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, June 5, 2012

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 8 - Mental Orderliness & Rigidity

The Matrix via Wikimedia
This post continues with Mental Orderliness and Rigidity from Chapter Eight.

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.

Another kind of orderliness that applies to the obsessive person is a sort of mental neatness. Despite their boundless capacity for doubt, most obsessives crave an unambiguous "ordering" of their various life experiences. They yearn for a clear comprehension of things; life's ambiguities make them uncomfortable and impatient. Some feel unsettled of even annoyed if they don't completely understand every detail of a movie or lecture, focusing on that to the exclusion of the other, more enjoyable aspects. Many are more at ease reading a biography or a technical book than something more abstract, like poetry. Obsessives' friends and spouses often refer to them as "analytical."
As with other aspects or orderliness, the capacity for mental organization - sorting packages of data into the categories where they "belong" - has obvious survival value. But equally essential to navigating effectively through life is the ability to change one's ideas and opinions when conditions change or new information becomes available. And this is where many obsessives have difficulty. They are hobbled by a mental rigidity that makes it hard for them to revise their thoughts and opinions even when it would serve them better to do so.
<snip>I had this conversation with Harold, a forty-seven year old postal inspector, who one day declared," I avoid New Yorkers. I can't stand them."
"What is it that you don't like?" I asked.
"They arrogant, pushy, insensitive. My cousin Jim is a good example."
"But didn't you tell me that your friend Fred is also from New York?"
"Yes. So?"
"You said that you liked him very much, that he's kind and sensitive."
"He is!"
"So some New Yorkers aren't so bad?"
"But they're so damned arrogant and aggressive."
Conversation with such a person can be frustrating. When I talk to Harold, I often have the sense that he's simply not listening to me. And in a sense, he's not, because to truly hear my point of view would threaten him. Even when he has a hunch that his understanding of a given topic may be inaccurate, he resists considering any other viewpoint. First, acknowledging the merits of the other viewpoint might look too much like an admission of error, and would give others the idea that he was unsure of himself. Or what if he wasn't capable of understanding the newer viewpoint? And even if he did understand it and agree with it, he might be unable to integrate it without having to change his whole belief system - a system that he depends on for a sense of calm and control.
Even when the subject in question isn't very significant (e.g., his feelings about New Yorkers), it's symbolically important. Having a solid understanding of things buttresses his illusion of control. In a way, to comprehend life is to be in control of it. If, on the other hand, his ideas in some small matter need revision, where will it end? Which other pat ideas are flawed? Are there any that aren't? Mentally rigid obsessives have an underlying fear that they're on the verge of spinning out of control, with nothing to hold on to.
<snip>"If Bill says he's going to roast a chicken for dinner, and then he instead surprises me with lasagna, it's likely to drive me up a wall. It's not that I don't like lasagna. I do. But I was counting on having the chicken. I feel so disappointed, and even angry that I won't get what I was expecting."
Carrying through with what one had anticipated becomes a strong motivator, even when the situation warrants changing one's plans. Jill said, "If I decide to spend Sunday afternoon working on minor chores, and on Sunday morning I get a call from friends, inviting me out, more often than not my immediate reaction is to say I'm already busy and beg off. I may feel sad that I'm missing out on the fun, but once I've set my course, it's very hard to change it."
After I saw The Matrix, and read this chapter (not sure which came first), I realized that this, indeed, is much like my ex behaved/believed. Every change in thinking or belief was dangerous. The original idea or concept MUST be clung to, lest the world begin spinning and hurl him violently off. (Although like President Obama, he has "evolved" over the past ten years to the position that allowing gays to marry is simply about being fair.)

via Wikimedia Commons

We all have our pet ideas and notions. The key is the rigidity, like the guy, above, who could not accept the idea that some New Yorkers are nice people - even though he knew one. When we learn that something we always believed might not be true, are we terror-stricken and determined to cling to our original theory, or are we willing to explore the idea we might be wrong?

Like the examples in Too Perfect, my ex would have a meltdown over lasagna vs. chicken issues, and would frequently decline invitations because he was "too busy," even though his busyness (read, churning) could be carried out at any time.  (He has no "day job.")

Hard bitten racists, religious (and atheistic) extremists, political factionism - it not only hurts individuals and individual families, but it does our society harm for members to be locked into black-or-white thinking and mental rigidity. Sometimes we don't need to know all the answers (which is good, because no human could know them all anyway).

Have a story you feel safe sharing?
Your thoughts?