Monthly Archives: March 2012

Tunnel Vision

I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten into a fist fight as I have, but your brain does amazing things when such a moment of crisis occurs. As a survival response, your brain momentarily zeros in all your attention, focus, and memory onto your opponent and pumps loads of energy into the rest of your body. Now imagine being stuck in this survival mode for the rest of your life because your entire life is an unending crisis.

People with OCPD operate with tunnel vision because they are always in survival mode (my first post on hypersensitivity explains why they are in survival mode in the first place).

As you can see from my fight example, tunnel vision is not something exclusive to only people with OCPD. Anyone who has a fear gets their tunnel vision activated. Even my arachnophobic friend, who I have been using as an example in all my earlier posts about fear, also operates in tunnel vision when he is confronted with his fear. When he sees a spider in my bathroom, his focus zeros in on that spider. His entire body is still. He does not think about anything else. He never takes his eye off, not even while he is using the toilet, until the spider is killed.

But while his tunnel vision only needs to be activated in those occasional times that he comes across a spider, the tunnel vision of people with OCPD is activated all the time because of their unending fear of the entire world. So what you get are people who function like superhuman beings in a few areas of their life. Their attention, focus, memory, drive, and motivation operate at extreme levels that no regular person can match. In other “nonessential” areas, however, their life feel like a chore to them. In these areas, they have extreme difficulty being attentive, keeping focused, remembering, and being driven and motivated. After repeatedly operating in tunnel vision for so much of their life, their brain develops such strong neural pathways of this type of focus that it becomes an automatic way in which their mind operates.


Unless you live alone in the Himalayas and have no family or friends, you cannot get away with neglecting your “chores.” It is unfair for your family, friends, employer, business partner, or government to suffer because you choose not to pull your own weight. Before you forget, get your chores done and over with. Then move onto the things you are passionate about. If your tunnel vision is causing you to neglect simple gestures of care that mean a lot to your friends, allow them to communicate openly with you what those gestures are. Put your pride down for a minute and listen to how you can make them feel like you care about them. If you get angry, you will destroy that channel of communication and leave your friend to assume that you do not care about them. While you are in the zone and someone “interrupts” you, do not explode in anger – you know you can easily get right back in the zone because it’s something you are passionate about.

Assume that your OCPD friend is not reliable at all in things that he or she does not have much passion for. If there is something that requires his or her attention, summarize very concisely (1) what needs to be done, (2) when it needs to be done by, and (3) what will happen as a consequence if it is not done by that time. If you do not learn how to speak concisely about things that your OCPD friend considers as chores, he or she will only hear “blah blah blah” as you talk. If your OCPD friend fails to do things that most people would automatically do out of their care and consideration for you, don’t go on assuming that he or she does not care about you. Although that may be the case for regular people, it is not the case for people with OCPD; people with OCPD can care about someone so much, yet still be completely oblivious to simple gestures of care because of their tunnel vision. All that they need sometimes is someone to give them a hint. But thanks to Disney, giving hints shows weakness. So women avoid asking their men to treat them like princesses and men avoid asking their women to treat them like champions. They should just know, right? Wrong! If you let your OCPD friend know how he or she can make you happier (without offending him or her), most likely he or she will be happy to do that for you. On the other hand, if you choose not to communicate, but rather have the attitude that he or she should be able to read your mind, bitterness will build up inside of you from all your assumptions until you will eventually hate your OCPD friend. Now whose fault is that? The one who has little control over his or her tunnel vision because his or her brain has created strong neural pathways from repetitive use or the one who chose not to communicate because he or she did not want to appear weak? If your OCPD friend is in the zone, try not to interrupt. Don’t take it personally if your OCPD friend seems to be unaware of your existence while he or she is in the zone.

I believe it is very important for people with OCPD to make timetables and day plans. Set aside some time for work, family, friends, errands, chores, meals, exercise, sleep, leisure and relaxation, things you are passionate about, etc. Make an agreement with the people you live with that you will follow your timetable. Whatever time slot you are in, regardless of how passionate you are about it, give your 100%. For example, if you are in your relaxation time slot, do not think about work.

