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, August 30, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 4 - Escape Hatches &
Avoiding Commitment, Tentativeness

Sir Waffle-Lot via Steve Snodgrass at Flickr
This post continues with Escape Hatches and Avoiding Commitment from Chapter Four.

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.

Escape Hatches
<snip> Sometimes people will strive to make it look - to themselves as well as others - as if they're not really deciding but instead are merely yielding to the weight of evidence.  When Alex is in a restaurant agonizing over whether to order the scampi or the linguini, he years for the waiter to say customers have been very pleased with one and disappointed with the other.  It doesn't have to be true.  As long as the balance has been tipped by an outside event, it is no longer Alex's own decision, and the Credo is spared a challenge.
Yet another way of making a decision look like a non-decision is to cling to doubts, reservations, and qualifications even as you decide.  You say, for instance, "I'll take this jacket only because it doesn't need alterations and I need to wear it tonight.  It might not be the best choice, but what can you expect under the circumstances?"  If the choice doesn't work out, it was only a half-decision in the first place.  Since you didn't give it your best effort, you remain potentially infallible.

Avoiding Commitment
<snip> Commitment is the final phase of decision-making.  It's the act of pledging oneself to someone of something and giving up other options.  Once a decision is experienced as irreversible or unchangeable, it becomes a commitment.
(Too Perfect goes on to talk about buying shoes, choosing brown over black, say, but not being committed to brown until at the cash register, and even then, not being completely committed until the shoes are actually worn. )
Just as some obsessives fall back on various escape hatches to diminish the threat of decision-making, some will try to forestall commitment through tentativeness.  Even as they lean toward action, they try to keep one foot on the path they decided not to take.  Forced to remove one foot, they may feel optionless and become nervous.

I've known people who have bought major furnishings, taken them home, and then stubbornly resisted removing the plastic covering for months as they vacillated over the possibility of taking the item back and exchanging it for something else.  They fend off their commitment fears by postponing closure.

Another good example of tentativeness can be found in the way many obsessives express themselves.  In offering personal opinions, they try to keep their options open by qualifying practically everything they say.  Their speech is loaded with such qualifiers as "I guess," "I think," and "I'm not sure, but it seems to me that maybe..."
<snip> He leaves himself room to shift, and so avoids ever being just plain wrong, which would clash with his need to be perfect.  Qualifiers enable him to keep the exit doors open.
<snip> Your vagueness makes it hard to know you and feel connected to you.  And if you consistently pull back from clearly airing your opinions, you suffer in other ways, too.  You never get to taste the pleasure of unmuddied self-expression, and you lose the opportunity to see your opinions tested and challenged.  In fact, you may not even know what they are!


While sometimes it's appropriate to use qualifiers ("I think that God may be very different than Preacher LL seems to portray Him,") so as not to give offense, people who refuse to give an opinion can be infuriating.

YOU: It's really hot, and we haven't gone out in a while.  Let's go out for dinner.
THEM: Okay.
YOU: I'm in the mood for either pizza or seafood.  How about you?
THEM: I don't care.
YOU: Okay, let's go to VV, that's closest.
THEM: I'm not really in the mood for VV.
YOU: Okay, how about XX?
THEM:  I'm not really in the mood for that, either.
YOU: What are you in the mood for?
THEM: Whatever, I don't care.
YOU: Obviously, you do care.  How about A, B, C, D?
THEM: Meh.
YOU: Seems like you don't want to go out, period.  Is there anyplace you want to go, or would you rather eat at home?
THEM: Whatever you want to do.
YOU: [gritting teeth] Right now, what I want to do is strangle you.
THEM: You're so mean!

Then after you either pick a restaurant or go home, you endure verbal sniping from THEM, because this isn't what they wanted to eat, it was much too expensive, there's something wrong with the food, cooking made the whole house too miserably hot...

It's a total passive-aggressive control move.   By abdicating any responsiblity over the choice, but by being willing to go along with "whatever," the Perfectionist can then bitch for hours/days about how imperfect YOUR choice was.  Now there are two people upset with each other.  LOSE-LOSE

Whereas, if the Perfectionist had been willing to commit to a choice, there was the chance of a pleasant evening.  If one person wanted pizza, and the other wanted burgers, a choice could have been made that got both what they wanted.  Or, a coin could have been flipped, to determine the restaurant.  Even if the meal turned out terrible, still, with the right attitude, it could become fodder for future stories and jokes.  A WIN-WIN.  An experience that drew two people together, instead of driving them apart.

If you have a partner with commitment problems, it's important to not feed into this loop.  Once a reasonable offer has been made to accommodate your partner's preferences, it's okay to say, "Okay, I am going out to PP place for dinner tonight at QQ time.  I'd love it if you'd join me.  I am leaving at RR time, with or without you."

If you are the commitment-phobic person, what is the worst thing likely to happen, if you say, "I want to go to MM restaurant"?  You say that and, after negotiation or a coin toss, you end up going elsewhere?  Not a tragedy.  You go there and end up having a bad meal?  Haven't we survived bad meals and gone on to lead normal lives despite the agony of it all?

Outside of some unusual scenarios: a plane falls on the restaurant, aliens abduct you in the parking lot, one or both of you end up with food poisoning - picking a "bad" restaurant or getting a bad meal isn't going to kill anybody.  (Obviously, if you do have food allergies or the restaurant displays a skull & crossbones and it's not pirate-themed decor, or even the rats are seen running away from it, we need to be careful.)

Mallinger is absolutely right that holding back from commitment in order to preserve the illusion of perfection doesn't work, if the goal is to impress others, or make them feel closer to you.  It doesn't even make you feel good about yourself, does it?

Do you waffle and refuse to commit?  What purpose does it serve?
Do you have to deal with waffles that are not
delicious when covered with syrup?
Share your story in the comments, below.  :-)