Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays: Chapter One Continued

This post continues with more from Chapter One.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week.  Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

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.

Chapter One
The Obsessive Personality  (continued) 
If there is a single quality that characterizes obsessive people it is a powerful, unconscious need to feel in control - of themselves, of others, and of life's risks.  One of the primary ways in which this needs manifests itself is perfectionism.  A whole family of personality traits is rooted in these two needs - to be in control and to be "perfect."  These include:
  • a fear of making errors
  • a fear of making a wrong decision or choice
  • a strong devotion to work
  • a need for order or firmly established routine
  • frugality
  • a need to know and follow the rules
  • emotional guardedness
  • a tendency to be stubborn or oppositional
  • a heightened sensitivity to being pressured or controlled by others
  • an inclination to worry, ruminate, or doubt
  • a need to be above criticism - moral, professional, or personal
  • cautiousness
  • a chronic inner pressure to use every minute productively

By my definition, someone is obsessive if his or her personality is predominantly colored by traits from this family - in any combination.  Many of these traits, when they aren't exaggerated or rigid, are valuable qualities.  It's hard to imagine someone succeeding in our society today without some degree of self-discipline, for example, or some desire to work hard and avoid errors.  But some people are "too perfect."  The obsessive traits in their personality are so dominant and inflexible that these virtues actually cause a host of problems.

<snip> I see how unaware most obsessives are that they're harming themselves; they recoil from any hint that their heavy burdens could be self-imposed.  Most have grown up believing that you can never be too careful, hardworking, thorough, prepared or organized.  In fact, they're often proudest of the very traits that cause them the most harm.
The book goes on to tell stories about people coming to see the doctor for physical symptoms, or because a partner insisted they get help, not because the Perfectionists recognized any problem with their lifestyle or attitudes.  It tells about Laura, who took on a crushing workload, refused to delegate tasks, and felt she had to be all things to all people.  About Raymond, a workaholic surgeon who wouldn't open up about his own feelings, bullied his wife and passed judgment on everything from her cooking to her political opinions, and then was heartbroken when she embarked on an affair because she felt lonely and unloved.


I can relate to Raymond's wife.  When my ex b-f would cry, I would reach out my arms to hold him, and he would either barely tolerate it, or shrug me off.  When I would have a bad day or bad dream, he would never spontaneously hold me or ask me to talk it out.  Sometimes when I specifically asked for it, he would hold me or let me talk about some feelings; other times even when I asked he'd turn me down, or give me a short, wooden hug.  It's very hard not to take that kind of emotional rejection personally.

from Andrew Petro - Creative Commons
 Everyone I've met on chat boards can tell a story about a couch/car/bed that took years to purchase, because the Perfectionist had to get the right one.  No matter how old, broken, uncomfortable or the old one was.  (2+ years for our couch.)  About frugality beyond making sense, about traumatic scenes because a routine may have been interrupted.  The horror! 

And the rules, the rules, the rules!  Almost everyone has a story of the Crazy Rules

Demand-Resistance and demand sensitivity - there will be more on that to follow, but even a perceived demand may meet with an automatic no.  (For example, many partners resent doing something for Valentines' Day, because they feel it's expected of them by society, whether or not their partner has asked for special treatment, and then exhibit resentment to their partners for the implied "demand.")  There's a lot of withholding of feelings that goes on, of not feeling trusted or supported.

Checking for fleas again:  I'm frugal, for the most part (I do use every fragment of paper on my steno pads!) but will not, as many Perfectionists do, eat dicey leftovers to save a few dollars.  The potential cost of getting sick and missing work, of having to go to the doctor or emergency room, to my way of thinking, outweighs the pain of throwing away fifty cents worth of food that might still be good.

I do tend to reflexively take the devil's advocate position, which is certainly an oppositional trait.  Hmmm.  I believe in following rules when they make sense, but don't believe any rules are always right.  One should obey the speed limit, for example, but what if you've got somebody in your car in dire straits and you're rushing her to the hospital?  I do feel that pressure to be productive all the time, but I also make myself take down time, and I'm learning not to feel quite so guilty about it.

What your flea count?  Do you have a furniture purchase from hell story?
Tell me about it in the comments.