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All-Or-Nothing Thinking

Another thing that fear does is cause its victims to think in extremes.

People with OCPD have all-or-nothing thinking (also known as “splitting”) as a result of their fear.

This cognitive distortion even occurs in the more isolated situation of my arachnophobic friend who comes across a spider in my bathroom. Whenever he sees a spider, he feels that he must always do something to protect himself. If he does not, he thinks he is being unsafe. According to his thoughts, his recklessness is an invitation to the spider to come to him, bite him, inject its deadly poison into his bloodstream, lay thousands of its baby spider eggs inside his skin, attack him while he’s sleeping, kill him, etc.

In the same way that my friend thinks in extremes about the consequences of not controlling spiders, people with OCPD think in extremes about the consequences of not controlling the world around them. People with OCPD believe that they must always do [insert preventative measure] in order to prevent [insert worst case scenario] from ever happening. After repeatedly using these always and never statements and black and white terms for so much of their life, their brain develops such strong neural pathways of this pattern of thinking that it becomes an automatic way in which their mind operates. People with OCPD then forget that there exists an infinite number of other options in between the two extremes and almost lose the ability to see the middle ground.


When others do something that upsets you, before allowing your mind to think of completely inaccurate poisonous thoughts, ask them non-offensively (so that they do not get defensive) why they did what they did. Listen to them and ignore your thoughts! Believe their words over your what your mind tells you. A more direct but still non-offensive way to find out if your extreme thoughts are false is to say, “I’m sure you don’t mean to offend me, but because I struggle with all-or-nothing thinking, my mind tells me that… that’s not true, right?”

Understand that your OCPD friend has probably lost the ability to see the middle ground. Unless they think you are smarter than them, which rarely is the case, telling the OCPD person the middle ground will not be effective at all. Instead, you have to lead your OCPD friend to find the middle ground on his or her own through questions. Ask your OCPD friend, “is that really the case? Or could it be that…?”

First, understand that your type of thinking is not accurate. Every time a thought pops into your head, ask yourself, “am I thinking in extremes right now?” Every time you make a decision, ask yourself, “am I being extreme in my decision-making?” Begin to exercise your mind to think in between the extremes. Yes, it already takes enough time for you to evaluate two options, but for your own good, you need to take some extra time to include more options in your evaluation.

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One of the effects of fear on all people, OCPD or not, is that it creates a need for something to be done in order to keep oneself safe.

People with OCPD are preoccupied with control because doing something rather than nothing gives them a sense of security from their fear.

In my first post, I wrote about my non-OCPD friend who has a fear of spiders. When he finds a spider in my bathroom, his mind alerts him, “Danger!” He feels compelled to do something in order to protect himself. He kills the spider right away and flushes it down the toilet to control his fear.

For all of us without arachnophobia, it is easy to say to him that the spider poses no real threat to the survival of humankind. We have the freedom to continue on our business in the bathroom without feeling the need to do anything about that spider. For my friend, however, it is a totally different story.

In the same way that my friend feels the need to do something about that spider, people with OCPD feel the need to do something about the world around them that they fear. Because of their inborn affinity to excellence and orderliness, people with OCPD feel most anxious when the world around them shows a lack of excellence and order. In order to give themselves a sense of security from that anxiety/fear, people with OCPD go about attempting to create an orderly environment of excellence. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, everyone else around them, especially the people that they live with, seem to make it such an impossible task. In the end, both parties are driven crazy.


You need to know your boundaries. If you are going to try to temporarily alleviate your anxiety through controlling or fixing your environment, do that where it does not affect others. Some of these private spaces include your own separate room, your own closet, your own mind, etc. Kindly request others to respect your private spaces. When your mind tells you that something must be controlled or fixed in an area that is shared with other people, like a shared room or a relationship, shut your mind up. You do NOT have to control these things. The consequences of not controlling or fixing these things are not as bad as your all-or-nothing thinking makes it out to be. Trust that everything will be just fine, even without your control.

