Friday, June 24, 2011

OCD A to Z: P is For Perfectionism


Perfectionism is a big part of my OCD, and one of the biggest obstacles to doing Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy(ERP), because of looking for "perfect" ways to do it. I've had some readers query whether I actually have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder(OCPD) rather than OCD, because of all the posts I've written about perfectionism. My understanding, via my therapist, is that there is an element of finding perfectionism to be pleasing rather than painful in the case of OCPD. My impulse is to look this up, but I've looked it up in the past, and I know the familiar trap of wanting to get everything just right.

Early on I decided that I could be loved by my family only if I never made a mistake again, and I strived to always to get things right on the first try, or I would procrastinate ever trying at all, in order to avoid failure and the feared consequence of becoming worthless and unloveable. Avoidance became one of my major compulsions, as OCD got its claws into my fears, ever the vulture circling. The most frustrating aspect was that often I didn't even know what "perfect" was in any given situation, just that whatever I was doing was "imperfect" . It was a moving target, always changing, and if I finally felt "aha, that's it" then my mind would generate some other aspect to make perfect.

It's been a battle accepting that my mind will probably continue to generate thoughts of not being good enough, or done, or finished, or that I've ruined a day, or my life. But I also see that I don't have to jump when these thoughts arrive, scrambling to fix things, make things perfect. Perfection is a corrosive illusion, and all the "Perfectionism is actually an advantage" truisms used to send me into compulsive searching to find out if this was really true, because I could never be wrong, always had to figure things out. But I know from experience that perfectionism is most likely to prevent me from getting things done, keeps me searching for photos on flickr past the first couple pages, or delaying writing posts until I find the "right" topic. I have met amazing readers with OCD through this blog, in all its imperfections, and offered some hope, and that is what keeps me going.


  1. You do a great job of explaining your perfectionism and how it effects son also deals with perfectionism, and he is an artist, so it can be quite debilitating. He is doing well now though, after recovering from severe OCD a few years ago. If you're interested, you can check out my blog at: Good Luck with your fight against OCD....I'm cheering for you!

  2. You are imperfectly awesome! Wow - can I ever relate. I've been there - compulsively trying to figure out if I have OCPD rather than OCD. And I too grew up in a family that overtly and covertly encouraged perfectionism and gave me the message that I was only loved if I was perfect - whatever that is?! (I think my Dad actually has OCPD though.) I love what you wrote "it's been a battle accepting that my mind will probably continue to generate thoughts of not being good enoug...." - I am there! For so much of my OCD - just realizing and accepting this fact. It's amazing for those fleeting moments when acceptance does how much OCD loses power though eh? You have helped me SO MUCH with your writing - it is GOOD ENOUGH for me!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing about your perfectionism. I exaperated many friends and family for many years with mine. It gets really tough when you are hiding the OCD and people just think your mean or intolerant by insisting things be perfect. And then in order to keep it hidden you have to let them believe these things about you that aren't true. Learning to settle for good enough has been abd continues to be a real struggle for me. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

  4. Oh yeah, chiming in on this one. Perfectionism is a demon with a big red pitchfork, constantly poking you in the back. I do hate that thing. :) There is never a formula, there is no magic, and the world is a grey-area place. These are the truths and they are so very hard to internalize. I know them in my head, but not quite my heart. But I'm still moving forward ...

  5. Thanks for posting. I also struggle with perfectionism and ruminate over and even become immobilized by mistakes I've made. I don't necessarily insist that things be "perfect," but I just can't let up on myself if and when I make a mistake. And, like most humans, I make a lot. If only I could show myself the same compassion that I show others.

    Anyway, I appreciate your sharing your experiences and struggles. It's good to know we're not alone.

  6. Thank you all for the awesome comments! I've been wanting to respond, but got sidetracked by the heat and by my remnants of perfectionism saying "If your readers like this post, now you really really need to be perfect. . ."

    Lynn--the self-loathing I felt was a huge part of my perfectionist OCD. Part of it was my fear that if I wasn't perfect, I wouldn't be loved, so in a child's way, I imagined if I berated myself enough, I could maintain perfection. And OCD jumped in and made self-criticism a kind of ritual. I'm glad you got something from this post. Perfectionism is very painful.

  7. Thank you for this.

    My friend Bobbi (from Riding in Cars with Ducks) also struggles with perfectionism - she just has great difficulty verbalizing where how those thoughts travel.

    This lent a bit more insight into her fears.

  8. Perfectionism is my biggest problem. I was a straight A student in a very demanding college program ... pushed myself beyond reason to get those grades.

    Funny that "out here," after graduation (long after), there are no grades. Just a sense that I have, as you said, ruined my life ... because I am not living the lives some of my closest friends are living. Because I feel I will never catch up to them ... and to my potential. The feeling that I'm in a hole trying to dig out and it's too exhausting.

    I was out today in a group of people and I got some major recognition for something I did ... unexpected praise, spontaneous, in front of a roomful of people. It was really sweet.

    Of course as soon as I was away from that buffer of people, of social interaction, I was back to rumination and sadness about how I've wrecked my life, how for the next 20-40 years I am just going to listen to my wheels bounce down the hill, listen to the hiss of the engine as it complains about being driven into a tree. I drove my life off a cliff.

    That is the gist (jist? ...gist) of my OCD. The fighting those thoughts. As soon as I feel content or happy a gap will open up in my good mood and like a vacuum, it pulls in the reminder that I'm not what THEY are, I have not done X, Y and Z to live up to my potential, others have pulled ahead of me, why would they want to be around me, etc etc blahblah.

    I am not sure if it's OCD really, or just plain old anxiety, or depression. I so want a label for it because it seems that I can then fight it. I bought Grayson's book and did the self-test and really didn't see myself in the symptoms listed.

    But I'm still new to this. Seeing my therapist in a few days. Maybe all those confusion is part of the process. I'm just tired of my messy house and tired of avoiding people because I am "less than."