|Aaah, what we could fix, if only we had a Time Machine!|
Or, could we?
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 will not all be covered in these excerpts.
When the obsessive's control fails in one of these ways, a flood of anxiety will surface, unless she can ignore or distort what has happened. One common "fudge factor" is what I call Retroactive Control. The words "should've," "could've," or "would've" are essential for this. She should've done this instead of that. If only she had, she would've been better off. She could've struck it rich, avoided the flu, or performed better.
Using this trick enables the obsessive to recast the frightening events after they happen. It offers him a possible escape route from the truth - that one's control of life is frequently imperfect at best. Should he catch a cold, he immediately searches for and usually finds, a good reason: a draft he "should've" avoided, too little sleep, forgetting to take his normal dose of vitamins.
[The chapter goes in to cite a man whose girlfriend broke up with him primarily because of a large age difference and differences in religious faiths - things that were totally out of his control - though he clung to a belief that if only he had behaved differently, she would not have broken up with him.]
WHEN EVEN RETROACTIVE CONTROL FAILS
[Another example is given of a commuter plane crash, and how this upset many of his patients, since this was something that could have happened to them, and which, again, they could not possibly have controlled by any actions of their own.]
The anxiety they felt was an inevitable consequence of having seen their control mythology shaken. The whole reason obsessives construct and embrace the Myth of Control is to fend off anxiety; and when an experience contradicts the myth, if they can't ignore or reinterpret the experience, that anxiety returns with a vengeance. They may even develop physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, sleeplessness, or dizzy spells.
But even when they aren't acutely suffering, obsessives' rigid need for control is causing them irreparable damage. Their much-vaunted self-control, for example, is like some impervious suit of armor that has rusted shut and can no longer be shed. Fashioned in childhood as protection, it has become life-constricting. Their rigidly controlled posture has in itself become a source of pride that they're terrified of jeopardizing. And though they long to be more easygoing, flexible, and spontaneous, fear inhibits them.
This was OCPD ex b-f all right, full of retroactive control, and it used to be me, too, but twenty years ago or so I figured out that when we play the game of "if only," we always imagined it could have gone better. We rarely imagined that the outcome could have been the same, or even worse.
This was then hammered in to my consciousness by the marvelous 1998 movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow. Writer/director Peter Howitt tells this story in a unique way, in parallel from the moment Helen (played by GP) misses - or doesn't miss - her train.
In one version, after she's been rudely sacked (fired, for my fellow Americans), Helen barely catches the sliding doors of the train, arriving back at her flat to find her cheating boyfriend in bed with another woman.
In the other version, the child on the stairwell delays her just enough so that she misses it. Then the next train is delayed, and she gets mugged, and arrives home well after sleazeball boyfriend has cleaned up all evidence of his ongoing affair.
When she catches the cheater, in the first scenario, she throws the bum out on his ear, and takes a whole new path in her life. When she doesn't... she doesn't. Which one works out better for her in the long run? I won't be a spoiler; if you haven't seen it, put it on your Netflix list.
All we can do, at any point in time, is the best we can, given our health, knowledge, state of restedness, anxiety level, number of distractions... One of my friends would use this Maya Angelou quote as her signature line,"You did then what you knew how to do, And when you knew better, You did better.”
Comparing the ways things actually did work out, in Real Life, to the way they might have worked out, in FantasyLand - and beating ourselves up because the reality doesn't measure up to some fantasy of The Perfect Outcome... Why would we want to do that again?
How big a factor is Retroactive Control in your life?
How much do those you love use Retroactive Control?