Try to understand that your OCPD friend’s need for control comes from his or her anxiety and fear. Try your best to be the source of comfort and security that he or she never had. Submitting to the control of your OCPD friend may temporarily alleviate his or her anxiety, but doing so will actually prevent him or her from ever facing his or her fears. Instead, help your OCPD friend identify the root of his or her need for control, invite him or her to let go of control, and comfort him or her every step of the way by telling him or her “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be just fine.”

Your need for control comes from your fear. If you remove your fear, there would be no need for control. But the reason you are not able to remove your fear is because your control prevents you from ever having to face your fear. Deny yourself the temporary sense of security that you get from your inflexible control. Let go of control and face your fear once and for all.

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Left Brain Dominance

NOTE: I use “left-brained” and “right-brained” in quotations in this post only to differentiate “auditory-sequential” linear thinking and learning style from “visual-spatial” non-linear thinking and learning style in a simple way – I am aware that the brain is not so hemispherically dichotomous.

Most people are just moderately more “left-brained” or “right-brained.” Although it is not so common, extreme left brainers and extreme right brainers do exist.

People with OCPD are extreme left brainers.

The “left brain” is responsible for “auditory-sequential” linear thinking and learning while the “right brain” is responsible for “visual-spatial” non-linear thinking and learning:

Auditory-Sequential Visual-Spatial
Thinks primarily using words and learns phonics easily Thinks primarily in images and prefers seeing tasks demonstrated
Prefers auditory explanations Prefers visual explanations
Processes information and tasks sequentially Processes information holistically; prefers seeing the overview prior to details
Prefers to learn facts and details; likes specific instructions Prefers abstract thinking tasks; likes general goals and directions
Deals with one task at a time in a linear, orderly process Prefers handling several tasks at a time and multitasking chaos
Prefers structure and is well-organized; prefers proper working materials and setting Prefers open, fluid situations; creates own structure; often improvises; looks for patterns
Is an analytical thinker; logically deduces implications Prefers synthesizing activities; produces ideas intuitively
Prefers solving existing problems Prefers solving novel or self-generated problems
Prefers concrete tasks that have one correct answer Prefers concepts; better at reasoning than at computation
Approaches most situations in a serious manner Approaches problems playfully

[ from “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults” ]

It is from the “auditory-sequential” linear thinking style where the gifts for excellence and orderliness are birthed.


  • You have an eye for excellence – when your gift for excellence is combined with your sensitivity, you are able to notice levels of excellence that go unobserved by others.
  • You have high standards for yourself
  • You have a strong work ethic – your love for excellence motivates you to work diligently so that excellence can be celebrated.
  • You are an inspiration – your excellence opens people’s eyes and makes them say, “Wow! So that is what excellence looks like!”
  • Your excellence in the way that you live your life is an inspiration to others – rather than settling for “comfortable” or “good enough,” people feel inspired by you to reach for a more enriching, fulfilling life.
  • Your excellence in the way that you work is an inspiration to others – rather than settling for a job that just pays the bills, people feel inspired by you to reach for a dream job that gives them joy and lose track of how many hours they have worked.
  • You have a “nothing is impossible” attitude
  • Your excellence in the way that you love is an inspiration to others – rather than settling for meaningless relationships, people feel inspired by you to love passionately and enjoy exhilarating relationships full of love.
  • The fruits of success usually follow you – money, fame, and power are more likely to fall into your hands because of your innate gift for excellence.


  • You have an eye for order – when your orderliness is combined with your sensitivity, you are able to see order in things that most people cannot see as having any order.
  • You are naturally good at things that follow a logical order – spelling, grammar, mathematics, logical reasoning, etc.
  • You can adapt well to new environments that have organizational structure to them.
  • If a complex machine from outer space was designed in a logical manner and given to the people of Earth to try to figure out its use, you would be the first one to master it.
  • You are very good with directions, you have an accurate mental map in your head.
  • You are your own greatest teacher – while others need instruction manuals and institutionalized education systems to learn something, you can teach yourself easily just by playing around with it.
  • You are organized.
  • You know how to do things more effectively and efficiently.
  • You are a morally upright person.
  • You have a strong sense of justice.
  • You have a good heart.
  • If there really exists logical order to this world, if there really is an ultimate “right” way of living as a human being, you have a great advantage over others in being on the right track in life.
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Freud will tell you that OCPD developed from the way you were potty trained. Other sources will tell you that OCPD is simply passed down genetically from your parents. I have a different theory.

