Obsessive Compulsive Disorderis a common malady affecting many of us. It may be as harmless as needing to count steps, or as debilitating as the relentless need for perfection. How can we recognize OCD, and how overcome it?
OCDshowsitself in manyways: asan irresistible impulse forneatness,for order and symmetry, for extreme hoarding, forchecking and re-checkingdoor-locks and switches. Other symptoms includeexcessive revising of texts and emails, undue fretting about one’s appearance, superstitions aboutletters or numbers, washing one’s hands over and over–in short, endless worryingorrepeated behavior that slows ourprogressin life. Then there’s the mother of all obsessions – the one giving rise tomuchof ourcompulsive behavior: Perfectionism.
Perfectionismisn’t always noticedinOCDbehavior,because folks wholead organized lives, keep themselves wellgroomed and theirhomes immaculate, or succeed in just aboutanyproject they attempt, are generallyadmired for their hard work and success. Weapplaud themfor their high standards and praise them for their attention to detail. These high-achievers, it appears, have it all together.
But sometimesthere’s a hidden cost to their success
Theycan be slower than snails:repeating tasksover and over,completing themonly throughherculeaneffort.And the cost is not just in time and energy: it’s peace of mind. When they do finish a task, they deriveno satisfaction from it, no joy. Nothing they do isgood enough! When perfectionism becomes more severe,anew taskmayloom over them astoo demanding, too time-consuming, so they don’t even begin it.
Perfectionismisan anxiety disorder, onethatcanlead todepression. How so? The high personal standards, rigorous attention to detail, and strivingfor perfectioncan be anunconsciousset-up of feeling imperfect or unworthy, perhapsbased on fear of criticism–or even fear of success. So the nagging thought recurs: “it’s not good enough, not good enough, not good enough…”
Since perfection israrelyattained,perfectionists aredoomed to frustrationand disappointment. Iftheytakeout theirfrustration on themselves, they may easily change from “it’s not good enough” to “I’mnot good enough,” and mayendup in depression. This feeling can intensify anxiety, insomnia, and even lead to a despair. Hencethe famous warning, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
What to do? What if we have “just a touch”of perfectionism? How can wekeep this silly habitfrom spiraling downwardinto something more serious?The solution to the problemcanbe as simple as replacing one habit with another.Professional neurofeedback, of course,is excellent at helping us conquer such tendencies. But wecan accomplishsome improvementon our own.
So here’s a tip for you,Mr. or Ms. Perfectionist: Next time you have an irrational urge to triple-check that picture on the wall to make sure it’sperfectly aligned with the doorway, think of this:a reasonable desire for order is fine, but in thisinstance you’re getting a useless message from your brain. The brain is just talking to itselfabout itself. That idea of asymmetryormisalignmentmay be coming alonga strong pathway – a neurological rut, if you will– thatyour brain has gradually createdthrough many repetitions. Now it’s become an automatic, ritualistic mechanism intrudingintoyour life,haunting your peace.
Want to get over it? Here’s a simpleself-help strategyfor you: try replacing thathabitwith its opposite. Hang your picture askew for a week or so. After afew days your brain willlikelyget used to that “horrifying” imbalance. Odds are, after a while you’ll find the feeling of notobsessing about it quite liberating.