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, September 27, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 4 - Letting Go of the Fear & Self-Inflicted Pain

from pj_vanf at Flickr
This post continues with Letting Go of the Fear & Self-Inflicted Pain 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.

In major decisions, such as whether or not to get married, the real consequences of error are serious, so you argue that you have every right to be cautious.  You do, but don't confuse rational caution with an irrational refusal to decide.
Even in serious matters, the consequences of a wrong choice aren't necessarily unbearable or irrevocable.  It's often possible to correct the error and live happily afterward.  In contrast, remind yourself of the harmful consequences of indecision.
It's further likely that you have trouble even with minor decisions, and here your irrationality should be more obvious.  After all, how can it be intolerable to buy the "wrong" shirt or choose the "wrong" menu item or vacation spot?  It may be inconvenient or, in extreme cases, unpleasant.  But intolerable?  If it feels intolerable, that's because, against all reason, you've decided that it is!

I'm not saying you shouldn't feel any pain when you make a poor choice.  It's only reasonable to be somewhat disappointed.  But if you are obsessive, you probably suffer far more than is reasonable, and most of the pain is self-inflicted.  It comes mainly from the things you tell yourself about your choices - the regrets, the second-guessing, and self-deprecation.  The actual damage done by the erroneous decision usually pales in comparison.
In many decisions, the pros and cons on both sides are a toss-up as far as one can tell before actually choosing.  That is, either choice will usually turn out fine if only you let it.  But even the most terrific decision can turn out badly if you let the forsaken option gnaw at you.
With some slightly revised thinking, this toss-up kind of situation would be a pleasure ninety percent of the time.  That's because what makes a decisions register as good or bad depends mostly on what you tell yourself after you've made it.  If you doubt each decision, dwelling upon the options passed over, your mind will unconsciously form a connection between the act of deciding and pain.  It's like being punished every time you make a decision - regardless of how good your choice is.  After a while, there's no such thing as a good choice; they all hurt, which perpetuates your reluctance to make them.
Less perfectionistic people make decisions without so much equivocating, and once the decision is made, rather than second-guessing it, they focus on making the most of it.  Because they are able to enjoy the positive aspects of the path chosen, their minds usually associate the act of deciding with pleasure, not pain.  This association perpetuates a willingness to keep making choices rather than shy away from them.

While I know I have fleas, or perfectionistic tendencies in some ways, this section is so not me.  I am all about making a decision, and then making it work and enjoying it.  Vacations.  Car purchases.  Choice of sandwich at Subway.

I can see how obsessing leads to a deteriorating spiral of painful decision-making and second-guessing.  But it bears repeating: Most of the pain is self-inflicted.  If every decision feels excruciating, you're going to make as few as possible.  The fewer you make, and the more terrible you make decisions out to be, the worse and harder it's gonna get to make any decisions.  The monsters on the other side of the door get bigger and scarier (in your mind) all the time, till all they have to do is rattle the doorknob and you're totally knotted up.

Whereas making a decision, deciding you are going to enjoy it, no matter what, is habit-forming, in a good way.  In a great way.

Let's say I have to go somewhere - in LA, always a hazardous decision.  This freeway or that one?  Or, perhaps, surface streets?  I can check, I can use my judgment based on previous drives in the same area/day of week/time of day, and still end up bottled up in traffic.  (Or, conversely, I can not do any prep or research at all, and have a lovely drive.)  I can use the traffic time to work myself into a frenzy, berate myself for taking the wrong route.  

Or, I can put on an album I haven't cued up in a while, make a (hands free) phone call or two, think about a story I'm working on...  I choose how I will let a decision affect me, and I don't choose to let it make me feel bad for too long.

How about you - do you too often beat up on yourself about "bad" decisions?
Is your decision-making pattern one you want to reinforce and continue?
Have you ever made a decision that seemed wrong at the time, and 
later it turned out quite well in the long run?