • What irrational beliefs or perfectionistic tendencies are at the root of your problematic ideals in this life sphere?
  • What healthier, more rational, and more realistic alternative beliefs in this life sphere would temper your problematic ideals?
  • What angers you in this life sphere about letting go of your overly idealistic ideals?
  • What new feelings do you need to experience in this life sphere in order to let go of the old ideals and accept the new, healthier, more realistic and more rational ideals or beliefs?
  • What new behaviors do you need to develop in this life sphere as a result of tempering your idealistic thoughts and emotions?
  • What political games do you need to play in order to survive in this life sphere once you have tempered your idealism?
  • How likely are you to successfully survive and be healthy and happy as a result of your new, less idealistic oriented behaviors and playing the political games in this life sphere?
  • What alternatives do you have if, by being less idealistic and more political in your actions, your life, security, happiness, and success are still threatened and/or at risk?
  • How willing are you to let go physically of your active involvement with people, places, or things which threaten your survival in this life sphere?
  • How willing are you to admit the need to quit a person, place, or thing in this life sphere when to stay would result in hurt, pain, and suffering for you?

Step 3: Once you have analyzed each of your life spheres for new, more tempered thinking, feeling, and actions, then you need to implement the new, tempered ideals, less controlling, more realistic, more rational beliefs, and healthier behaviors in each life sphere.


Step 4: Monitor the impact these new behaviors have on the people in each life sphere.


Step 5: Reinforce your efforts at tempering your idealism.


Step 6: Keep implementing more politically sound behaviors in each life sphere.


Step 7: Walk away or quit any people, places, or things in your life spheres who continue to be a threat to your survival or existence even after you have tempered your idealism.


Step 8: If you fall back into allowing your idealism to control you or others, then return to Step 1 and begin all over again keeping in mind that:

Life is

a little sunshine, a little rain

a little loss, a little gain

a little happiness, a little pain

not all sweet, nor all sour

now a weed, now a flower but

a goodly average of sunshine and shower.