This series looks 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.
The Wasteland of Worry
<snip>If you generally find it hard to let go of ideas, you're almost certain to be troubled by worry, rumination, preoccupation, and/or doubt.
<snip> By worry, I mean thinking repetitively about a current of future problem in a way that doesn't eventually lead to a solution. Worry is unproductive by definition, and it seems to have a life of its own.
Almost everyone worries at least occasionally, and this is normal. When your child has pneumonia, for example, or when an international incident raises the specter of nuclear war, worrying is an appropriate response, even though you objectively understand that it will not affect the outcome.
But many obsessives worry chronically. <snip> One patient put it this way, "It can be a beautiful day, but if I'm worrying, somehow everything seems shadowed. It's as if the worry blocks out the sun."
<snip> among the concerns that preoccupy them the most are the following:
- Day-to-day activities. "Will I be able to complete my project successfully? Will the restaurant forget my reservation? Will I have enough food for everyone who comes to the party?"
- Physical concerns: "Am I getting sick, losing my looks? Will I get in a car accident on the freeway?"
- Money: "How will I pay my bills? What about my future? What if the stock market crashes? Am I managing my money correctly?"
- Loved ones: "Will my children be injured? Could my husband have a heart attack?"
<snip> "I'm jealous of people who don't worry so much. I worry constantly. I have a pretty full life - enough to keep me worried about lots of things. I'm going to a book club tonight and I haven't finished the book and I'm worried that they'll think I'm not committed or just not intelligent. A friend is coming over to have a bite before we go, and I'm worried about the shape my house is in."
"How does it feel when you are worrying?"
"It feels awful!"
"So what makes you do it so much?"
"I think worrying about things at work probably makes me more effective."
"Really? Tell me about that."
"Well, maybe not the worrying, but being conscious does help me. But most of the time worrying is something I can't control. When I drive to an appointment, I'm worried I'll have an accident. I look at my watch every minute or so and worry that I won't be on time, or that I'll be too early. I worry that the person I'm meeting won't like me, or that I'll spill something, or that I'm not dressed appropriately. I worry that I'll run out of gas."
"Have you ever run out of gas?"
"Never," she replied, smiling ruefully.
As if worrying weren't painful enough, the tendency to think in all-or-nothing terms leads many obsessives to envision the very worst outcome for their concerns. <snip"
"If I notice a strange blemish on my skin, I immediately think, 'What if it's cancer?' And I'm filled with all the dread and horror I would feel if I had already received the diagnosis, and part of my mind is racing ahead, wondering about cancer surgery, thinking about just how painful death from skin cancer is. Or when my husband is just a half hour late coming home from work, my mind invariably picks the very worst possibility to explain his delay. Like: what if he's been killed in a car crash."
For most obsessives, the most awful things that have happened to them have occurred in their own minds.
For most obsessives, the most awful things that have happened to them have occurred in their own minds. Repeating that line, because it deserves repeating. If something horrible does happen, we will feel every bit as terrible as if we had never "rehearsed" the skin cancer, husband-in-a-car-crash, or other fantasy. It's not like we will have earned some kind of discount, "Well, ordinarily, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being suckiest, this would be a 10, but because I imagined over and over again how it would feel when the police came to my door to tell me my love had been killed, it's only about a 6."***
It's probably impossible not to start worrying sometimes, but I believe it's possible to realize we're doing it, and stop. Certainly there is no payoff in fretting about running out of gas if it has never, ever happened in however many years. (I think the woman described was more likely to have an accident caused from being tense, preoccupied, and looking at her watch every minute.)
At some point, we have to be conscious of our thoughts, and say to ourselves,"This is not helping. I am only winding myself up and making myself tense over something I can't control. I've done what I can; now I must let it go."
I know, I know - much easier said than done. For myself, I visualize a helium balloon, releasing it and my worry, watching it fade into the distance until it is all gone. Or a soap bubble, floating away in the breeze, and going ~pop~!
Do you have a technique for releasing worry?