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.
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.
2. Recognize That They May Be Taking Your Quirks Personally
When you resist dong things their way, some obsessives may interpret your lack of compliance as evidence that you don't care about them. <snip>
Hank, a forty-five-year-old engineer, and his wife, Sharon, both told me that one of their biggest problems sprang from Hank's terrible temper. "He doesn't seem to realize when he's being unreasonable," Sharon said. "When he comes home from work, he looks around for things that haven't been done. Then he explodes at the kids [two teenage boys] and me. We're on the defensive so much of the time."<snip>
...all he asked in return was that they do "a few very easy things": attend to certain gardening tasks, for instance, or keep the contents of the silverware drawer straight. Hank saw these and a multitude of similar tasks as being self-evidently important, and he went to some lengths to get the others to agree that they needed to be done; that if one of the knives was pointing the wrong way, for example, someone could get hurt. <snip>
I challenged Hank to reexamine some of his premises. Would the world really end if the yard wasn't free of weeds, or the silverware didn't all point in the same direction? I urged him to acknowledge that he was requesting certain things because they were important to him, and not because it was objectively imperative that they be done. And even if his demands were reasonable, I asked, was being right worth alienating his family?
<snip> Hank finally began to understand that no matter how "right" he was about keeping things in order, all his arguments, lectures, rages, and logical "proofs" of the correctness of his positions were actually counterproductive. He acknowledged that not only were his demands not being met, but his family literally dreaded his presence. It finally struck home that no amount of logical argument could make Sharon experience the world exactly as he did, and that even when she and the boys yielded to his demands, they did so resentfully, and felt more alienated from him.
<snip> She also learned to avoid agreeing to do a task unless she was certain she really could and would do it, <snip>
To a certain extent, we all assume that other people see the world much the same way we do. That's why it can be a shock when somebody we love and respect espouses a really bizarre (to us) religious or political viewpoint.
Hank, above, was really bothered by the weeds, and he didn't see the task of weeding as any big deal. He didn't "get" that his wife Sharon, absolutely loathed weeding with a passion, considering it backbreaking drudgery, and secondly, she didn't see all the weeds the same way he did.
|Via Flickr Creative Commons|
Some see weeds and trash, others see art
Recently on one board the topic of "testing" arose - an OCPD'r putting something out of place - a leaf om the floor, a few pennies on the counter, etc., to "test" to see what other family members would do - and then blasting them if they didn't do "the right thing." Something that came up with my ex, when he was sharing a kitchen with his sister, was a small spot on the counter from some dish she'd prepared. I'm not sure whether the spot was grease, or gravy, or something else, but it was smaller than a dime. He was damn well going to leave it there and test how long it took that slovenly sister of his to clean it up, though it bothered him for almost a week, until he couldn't stand it any longer.
|via Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos|
Channeled properly, this kind of superfocus on detail can, in fact, be a great gift. There are professional fields where the tiniest flaw or error can result in huge loss of human life - aeronautics is one field that comes to mind; surgery is another - there are many. The problem is that people with this gift/curse 1) don't realize they see things differently than the average bear, and 2) they don't leave their "gift" at work.
Since they would never leave a leaf on the floor, a grease spot on the counter, or tiny weeds in the flowerbed, they are certain that if someone has left these things out of place, it must be deliberate. Clearly, we are toying with them, trying to upset them. If we understand this point of view, it is easier to see how they might take these things personally (though not any easier to be on the receiving end of "arguments, lectures, rages, and logical 'proofs'").
The answer is not to try to follow the "Crazy Rules," because trust me, even if Hank's wife Sharon had done an exemplary job with the weeding, there would've been something else - the gravel bordering the driveway needed to be hosed down more often, something. This disorder is ego syntonic- when something feels amiss to an OCPD'r, they rarely look internally and ask, "Is this me?" but seek outside themselves for the thing that is out of place/dangerous. When they find something that is not perfect (and you can always find something, if you're looking hard enough), they have this moment of "Aha, that's what it is/was!" Often followed by rage or lectures directed at the slob/inconsiderate person who "made" them feel that way.
Unless we actually are toying with them (it's not unheard of for office mates of a "persnickety" co-worker to move things on her desk, for example), we have to take a step back from that, and not accept harsh judgment on ourselves. We may not be able to convince them that their world view is wrong (the assumption that everyone shares the same ability to see detail, for example), and probably shouldn't try, but we can know for ourselves, that just because our disordered partner or friend SAYS we are: selfish, lazy, sloppy, careless, [fill in the blank], t'aint necessarily so.