Obsessive personalities begin with hypersensitivity.

Being born with a sensitive nervous system is quite normal. According to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, it occurs in about 15-20 percent of the population. Although it can be quite advantageous to be a member of this minority group and have the natural ability to be more aware of subtleties in your surroundings, it can also be quite overwhelming at times.

It is during childhood when the majority of people, extra sensitive or not, often lose their sense of security as a result of being overwhelmed by the world. After all, it is during this time when everything is new and unfamiliar. Unfortunately, this loss of security occurs even more frequently for sensitive children.

When children lose their sense of security, their immediate reaction is to go to their parents. Those children who are able to find adequate security in their parents move on and learn that the object that originally caused their insecurity poses no threat to their survival. However, the other children who are unable to find adequate security in their parents develop fear and learn that the object is a threatening one. For one of my closest friends who is a big Jiu Jitsu fighter, that object happened to be a spider. To this day, he still is afraid of spiders. But unlike my friend whose fear is isolated to one easily avoidable object, the object that gets feared by unattended sensitive children is pretty much the entire world. Having been raised mostly by my anxious stay-at-home mother who has a tendency to catastrophize everything, I became one of those children who adopted the idea that the world is a dangerous, threatening place.

That is the beginning of every obsessive person’s life of survival.

Added May 29, 2014

Here’s a video blog I made on “Highly Sensitive People”


  • You are detail-oriented
  • You have a greater awareness of stimuli, like sounds, smells, temperature, and textures
  • You have a vivid imagination
  • You are quick to see patterns and connections
  • You are able to understand and appreciate more complex levels of people’s nonverbal expressions, such as art.
  • You are able to read people and their motives well (emotional intelligence)
  • You can sort things into finer distinctions – “Like those machines that grade fruit by size – we sort into ten sizes while others sort into two or three.” (The Highly Sensitive Person)
  • You can communicate in such great detail – You are a thorough storyteller who can tell dynamic and exciting stories that are full of detail and emotion.
  • You are smart – You reflect more on everything. All that thinking and strategizing has developed you into a very smart person.
  • You have strong intuition – “Your intuition is right often enough that HSPs tend to be visionaries, highly intuitive artists, or inventors, as well as more conscientious, cautious, and wise people.” (The Highly Sensitive Person)
  • You consider the past and future more


When you get overwhelmed, try your best to react in a manner that is not offensive to others – it will lessen their defensiveness, allowing you to have more of a chance to feel like you are being heard. If others appear to be losing patience with you because you do not possess a “normal” level of sensitivity, forgive them for their ignorance and nicely ask them to extend more patience to you.

Even though you cannot fully understand how your OCPD friend feels because what he or she feels is outside of your emotional range, try your best to show empathy. Telling your OCPD friend, verbally or non-verbally, that he or she is overreacting, exaggerating, or being a drama queen will only make him or her feel more frustrated, alone, and unheard.

Forgive the people in your past who failed to give you adequate security when you needed it. How were they supposed to know that you required special attention? Not only are you a minority, but you are also probably your parents’ first experience with raising a child. They did not know any better. Try to revisit those times in your past and give yourself that security. Pretend that the now-adult-you is comforting the past-infant-you with words like, “Don’t worry, child. You’re going to be just fine.” If you are rejecting those words because your lack of experience keeps you in disbelief, force yourself to have those experiences so that you undoubtedly know that you are going to be just fine. Once you are able to overcome your mentality of survival, you can begin using your sensitivity, not as a tool to sense danger and consequences, but as a tool to catch the beautiful details of this world.

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