Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.
Regardless of the psychobiological causes of obsessiveness, the central dynamic in the obsessive personality is that of control. Most of us, obsessives included, would allow that life is fundamentally unpredictable. As hard as the best-intentioned, most conscientious person might try, it is impossible to control every aspect of one's existence; we are vulnerable. Despite such lip service to these truths, however, somewhere near the center of their inner being, far from their conscious awareness, obsessives are trying to deny this reality. Their subtle but constant attempts to control everything in the world around them (and inside them) are an attempt to do the impossible: to guarantee security, to assure safe passage through the risks and uncertainties of living.The chapter finishes with the famous poem/essay by Nadine Stair, "If I had my life to live over... I would eat more ice cream and less beans.." (I know you've seen bits on a poster somewhere!) And a Self-Test. Self-tests can be helpful, if they are taken honestly. What sometimes happens when OCPDrs (or others) are in denial that they have a problem, is they quickly figure out how to "game" the test. "See!" they may say triumphantly afterwards. "I told you there was nothing wrong with me!"
Sometimes these efforts may "work" for years. Their conscientiousness and thoroughness bring obsessives admiration in the workplace. They follow the laws and rules assiduously, so they rarely incur the disapproval of those in authority. They seldom are rejected in romantic encounters since they avoid situations that make them vulnerable, or they take preemptive action when they sense an affair is going awry, so that they may be the one to end it. The conform to the standards of their social groups, so they usually aren't ridiculed or ostracized. And the rewards for being responsible, consistent, alert to details, safety-conscious, and well-organized are legion.
But all this security comes at a price. Though they may be inured to it, many strongly obsessive people are suffering. They may be unable to show their feelings or to trust anyone (even their closest loved ones) completely, and as a result live with the chilling sense of being fundamentally alone.
Many obsessives suffer the endless agony of having to do everything well - an unnecessary imperative that can ruin even the most enjoyable of activities. Their fear of embarrassment of appearing less than perfect may keep them from trying new things.
They struggle daily under the weight of a massive inner rulebook, an overgrown sense of duty, responsibility and fairness. Most obsessives rarely taste the joys of the moment; the present hardly exists for them. Even in their time off, many can't fully relax, or just play. Indeed, they are never really "off." Worries bedevil them as they plow through life doing the "right" things, hoping that caution, diligence, and sacrifice will pay off - someday.
An amateur diagnosis may be helpful to a "non," or an OCPDr, in identifying tools and techniques that may be useful, but only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose OCPD (and sometimes even they miss it.)
The business about the disconnect between the lip service to "of course, we can't control everything" and the actual carrying on as if one can... reminds me of the problems I have sometimes integrating a message I know in my head, into my heart.
Sometimes I feel like I'm this guy:
Even when it's all true, I feel a weird sheepishness and fear of being silly or self-indulgent, when I do positive affirmations. I do them anyway (if not often enough.)
As far as strengths-slash-flaws "working" for Perfectionists - yes, they can, for quite some time. My ex would tell stories about his job working for a company that ran the programs that allowed big banks (Security Pacific, Wells Fargo, etc.) make electronic payroll tax deposits for their clients. (Yes, this was 20 years ago.) Anyway, he would relate with pride how sometimes the engineers thought a program was "good enough," to be released, and even though it wasn't his job, he would test it every other way he could think of, even it that took days, making sure there was absolutely no possible scenario under which it would "hang" or crash.
However, I got the impression between the lines, that his boss wasn't 100% pleased about his need to work every single bug out of every single program, regardless of how long it took. Especially since that wasn't his assigned job. And when the company was bought out and all the other employees went elsewhere... He had nowhere to go, and hasn't worked since.
He would also obsess over ants. Ants happen. In my old apartment, oddly, sometimes I would not get them in the sink where I had left dirty dishes (no cracks, please, about how even the ants were too smart to touch my cooking) but they would come into the bathroom through the openings in the electric plugs. Riddle me that, oh ye neat freak! Fact of life, no matter how well you clean, sometimes you will get ants. But OCPD ex-bf usually treated one lonely scout ant as a sign of the Apocalypse (and of my slovenliness.)
Or a moth would get into the house, or a fly get in. Doom! Tragedy! Terror!
He was always too busy, had too much to do to relax (Remember, this is a guy with no job, a house with two adults, in which I vacuumed, dusted, and cleaned the bathroom on the weekends.) I think for many OCPDrs a state of having nothing to do, workwise, may be scary and uncomfortable. So they've got to go find (or manufacture) a crisis, because the only emotional state that they're accustomed to, sadly, is anxiety.
Of course, in America we have a culture that approves of the 60 (or more) hour workweek, and seems to frown on "too much" leisure - there's an attitude that pleasure must be earned. So a perfectionist can often get away with focusing all his/her attention on the job, or on Things That Must Be Done.
|Photo by Dany13 on Flickr|
This chapter highlights for me, not just how hard it is to live with a Perfectionist, but how very hard it is to be a Perfectionist. They are suffering. It is very painful for them, but they don't see that they create their own "massive inner rulebook." They are astounded that every other human being isn't dragging one around, too, and obviously those people are slackers who just don't care about doing things right - the way the Perfectionist does.
It does isolate them.
I knew my ex-boyfriend was suffering, perhaps more acutely than he did, but I couldn't help him with it, because he didn't trust me. No matter how much I tried to show him I loved him, no matter how many times I had "been there" for him, no matter what craziness I put up with... I think that's why many of us stay, hoping, that we'll eventually breach a crack in that wall and they'll trust us.
One thing I've read in other posts - while an obsessive may avoid rejection in the beginning of a romantic relationship, as it states here, when it comes to long-term relationships ending, they are often shell-shocked and totally surprised. A train they didn't see coming, even though their partner may have been telling them, "If things don't change in our relationship, I'm going to have to leave," for weeks, months, years. I've read where somebody will report to a third party, "Oh, things are much better between us," on the day their spouse is moving out.
The whole condition is very sad, but there is hope. The obsessive simply has to be willing to change.
Gee, is that all (I hear those of you in such a relationship asking)? Why not ask something simple, like carrying the Holy Grail to the top of Mount Everest?
It has been know to happen (the willingness to change.)