Thanks to Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash for this beauty!
Perfectionism and OCD
What is perfectionism? Oxford dictionary defines it as “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” That’s automatically problematic. Perfectionism leads to a circumscribed focus, stress, and suffering for not only individuals, but for loved ones nearby who feel the weight of being perfect.
Is this the same as OCD? Nope. OCD and perfectionism often get confused. They both can affect and drive distress in one another, but they are separate. OCD involves unwanted (intrusive) thoughts, urges, and impulses that cause distress; furthermore, compulsions are repetitive behaviors or thoughts that attempt to reduce distress or prevent something bad from happening. Perfectionistic manifestations of OCD, often referred to as “just right / not just right” fit this categorization. Separately, in Perfectionism, someone pursues “perfect” thought, behavior, or action initially out of interest or enjoyment (rather than to suppress an intrusive thought/urge/impulse, like in OCD). There are typically problems that go with this, however. So a difference between the two is that OCD is ego-dystonic and Perfectionism is typically ego-syntonic (you can check out my video here explaining the difference).
Examples of perfectionistic thoughts and behaviors[4,5]:
I am a "recovering" perfectionist. And it’s a problem when I’m not, well, “recovering” from it. One of the mechanisms that keeps perfectionism going is the belief that it is helpful (this is a “Positive Belief” about perfectionism, and it is a cognitive distortion). When I succeed at a task- and especially if I get a lot of praise, it is a natural reinforcer that I must be doing well. However, if I spent 8 hours researching, writing, and proofing this blog today, that is problematic for me at this point in life (and I easily can spend that much time). What is a problem or not sometimes depends on the person and their situation- maybe a journalist would spend that much time or even more, but I am a full-time clinician with a family, church, volunteer involvements, and hobbies. If I make this post “perfect,” in my perfectionism, I will seriously miss out on other things.
This pursuit of perfection doesn't stop with one blog post. It will always generalize if allowed. So if I let it, the pressure of perfection will continue (and does, at times) to move on to other things like caring for my home, caring for people in my life, my relationship with others, my diet, exercise, my spiritual walk, my car, money, and so on. And being honest with you, these things are tied up in anxiety and simultaneously selfishness- attempting to control these things rather than to engage with them/others in a meaningful way by learning to lean into the fear and live based on what is valuable.
Parenting is probably the single biggest event that pressed me with the realization I need really challenge my perfectionism. There are two stark realities to me in life: I can either do my work/relationships/home life/etc. “perfectly” and end up in an ever narrowing scope of anxious overwhelm trying to keep all the balls in the air, OR learn to tolerate the distress that comes doing things "not just right" and focus on the big picture, growing towards what I love and value. And the reality usually is that in time, this fear habituates when not engaging in avoidance, rituals, or control strategies.
Whether in therapy or personal life, to change how I behave and think and respond in life, I need to be aware/monitor what it is that needs to change (good therapy, support, and resources such as on my website can help). Even if I know what needs to be done, if I can’t effectively observe and catch it when it occurs, I will not be able to change it. Next, I will need tools and strategies to effectively grow and mature. In therapy, some of these are Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Restructuring, and more. In essence, at the point of the problem I must be able to insert the solution- and consistently. Lastly, I want to continue to monitor and gain feedback to incorporate learning and solidify growth. I don’t want to oversimplify this- if you are having a problem with any of the areas I have discussed, please reach out to a competent trusted person and/or therapist.
Today I gave myself the time limit of 3 hours- start to finish- to research, write, upload and post. And it’s simultaneously stressful and joyous at the same time. I’m going to do a behavioral experiment and keep doing it- “testing” whether or not my choice(s) in leaning into my fear of failure a) doesn’t end up as bad as it feels like it will, and/or b) I was able to handle or face it anyway. We’ll have to see- I'm leaning in!!!
