Category Archives: Control

Turning The Other Cheek

On the side of all my unpredictable, unstable, and inconsistent creative work that I do, I work part-time in retail, selling luxury goods. I am the newest addition to our sales team. Out of everyone there, I probably make the most mistakes.

For a lot of my co-workers, their job is their life. For them, there are no other options. Many of them carry out their job in a very aggressive manner. I, on the other hand, am so relaxed as I work and it really is apparent. I work there because I enjoy it. If this part-time job does not work out, I know I can just move onto another one that I enjoy.

Few weeks ago, our store had our annual holiday party. Everyone was in a good mood and looking beautiful in their fancy clothes. But as the night progressed and more alcohol was being consumed, some of my co-workers loosened up a bit too much. One of them felt it was the opportune time to say to me, “Daniel, you are a real fuck up to the team!… You just don’t care enough… If you even dare to tell our manager about this conversation, I’m gonna kill you…”

Heart in Eye

Of course it hurt to hear all of this, especially when I have only had good intentions for others at my workplace. I felt misunderstood. My emotional sensitivity also intensified the hurt that I was feeling.

The old-me would have resorted to the use of my psychological strategies to escape my present difficult emotions. Having learned from my past the ineffectiveness of this response, I did something drastically different. I allowed myself to just feel the pain without judging whether the feeling was “good” or “bad,” whether my co-worker’s behaviour was “good” or “bad,” or whether my co-worker was a “good” or “bad” person. I resisted my impulse to investigate why such words were spoken and what had to be done to “fix” the problem. I lived in the present moment, even though that moment was not so pleasant. I also meditated on positive truths about who I am as a person. By doing all of this, I was able to keep myself calm and allow my difficult emotions to fully make its way in and out of my system while centering my identity. After giving myself all the time that I needed to grieve over the experience, I forgave her. In no time, I was feeling much better.

Then came the time to think about what to do next. The old-me would have immediately, without hesitation, confronted my co-worker. I have so much confidence in my communication skills and my mind’s ability to rapidly organize the thoughts and ideas in my head that there are not too many types of people, social situations, or sensitive topics that I feel threatened by when words must be used. In the past, I would tactfully expose the crimes of my wrongdoers and draw out their emotions of guilt to get them to stop doing the things that bother me. This practice worked out for me very nicely for many years.

For the first time, however, I realized that this kind of confrontation was actually my mechanism of control. Underneath it all, I simply feared getting hurt again. Rather than going back to my old ways, I took a chance and resisted this form of control. I kept my heart and mind open to be inspired with a better course of action. In prayer, I asked my God that I believe in, “I am pretty sure my way will achieve the outcome that I want, but is there something else You would rather have me do instead?”

Shortly after, I had a “vision” of my co-worker’s life growing up (religious or not, “psychic”-like experiences are not so abnormal in the lives of a lot of highly sensitive people). I saw (with my spiritual eyes, of course) her growing up, making mistakes, and people being very hard on her. I saw a whole string of hurtful words being spoken onto her and crushing her. I saw her desperately trying to build her self-worth through perfectionism. Her lack of grace on others when they made mistakes stemmed from the lack of grace she received growing up. I sensed the many areas of brokenness within her and just knew what she needed to hear for emotional healing to take place.

On my next day at work, I wrote her a Christmas card that included a Starbucks gift card. I wrote something along these lines (the original was much longer, of course – I just don’t remember all the things that I wrote, word for word):

“I didn’t know the extent of all the frustration and damage you experienced as a result of all my mistakes. I’m sorry. I did not mean to make you feel that I did not care. The truth is, I do care about you and appreciate you as a person very much. You are an amazing, delightful, beautiful woman with a good heart… [specific examples...] I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. ~ Daniel”

After reading my card, she came to me, thanked me, and gave me a big hug.

I am not sharing all of this to boast to the rest of the world “Hey, look at me, I’m such a saint!” No. I share all of this to inspire others to try it out when people behave in nasty, hurtful ways.

One of the questions I get asked very frequently from my blog readers is, “Hey, I’m pretty sure my husband/wife has OCPD and it’s driving me insane. How should I break the news to him/her?” This entire blogpost is my answer: I do not think that it is so necessary to “break the news” to anyone. Rather than pointing out people’s faults, weaknesses, and crimes, I think it is much better to love one another and see people’s attacks as clues to their inner brokenness.

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Composure and Emotional Non-Expression

Highly sensitive people experience very strong emotions. Sometimes these emotions can be so overwhelming that they impair these people’s ability to maintain their composure and function at their best. In attempt to prevent the consequences that come with this loss, many of these people do not express these emotions and hope that others do not as well.

People with OCPD may be closed to the expression of certain emotions because their all-or-nothing thinking hyperbolizes the consequences of losing their composure.

Many people with OCPD have adopted the wrong idea from their past that some of their human emotions are unacceptable. They may have once expressed those emotions freely, but were punished with hurtful consequences. Those consequences, however small, were then magnified by their unmerciful all-or-nothing thinking.

