|via Rhys Asplundh at Flickr|
One of the things that happens when a person in a relationship with an OCPD'r begins telling stories to outsiders about the worst moments, is people look at you like you're insane. Like either you're a liar and making stuff up, because the person who is so nice in public couldn't behave like that at home. Or because you'd have to be a blithering idiot to sign up for that kind of abuse.
Well, we didn't sign up for it. Most of us dated a person who seemed (relatively) normal, if a little quirky. But don't we all have quirks?
Theirs seemed harmless enough, perhaps even an improvement over our own habits. If he was excessively careful about his personal appearance, this seemed like a nice change from guys who were content to go out in public in a ratty T-shirt. Maybe she seemed a little hung up on cleaning and arranging everything, but aren't women "supposed" to be like that?
They loved us and we loved them and we had excellent chemistry together. They were smart and funny and seemed to be more organized and "together" than a lot of other people we'd been involved with.
And then the relationship moved to the next level, and like the frog in the pot of cold water, the heat gradually increased. Or some "event" happened - marriage, moving in together, a new baby - and like a werewolf during a full moon, they transformed into an OCPD raging monster.
Everybody is on their best behavior while courting, anyway. That initial stage of being "in love" that lasts anywhere from 4-6 months to up to two years. During that time, the dopamine (feel-good/reward hormone) and oxytocin (promotes attachment) levels go way up. So the anxiety and fear which seems to be at the root of OCPD controlling behaviors (if I do everything perfectly, and anticipate every possible catastrophe, bad things won't happen) is not simply masked, but overwhelmed.
But "the good guy hormones" will eventually take a break. And now, because we have been added to the list of things the OCPD'r feels s/he must manage and control, lest disaster ensue, their anxiety level shoots way up.
Image via WikipediaIt may be sweet at first, being fussed over, "Let's get those boots off you; I hope you didn't get your feet wet." "Make sure to wear your warm coat," but in a severely OCPD person, it becomes panic when you're driving. (I blogged earlier about Mrs. Potatohead.) And "don't you realize if you leave the toaster plugged in it could burn the house down!" Bring on the Crazy Rules!
It wasn't that they were being deceptive or putting on a deliberately false front; things were wonderful between us, and then (from the POV of an OCPD'r) we changed. We started doing things that were annoying, slovenly, or downright dangerous. We made mistakes, and mistakes are not permitted in OCPD, aka Perfectionism on steroids (except on a theoretical level). Mistakes could lead to disaster.
If we only cared as much as they did, we wouldn't make mistakes. At the very least, we would obsess over them as much as they did.
What? They make mistakes, too? Not possible.
Because OCPD is a mental disorder, those who have it are subject to distorted thinking. They pride themselves on logic, therefore, even if they made a mistake, they get locked into loops where their reasoning in making a mistake - they were misled by circumstances, and so it really isn't their fault after all - is defended to the death.
Early on, we may get suckered in to trying to persuade an OCPD'r to see our point of view (aka JADEing).
What keeps us in the relationship, beyond the initial bonding is the difference between OCPD and say, a Narcissist or sociopath. They don't torture their loved ones for the sheer sadistic pleasure of it, like a deranged child pulling the wings off flies to see them struggle. At the root of some horrifically abusive behaviors is genuine worry, genuine caring. No matter how bad things get, we know and sense they deeply care. There are moments when they have flashes of insight, or seem to revert to the fun, caring person we fell in love with. We think, we hope, this time, the insights are going to stick.
And then the fog rolls in. Sometimes it rolls out again, and everything we hope for happens - the OCPD'r gets hit by the cosmic two-by-four, realizes the problem isn't with everybody else, but in fact, within his/her own head. S/he gets serious about changing her life, for herself, and with professional help, begins working to untwist OCPD-think and long-formed habits. These people are true heroes.
More often, the fog doesn't roll out, the behaviors worsen, and we reach a point where we can no longer stay in the situation, living on thin hope that our partner will see the light and be willing to put in the very hard work to change. S/he may be in denial or anosognosia; may have made moderate changes but our tolerance threshold has been exceeded. We realize we can't stay and remain sane.
The one thing we need to do, the one thing we can do, is examine our own co-dependent behaviors. Do we see ourselves as a Rescuer? Do we think our partner will crumble into a thousand bits if we leave him? (I believed mine would; saw him a few weeks ago, he is just fine. Well, he is not "fine," he is still dysfunctional, but no more dysfunctional than when I broke up with him.)
Do we pride ourselves on being kind and understanding (I certainly did) even while our "kindness" is helping neither us nor our partners? In many ways, I think my ex is relieved I am gone. In retrospect, I don't believe, for all my good intentions, I budged him one micrometer towards mental health, despite all the agony and heart-rending pain I went through.
I'm not saying it's right for you to go. We all must make the decision to go, stay, or stay for now, according to what seems right for us. It takes different kinds of strength to make each decision.
If you have made the decision to leave (or ask to leave) a disordered partner, I applaud you. If you have made the decision to stay and work with him/her, because s/he is truly trying, I applaud you. If you have made the decision to stay for now - until the kids are in college, the MasterCard is paid off, whatever - I applaud you. If you have already left, I applaud you. If you are getting professional counseling for yourself, I stand and applaud you.
Those of us who've been in that situation, know it's not black-and-white. We didn't deliberately pick out a monster and choose to live with him or her, because we thought getting berated and criticized every day would be loads of fun. More like, we checked carefully before entering the crosswalk, and got hit by a truck anyway.
And for those behind the wheel of the truck, with OCPD, who feel like they're in that defective Toyota, trying frantically to make the brakes work, turn the engine off - you know I love and respect you, as well. My hope is that someday, we can find out how to turn the brakes back on, so you can drive and brake just like everybody else.