Justin K. Hughes
 First of all, it’s a whole mess to even get into a truly perfect standard- if I make and continue to make mistakes, I am not perfect. I cannot even begin to conceive what perfect is, then, since I would make a mistake in defining “perfect.”
 The Diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) may apply when a person pursues perfectionistic behavior to pathologically disordered levels.
 Grayson, J. (2014). Freedom from obsessive-compulsive disorder: a personalized recovery program for living with uncertainty. New York: Berkley Books.
 Minirth, F. B., & Meier, P. D. (2015). Happiness is a choice: enhance joy and meaning in your life. Grand Rapids, MI: Spire.
This post was originally published on 04/19/2015 on my wordpress and is newly updated.
In Latin, Quid Pro Quo means, “something for something.” You scratch my back; I scratch yours. Tit for tat. It’s how the world runs.
Or is it?
In the business world, this often works. Social psychology calls it “reciprocity.” In relationships, well, this is where it gets fuzzy. Relationships require sacrifice regularly; they require that you stick around, presuming it’s reasonable to do so. In business, if someone doesn’t offer you a good deal, you can move on. If you keep doing this with relationships, you will bankrupt your heart and anyone close to you quicker than ever thought possible.
Relationships involve the molding and holding of hearts. Business involves the flow of money.
I want to call to the table that many principles that work for business DON’T in relationships, which is partly why someone can be extraordinarily successful in the business world but trade in relationships as often as changing underwear. The concept of reciprocity is fascinating, and I regularly utilize it in respectful ways when I consider how to engage in business, such as when I “add value” to interactions with businessmen and women by offering helpful counseling materials. This, in turn, increases my odds of getting a favorable response. Nothing wrong with it. I attempt to not do it ONLY for this reason. However, when I expect a certain response- demand it, even- I am not respecting a person’s freedom, uniqueness, or spontaneity. And this is precisely the problem when quid pro quo is present as a foundation in relationships.
Everyone from Hendrix to Gottman to Eggerichs (see references below) point out the necessity of proactive initiative in love- an active, intentional doing what’s best for another, choosing love over “balancing the budget.” In fact, the eminent researcher Dr. John Gottman states the myth of quid pro quo in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2002): “But it’s really the unhappy marriage where this quid pro quo operates, where each feels the need to keep a running tally of who has done what for whom” (p. 15).
Isn’t this the definition of selfishness? And it tears relationships apart. I don’t know of anyone who says, “Yes, being completely selfish is good; I want to live by the principles of selfishness and teach my kids to do the same.” No one really debates this. How quickly it takes over, though! My role as counselor isn’t to point a finger; it’s to help uncover what’s holding people back. Consider how you might be “losing while winning,” holding grudges, keeping a record of wrongs. These things are the opposite of contentment- and love. "Love keeps no record of wrongs," (1 Corinthians 13:5d) as is often quoted at weddings.
Don’t wait for a person to do good to you. That’s the whole importance of the Golden Rule and the Greatest Commandment. If you wait around for the other person to “play by the rules” in loving you, prepare to be unsatisfied. There will come a time (in EVERY relationship) when loving another becomes hard: when the "high" of newness wears off, when the attractiveness of another becomes the norm, when that little quirk that you thought was wonderful turns out to annoy the heck out of you. If it’s left up to reciprocity, we’re screwed. In friendships, romantic relationships- ANY relationship.
If a relationship fundamentally relies on quid pro quo, it will prove an unhappy ending. Find out how to love others despite what they bring to the table, and reap the overflowing results. If one person brings a feast to the table, just because the other doesn't bring one won't mean you can’t enjoy yours- and just maybe win them over in love.
For more information:
Business Networking That Works...It's Called Quid Pro Quo (Forbes)
Getting the Love You Want (Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt)
Influence and Persuasion (Robert Cialdini)
Love and Respect (Dr. Emerson Eggerichs)
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Psych Central summary)
A Psychotherapists' thoughts on healthy living.
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