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, February 7, 2012

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 7 - The Obsessive Cognitive Style

Man thinking on a train journey.Image via Wikipedia

This post continues with The Obsessive Cognitive Style from Chapter Seven.

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 Obsessive Cognitive Style
Cognition is a general term that refers to our intellectual processes: paying attention, thinking, remembering, calculating, etc. Cognitive styles define the way we pay attention to things, the sorts of things that naturally draw our attention, and the way we "register" perception and thoughts.
The cognitive motto of obsessives might well be "Notice, Comprehend, Remember."  They scan the world around them intently, directing their attention like a sharply focused searchlight.  They typically read or observe things as if it were important to understand and remember the individual detail rather than merely form an overall impression.  They seem to listen more pointedly and concentrate more intensely than others do.  It's as if the obsessive thinks he may need every scrap of information that comes his way.
Contrast that for a moment with a very different cognitive style, one that happens to be common to people with an urgent need to feel loved by or closely connected to others.  Such people often take in the world in a more relaxed, passive, almost random way.  They're much more attuned to the emotions generated by their experiences than to the information involved in them, and predictably, they tend to remember feelings very well, while having a poor memory for facts.  Often this leads others to conclude, wrongly, that they're not particularly intelligent.  Such people may also claim to have a poor sense of direction.  But usually the true reason they have trouble finding their way back from a place is that they weren't thinking in the obsessive mode when they were on their way to their destination.  Rather, they were experiencing the trip - the scenery, the conversation, the music on the radio.  Most obsessives, on the other hand, are careful to make a mental map of where they're going - so they can be sure to find their way safely home.

Many obsessives are driven to acquire detailed information... <snip>  This interest arises partly from a genuine pleasure in learning, partly from a desire to be viewed as a knowledgeable person, partly from the need to store data that might come in handy someday, and partly from the illusory sense of control that comes with knowledge of one's world.

the second blot of the Rorschach inkblot testI see two dwarves, a la Snow White,
high-fiving each other.  You?
Image via Wikipedia

<snip> Many obsessives focus upon details at the expense of the "big picture," and have great difficulty prioritizing these perceptions.  If given a Rorschach test, for example, they tend to discern lots of minutiae in the inkblots - small things that others generally overlook in favor of a more generalized impression.  Obsessives often need to explain the significance of every aspect of the blot, just as they tend to feel compelled to make sense out of all they perceive and experience.  Loose ends - disparate, jumbled fragments of information; unpredictable events; serendipity - often are unsettling because they suggest chaos, the obsessive's nemesis.  To feel in control obsessives must somehow fit their perception and experiences into a comprehensible whole.
<snip> Obsessives generally strive to remember all the data they have acquired (and many in fact have an amazing memory for facts and trivia).
It's like they're trying to hoard information.

If I have all the information, I will be safe/nothing will surprise me.

Life is full of variables. I think perhaps this OCPD tendency - to believe that one can/should "own" all facts about a situation, is partly responsible for the crushing upset when something happens unexpectedly.  The OCPD'r had pinned down 95 out of 100 possibilities, but despite the forecast, it rained anyway, or the cat got sick, or whatever unexpected thing happened.  Whereas a non would be more likely to have a Plan B, C, and perhaps D, or at least be unfazed by formulating one, if plan A fell through.

I wonder if this OCPD tendency to gather facts/trivia ties in to the other ways in which it's similar to autism.  The "Rainman syndrome," whereby somebody can remember years of baseball stats, for example, but not be able to order a sandwich at Subway.

It's not that having depth of information is bad.  It's just that we don't always need to know everything.

Example:  Many years ago, when I was 18 and newly arrived myself, I had a friend flying into LA.  I knew the airport she was coming from - Baltimore-Washington - and the time her flight was supposed to arrive.

This was Not Enough Information.  I needed stuff like, oh, what airline she was flying.  Flight number would have been helpful.  Then I could have found the gate (although now you don't get to meet people at gates anyway, just at baggage claim.)

But on the opposite end of the spectrum - history of late or on-time arrivals by said airline, type of plane, wind factor, total number of planes scheduled to arrive at LAX that evening, and many more bits of trivia... TMI.

The key is realizing when we've got sufficient info, and stopping there.

What did you think the Rorshach looked like?
Your thoughts?
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