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, June 28, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapt 3
Not So Perfect Relationships
Social Inhibititions & Being Right

This post continues with Not So Perfect Relationships, from Chapter Three.

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. 

Not So Perfect Relationships

The most serious effects of perfectionism can be seen in personal relationships.  Such problems spring from
  • the fear of having other people see one's flaws
  • the need to be right about everything
  • a constantly critical attitude

Let's look first at the fear of letting other people see one's shortcomings.  This fear is responsible for a variety of social inhibitions that can range in intensity from slight apprehension to full blown terror, complete with pounding heartbeat, weakness, upset stomach, and other symptoms.

<snip> While the form of the specific fear may vary widely, most socially inhibited people harbor distorted fears of being noticed and having their flaws exposed.  The vast majority feel themselves to be under scrutiny much more than is the case, and they believe that others will reject them or will respect them less if any slips or imperfections show through.  <snip>

A different way in which perfectionism can damage personal relationships stems from the perfectionistic need to be right -about everything.  Errors are anathema to the perfectionist, but everyone is wrong sometimes.  (After all, perfectionism is a myth.  Human existence cannot be mistake-free.)  Lots of obsessives will admit in abstract terms that they make mistakes.  Being able to recognize one's shortcomings is, after all, part of being "the perfect person."  However, perfectionistic obsessives tend to avoid owning up to specific errors, particular in important matters, and this often alienates other people.

It's simply unpleasant to be around someone who always has to show he was right.  <snip>

Perfectionists often try to talk their errors away.  In a discussion, they gently hammer away at their opponents' position until the others back down, if just from fatigue.  Or they will explain how their position was misunderstood.  They nimbly dodge admitting their own culpability.

Should a mistake be absolutely undeniable, they may still have trouble calmly acknowledging their error.  Often they will become defensive, tossing off so many buts, howevers, and other qualifications that their listeners can barely hear the admission within the verbal thicket.  Even in admitting error, perfectionists seem to be saying they they were... semi-right.  Somehow they make it seem that, given the circumstances, being slightly in error was the most intelligent position to have taken.  Throughout, they fail to notice how repelled others can be by this stubborn pretense at infallibility.

<snip>perfectionistic obsessives may even try to convince a hurt or angry friend that his feelings are inappropriate or "wrong."  <snip>  One person will blurt out to the other, "You shouldn't feel that way!"  In each case the obsessive may be surprised when the other person feels alienated still further after being proved "wrong" for feeling a certain way.  The obsessive fails to see the damage done by trying to transform a sharing of feelings into a debate: all too often it pushes the other person into keeping future complaints to himself while smoldering under the surface.  <snip>

When I was in my teens, and early twenties, when buying feminine hygiene products at the grocery store I would seek out a female cashier and bagger.  It was simply too humiliating to have a man handle such intimate items, because if they did, they would know that I used them.  They might even think I was menstruating right at that very moment.  The horror!

Well.  I got over it.  I realized that even the male cashiers and baggers handled such items dozens of  times a day, and gave it no more thought than if I was buying tomatoes or shampoo.  They.  Couldn't.  Care.  Less.  If they were thinking about anything while handling my purchases, it was probably about what time they got off work, or how they were going to spend their paycheck, or that cute girl (or guy) that just got hired.

Somehow, those with OCPD are stuck into "they're all thinking about me, they're all looking at me" mode, which becomes self-fulfilling.  If you feel particularly self-conscious and act that way, people will look at you more.  I'm not sure if it's egotism, or immaturity, but mostly, just as in my tampon example, above, we all need to realize that people care a lot more about their own affairs than about us.

I think everybody, perfectionist or not, tends to be at least somewhat defensive about making mistakes.  I don't like finding that I've made a mistake, but I've learned to accept that I do.  I even call attention to my mistakes at work.  "I forgot to do X, I filled out this form the wrong way; I missed picking up the message; now here's how I suggest correcting it."  I work at devising systems, for myself and others in my department, not that prevent mistakes from being made, but that will detect them quickly. My bosses appreciate that I'm more focused on making things work, than trying to deflect blame or Covering My A$$.

Ex was the dinner-preparer, and on rare occasion, he would over or undercook something.  He did learn to joke about that (somewhat), but his attitude towards most mistakes was defending the pass at Thermopylae (think The 300).  Nothing was going to get through or be admitted without a long and bitter battle.

shirt available from
As noted above, that kind of stance is highly detrimental to a relationship.  I experienced all of the defensive tactics noted above: the wall of argument, the admission buried in a pile of qualifications, being told my feelings were wrong, being told I shouldn't feel what I felt...  It's emotionally exhausting, and it erodes trust. 

I had one friend who was actually (somewhat) supportive of our relationship, and who was liked by the ex and welcome in our home ( a very short list), until... she offended him (in his eyes.)  She and I had gone out somewhere, it was a hot summer day, and when she dropped me off, she got out of the car to greet him.  She was a very fastidious person, and he'd been working outside, with no shirt on.  He wanted to hug her hello/goodbye, in all his sweaty glory.  She insisted on shaking hands, instead, which I believe wounded his vanity tremendously.  He couldn't forgive her for the "insult," and nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.

From then on, she was a horrible snob, no longer welcome in our home, and I met bitter resistance to going out to do girly things with her (which was perhaps every other month.)  If I even mentioned her name, I met with petty complaints and ugliness, which encouraged me to keep my feelings to myself.  There was an ever-growing list of Unmentionables.  I don't think he ever sat down and thought about how that kind of behavior did not bring us closer together, but drove us apart.  He would pay lip service to "better communication" being essential to our relationship, he would even bring it up, but how can you communicate with someone who can't accept your feelings or admit being wrong?

Have you lived through the Debate that Wouldn't Die?
Are you more likely to find a winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk 
than have your Perfectionist admit having made a mistake?

Tell about it in the comments.