People with OCPD then fall for another one of their tendencies: they make it a rule not to express those emotions. Even though it is a difficult rule to follow, people with OCPD do a good job following it because of their strong work ethic.

But to their frustration, it appears that everyone else seems to be breaking that rule. This can feel so unfair to people with OCPD. They question, “Why am I the only person who makes the effort to keep myself controlled?”

If the answer to this question comes from their all-or-nothing thinking, many of these frustrated people will judge that it is because others are “weak.” This is a very dangerous judgment for people with OCPD to make because they will eventually judge themselves in the same way when they break their own rule. This then leads to perfectionism and guilt.

The emotion that I have so much difficulty handling is anger. My father, like many other traditional Asian men, did not let me express this emotion because his culture taught him that speaking in an angry tone around elders is disrespectful. He would shut me up and I would be left feeling unheard and invalidated. I learned from him that the only way I would be taken seriously is if I suppress this emotion, communicate in a controlled manner, and validate all my points with logical reasoning.

After functioning out of this condition for so long, I have become a very controlled communicator. I carefully manage my choice of words, the tone of my voice, my body language, and the expression on my face as I construct what I want to say. Many times, my service of containing my emotions has saved others from becoming over-stimulated while we discuss sensitive topics. Giving others no reason to get defensive, I have been able to efficiently debate with others and be heard.

But others do not seem to work as hard as I do in controlling this emotion. They use offensive words, raise their voice, position their body as if they about to fight, roll their eyes, flare their nostrils, etc. I then quietly judge them in my mind. “You are so weak. How can you possibly think that your offensive language and tone of voice strengthen your pathetic argument? You are not worth listening to!” But as they keep on expressing this emotion that I never got to express, my anger builds up inside of me until I cannot hold it in any longer. I explode. Extreme guilt then follows as I tell myself how weak and pathetic I am.

Now I am moving towards handling anger in a healthier way through a process of forgiving my father and teaching myself that what I have to say does matter, regardless of the perfection of my communication. Along the way, I am also becoming more compassionate for those who express anger.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OCPD):
Be open to others about your difficulty in handling their expression of certain emotions. Let them know how you feel. Let them know your boundaries. Ask them kindly to be more sensitive to you.

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OTHERS):
When you catch your OCPD friend breaking one of his or her own emotional non-expression rules, let him or her know that it’s ok. Fight against his or her guilt. Help him or her realize that the consequences of his or her loss of composure are not as bad as his or her all-or-nothing thinking makes them out to be. If your OCPD friend gets upset at you for breaking one of his or her emotional non-expression rules, be strong and do not allow yourself to feel guilt. Let your OCPD friend know that you prefer to give yourself more freedom to express your emotions. Let him or her know that the consequences of your emotional expression are not as bad as he or she thinks.

HOW TO FIND FREEDOM IN EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION (OCPD):
Think about that time when you adopted the wrong idea that it was unacceptable to express your emotions. What did you tell yourself? Understand that your all-or-nothing judgments were inaccurate. Forgive the person who made you feel that you should have never expressed those emotions. Tell yourself that you deserve to express those emotions just like everybody else. Whenever you feel those emotions come, face your fears and try to express them. If guilt follows, tell yourself that it’s ok.

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OCPD and Religion

The “meaning of life” is one of the many questions that a lot of sensitive people think about. This contemplation often leads these people to explore different religions. But among these sensitive thinkers, there is a smaller group whose personality makes them more likely to miss the point of those religions that are centered around a personal God.

People with OCPD are more likely to miss the point of religions that are centered around a personal God.

Having lived all their life using their exceptional logical reasoning skills to figure out the answers to their many questions, many people with OCPD develop the idea that all things can be figured out by the power of their mind, including God. This idea, however, comes from their all-or-nothing tendency to generalize: “I have figured out A and B with logical reasoning. Therefore, I can figure out C with logical reasoning.” As a result of this generalization, many people with OCPD ignore descriptions of God as an entity that is beyond human reasoning. They will then continue their ineffective pursuit of trying to figure out the validity of this God.

People with OCPD like rules and routines. They feel good and in control when they are able to follow them perfectly. When they break them, however, people with OCPD feel guilty and out of control.

This is no different when people with OCPD misuse religion. Much like the previous example, people with OCPD are likely to feel either good or guilty by their ability or inability to follow the rules and routines of religion perfectly. The only difference is, people with OCPD are likely to confuse these feelings as spiritual experiences when they occur in the context of religion.

As discussed in my earlier post titled “Discernment and Judgment,” people with OCPD can be quite judgmental when their gift for discernment is poisoned by all-or-nothing thinking. This can lead people with OCPD to judge themselves and others harshly when anything less than religious perfection is achieved. But rather than recognizing that these judgments are rooted from their own OCPD, many people with OCPD will falsely claim that it is the God of their religion who makes those merciless judgments. In the end, these false claims contribute to the misrepresentation of different religions and their God.

What people with OCPD will eventually find with this kind of empty relationship with religion is that it does not fulfill them. They may then hastily conclude that religion does not work, even though they may have never pursued it properly to begin with.

