Many of the clients I see express the need to be perfect. They fear making mistakes and feel horrible when they mess up. Some of these folks even berate themselves for making trivial, largely inconsequential mistakes like parking a few inches over the line of a parking space or making a few typoss on a blog (NOTE TO EDITOR: please don’t correct my typos in today’s blog!).
Some clients with sever obsessive compulsive disorder rachet this concern up to the point that they spend hours reviewing everything they right to insure a complete absence of errors. Others re-read passages from books over and over again to be sure that they remember every single detail. Still others consume large blocks of time arranging everything in their closets in perfect alignment with identical spacing between each item.
If you’re a perfectionist, I strongly recommend that you get a grip! Stop viewing all mistakes as terrible. I can guarantee you that I’ve learned more from making mistakes than I ever would have if I didn’t make them.
Did you remember to pay your bills on time? How about making that appointment with the dentist? Do you need more gas in the car this week or will it wait until the weekend? Is that parent teacher appointment next week or the next? Did you make up that list of questions for the teacher? How will you ever find time to look up a new recipe and get to the store before your friends are coming over for dinner?
If you have a life full of responsibilities, like many people you feel stressed out at times. There are many details that adults have to juggle. Chronic stress can lead to disorders such as anxiety or depression. But stress can also interfere with optimal brain function, especially memory. These lapses of memory caused by stress actually increase stress by making people forget to do some daily responsibilities.
For example, most people misplace objects from time to time. They put something down (such as keys) thoughtlessly and a few hours later have no recollection on where they put them. Then their minds start spinning unhelpful thoughts such as, “I must be really stupid,” or “I wonder if I am becoming demented?,” or “What’s wrong with my brain?”
I’m sure you know what selfish means and it’s not considered a particularly lovely trait by most people. But what do I mean when I suggest that you become self-less? Typically, the term selfless refers to people who put other people’s needs before their own. Selfless people typically have very little concern for making money, becoming famous, or obtaining a prestigious position.
But that definition doesn’t quite fit what I mean by self-less (note I put in a hyphen to distinguish the term from selfless). I think people can and probably should have at least some concern for their own needs in terms of finances, relationships, security, and so on. And sometimes your own needs may even have to take precedence over the needs of others.
But people all too often seriously mess themselves up when they become overly concerned about themselves and their egos. They experience exquisite concerns with how they look, what they say, mistakes they make, who likes them and who doesn’t, et cetera.
People who worry a lot about their egos judge just about everything that they do. Their internal dialogues consist of an endless loop of self-hate and vitriol with thoughts such as “How could I be so stupid?,” “I hate myself,” “No one could be this dumb,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “Nobody could ever like me,” and on and on. It’s pretty difficult to feel alright with thoughts like those.
Have you ever awakened at 3:00 am and found your mind racing? You might dwell on making sure you don’t forget some important work issue or start organizing your day to be sure you have time to finish everything you need to.
Or then again, your mind might start focusing on thoughts about how horrible it would be to have a lousy night’s sleep. Such thoughts include:
John wakes up this morning instantly anxious. He tossed and turned most of the night, waking and worrying. He stands in the shower until the water begins to get cold, once out, he experiences a terrible cold even though it is warm in the house. He notices his hands trembling while he brushes his teeth. His stomach is upset, he feels no hunger.
He makes himself a cup of coffee hoping the caffeine will help him stay focused. His mind is racing; thoughts tumbling over each other. He feels like he can’t catch his breath. He tries to settle himself by thinking calm thoughts and taking deep breaths. Finally, he puts on his jacket and heads to the door, chanting, “One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”
Laura and I sometimes amuse ourselves by noticing how language and expressions gradually morph over time. For example, have you ever taken note of how often people preface something they’re about to say with the single word, “Look!”? I think in the past, folks used to call attention to what they were about to say with “Listen.” Why the change? Go figure (another one of my favorite phrases).
And then there’s the ever popular “Seriously?…Really?” I like that one a lot. Why? I really don’t know. It just conveys a tone that I like. Perhaps it’s my sarcastic streak. At any rate, I find myself wanting to say “Seriously?….Really?” pretty often when I confront the thoughts that constantly bombard the minds of people who have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
I recently ran across a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) for an elementary school girl. Behavioral Intervention Plans are often a good idea and can be used to teach students to focus better, reduce their oppositionality, follow rules more often, and become more cooperative. These plans usually emphasize positive interventions (such as rewards and attention) although they also employ negative consequences judiciously, when called for.
The original idea behind BIP’s was grounded in something called learning theory. In brief, learning theory proposes that kids will do more of what they are rewarded for and less of what they aren’t. They’re also likely to engage in disruptive behaviors less often if those behaviors result in a loss of something the child likes or if the behavior is followed by a mildly unpleasant consequence.
However, some of the BIP’s that I’ve seen in recent years seem to have lost their original grounding in learning theory. The school girl I mentioned (we’ll call her Nicole) had been failing to follow rules, blurting out inappropriate comments in class, banging her head, arguing with the teacher, and sometimes trying to leave the classroom when she shouldn’t. Here are some relevant snippets from Nicole’s BIP:
People with OCD often hold beliefs that are, well, believable. For example, who doesn’t worry about blurting out something inappropriate (or hitting the send button) without thinking? That’s a typical OCD worry, but it’s also a worry that most people have.
In fact, just today I was quickly doing some email and not paying a lot of attention and ended up sending someone a note with the wrong name. Now, as a perfectionist, I’ll be thinking about that mistake around 3 in the morning.
My email gaff might lead me to change my routine. I might start making sure that when I do email I’m not at the same time thinking about the blog I have to write, or the statement I have to send, or the reservation for the dog groomer I have to make, or the dry cleaning I need to pick up, or the checkbook I need to balance—you see what I mean. To change my routine, I might have to come up with changing the way I do email.
I’ve been thinking I should anyway. Maybe I should start with clearing off my desk before I do email. Then perhaps I should vow to read my email twice before I send it.
What happens to those who have OCD is that their normal, believable thoughts grow. So let’s say I am coming down with a case of OCD. I find that I’m still pretty obsessed with my email mistake. Now, thoughts of not only sending out emails with the wrong name but thoughts of sending inappropriate email are flooding my brain.