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, April 5, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapter 2 (cont) Control Over Feelings - Selectively Unemotional

This post continues with Control Over Feelings & Selectively Unemotional, from Chapter Two.

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.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that may not all be covered in these excerpts.
For many obsessives, control over their emotions is a crucial component of self-control.  By their nature, emotions sometimes defy control, and this unruliness disturbs the obsessive.  Also, through their extremist lenses, many obsessives unconsciously fear that any show of emotion could lead to their humiliating themselves, devastating someone else, being rejected, or even losing all self-control.  For these and other reasons, many obsessives will repress, minimize, disown, or otherwise try to avoid strong emotions altogether.

<snip>   When their feelings are starting to surface in therapy sessions, many obsessive patients like Colette will deliver an intellectual analysis of them, change the subject, joke, of focus on something trivial - anything to avoid actually feeling and exploring this perturbing part of themselves.

Selectively Unemotional

Although a few obsessives have difficulty showing any strong emotions (and thus may appear machinelike), most choke off only certain ones.   Some, for instance, have no trouble showing affection, but can't display anger easily.  With others, the opposite is true.  <snip> 

The Downside of Emotional Control

To survive, work effectively, and relate to other harmoniously, we obviously must modulate some of our emotions.  However, as James's experience illustrates, wholesale repression of feelings can be self-damaging.  Even in moments of leisure or intimacy, many obsessives have difficulty shifting gears and letting go of their need to be in control.  Some may repress their feelings to effectively that they do not know what their feelings are; they come to believe they were born without the normal emotional range present in others.  This causes them pain, as they sense themselves to be defective in some core way.

In their wish to seem normal (to themselves and others) these people may fake whatever feelings they think are appropriate in various situations.  Or they may unconsciously compensate for their perceived defect in an altogether different way, by idealizing it.  Like Star Trek's Mr. Spock, people who take this path disdian feelings and evidence of weakness.  They sneer at emotional people and admire intellect and reason.  They thus convert the pain fo feeling defective into pride in being "strong."

Of course, such defensive tactics in obsessives usually are doomed to failure, because in spite of their best efforts, rage, terror, sadness, infatuation, and other emotions will eventually break through.  Like anyone else, the obsessive person will experience these emotions because, fortunately, there is no completely effective anesthesia against feeling.  Emotions are crucial components of who we are.  And it through expressing our emotions that we are able to make our needs known and achieve true communication with others.  If you can't show that you're touched, hurt, scared, angry, or sad, people can't connect with you, let alone feel empathy for you or love you.  In the emotional arena as in others, too much self-control is self-defeating.


I've blogged before about the AngryMan aspect of ex b-f.  While he was able to display a full range of emotion during the courting stage, once we moved in together, it seemed like the only emotion he felt safe showing was anger.  He would be cold and logical and emotionless much of the time, occasionally be in a good mood, but mostly, angry.  As if that emotion was safe - unlike fear, anxiety, loneliness - to express those would have made him too vulnerable.

I am reminded of the distraction aspect too - "cuttlefish!" when they throw up a cloud of ink to distract you from something getting too close to the bone.  The Great and Powerful Oz is... just a small scared man behind a curtain, using smoke and mirrors and distraction to keep people from seeing he's just a man.

When somebody is breathing fire at you, it's pretty much impossible to feel an emotional connection.

We all do crazy things to try to earn love, sometimes.  Maybe we'll let somebody put a dog collar around our necks and lead us around by a chain.  Maybe we'll be patient and sympathetic and allow ourselves to be emotionally abused, in the hopes that once they get it "out of their system" they'll be able to open up and share their real emotions with us.  Maybe we'll put up a front of being strong and invulnerable and unemotional, in the hopes that people will love the shell we've built, even if they don't love the person underneath.

Such a waste of time.  By pretending not to have emotions, all perfectionists do is push people away.

Your thoughts?