Some of the world’s religions believe in a personal, all-powerful God who is on the side of humankind. If this is true, it would make sense for all humankind to hand over their control of their lives to this God. However, since letting go of control happens to be the most difficult thing for people with OCPD to do, many of them hardly ever find out whether or not this belief is true.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO PURSUE RELIGION WITHOUT USING IT AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR OCPD (OCPD):
Assume that your inner voice that makes extreme judgments is wrong. Does God really speak like that? Or is that just you? Familiarize yourself more with who this God is and what kind of relationship He has with humankind so that you will be able to differentiate between your own voice and His. Ask yourself if the purpose of this religion is to gain more control over your life or lose it. If the purpose is to lose it, then you are probably missing the point if you feel in control through your perfect ability to follow all the rules and routines. Does the God in question promise that He will take care of you if you let go of control and place your trust in Him? If so, let go of control. Anxiety and stress will probably follow as you have been using control all your life to protect yourself. That is normal. But be comforted in knowing that, if this God really exists and keeps His promises, He will probably keep this one too.

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Push-Pull

As discussed earlier in my post titled “Fear of Mistakes,” perfectionists avoid taking action, making decisions, and making commitments in hopes of keeping all of their options open before deciding on one best “perfect” option. This behaviour often shows up in the romantic relationships of perfectionists. But unlike most of their other inanimate options that can be easily kept within their reach with a minimal amount of control, human beings require much more control because they have a mind of their own.

Relationship perfectionists sabotage and re-establish their romantic relationships (also known as “push-pull”) to keep all of their romantic options open and control their fear of making a mistake in the selection of a romantic partner.

For extreme relationship perfectionists, their search for “the one” ends when they have finally met and evaluated every single potential romantic partner on the face of this planet. But before they can complete their impossible mission, most of them come across some “good” options that do a good enough job of giving them some pleasure until they find someone better.

But these “good” options, to the frustration of relationship perfectionists, do not stay put. Sometimes they express their desire to take the relationship to a deeper level of intimacy. This terrifies relationship perfectionists because their all-or-nothing thinking causes them to feel as though they are being pressured into something as exclusive as marriage. Other times, these “good” options express their desire to remove themselves romantically. This also terrifies relationship perfectionists because it threatens their plans to keep all of their options open. In attempt to avoid making choosing or losing mistakes, relationship perfectionists control the intimacy level of their relationships through pushing and pulling.

All that a relationship perfectionist achieves through successfully exercising push-pull techniques is just the peace of mind of having someone to go to if all else fails. Unfortunately, it is at the severe expense of another person’s emotional welfare.

STRENGTHS OF THOSE WITH OCPD WHO LEARN TO OVERCOME THEIR FEAR OF MISTAKES IN THE SELECTION OF A ROMANTIC PARTNER

  • Your standards actually go higher – You probably think your standards are already high enough. If you have a fear of making mistakes in the selection of a romantic partner, then actually your standards are not so high. Beneath all your “high standards,” you are actually afraid of getting hurt. You have trained your eye to look out for someone who will hurt you the least. After overcoming your fear, you will be able to appreciate much better qualities in a romantic partner than just someone “nice” who would never even hurt a fly.
  • You have so much peace in your romantic relationships.
  • You can be so forgiving and understanding when your romantic partner does something that hurts you.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OCPD):
Understand that your all-or-nothing thinking is inaccurate. Challenge yourself to see the more accurate “middle-ground” meaning of your romantic partner’s affection. Openly communicate with your partner that you have a fear that holds you back from wholly enjoying a relationship. Be honest and let your partner know that your fear intensifies when you feel out of control, which usually happens when the intimacy level of a relationship fluctuates too much.

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OTHERS):
Your relationship perfectionist partner is probably unaware that his or her push-pull tendencies are driven by his or her fear of making mistakes. Address this issue immediately. After he or she recognizes the fear, ask him or her if he or she would like to (A) face the fear by taking a chance and attempting to do away with his or her control patterns or (B) continue to hold onto the fear and all the control patterns that come with it. If he or she chooses the latter, I suggest you leave the doomed relationship. If he or she chooses the former, be patient and give assurance to your partner that “everything is going to be just fine.” Even if your heart wants to express so much affection to your partner, understand that he or she may not respond to it so well because of his or her fear. While your relationship perfectionist partner makes gradual progress towards eliminating his or her fear, resist the urge to express your intense love for him or her. You can unload it all once his or her fear has been conquered.

HOW TO LET GO OF YOUR FEAR OF MISTAKES IN THE SELECTION OF A ROMANTIC PARTNER (OCPD):
You must understand that your relationship control techniques, though they make you feel safe, are actually terrible for you. Because of them, you are not able to face your relationship fears. As long as you hold onto your control techniques, you will never get rid of that fear. Stop exercising your control in relationships. When the intimacy level of a relationship fluctuates, hold yourself back from doing anything about it. It will feel very scary at first, but those feelings will pass. Just continue to tell yourself “everything is going to be ok.”

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Control

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.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OCPD):
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.

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OTHERS):
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.”

HOW TO ELIMINATE YOUR NEED FOR CONTROL (OCPD):
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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