Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

An OCPD Take on Morality, Introversion, and Social Anxiety

I was in the passenger seat of the car, driving in front of a Target. The lot was just wide enough for three cars in front of the store, as per usual – we were passing on the side furthest from the store. A car approached from the other direction, and weaved towards our path to get around a car that had stopped in the fire lane to unload a passenger. We’ve all seen the situation, right?

The horn blares. The driver in my car screams obscenities at the oncoming driver for coming into our lane. The oncoming driver screams obscenities at us for not moving over to allow room for both cars.

“His lane has the obstruction. He needs to wait until it’s clear!” the driver of my car protests to me for validation. My eyes are closed in disapproval of the entire situation.

Both drivers have a point. Strictly speaking, my car was right in that the other lane had the obstruction and that does not entitle cars behind the obstruction to cross the middle to get around if cars are approaching. The other driver has a point that it takes very little consideration to accommodate everyone peacefully.

My problem? If you flipped the two drivers we would still have the same problem. The driver of my car believes, as she has expressed previously, that the other car should accommodate her trying to pass the stopped car (who should not be stopped in front of the store).

This is not about the ethics or morality or legality of the situation. It’s about what is most convenient for me and **** you.

People re-write the social contract in every situation to accommodate themselves. Zero empathy – they have only the ability to see the situation from their perspective. When the roles reverse, they forget that they have experienced first-hand that alternate perspective.

The Glorious Return of OCPD

Now, my sense of morality is, evidently, out of proportion. While pursuing treatment for my various anxiety issues, the psychiatric staff determined that I also have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. One of the hallmarks of that is being overconscientious and inflexible about morality, specifically where culture and religion are not compelling factors. (Which I find funny – one can be a self-righteous jerk, but if it’s because religion then it isn’t a personality disorder.)

I don’t want to bore you here with the finer points of it, so the reductive version is that I’m a deontologist who believes that everything is fine except where it oppresses another person’s right to pursue the same. For example, killing is wrong because one denies the other person’s right to live. It allows, to some degree, for self defence where one is protecting against someone else attempting to deny one’s own right to live. With some of the big ticket items, like murder, most moral systems of thought tend to agree.

In day-to-day interactions though, my personal brand of morality creates interpersonal issues. Why? Because people do not satisfy those standards. They create conflicts where they need not happen (and, in many cases, then handle those conflicts poorly). Sometimes it involves two sides with whom I am associated, and they expect me to choose a side in their pointless feud. I resent being put in those situations.

When I’m driving in front of Target – the obstructed car waits defensively, assuming the oncoming car will not allow the room to pass. The oncoming car should, out of politeness rather than obligation, allow the room. If allowed, the obstructed car expresses gratitude and all pass safely.

There is zero reason for stress or conflict in the situation regardless of how one chooses to proceed.

Yes, I’m an introvert. My social anxiety, however, is a separate issue that derives from being unable to associate with these microaggressions all the time. While I am far more severe about judging myself because it feels unfair to hold others to those standards, I also struggle to entertain regular violations of those standards.

Now, there is the inevitable question of actual self-righteousness. “Are you truly this holier-than-thou?”

And the answer is no. I am a fatally flawed human being. I violate my standards. However, I am stuck with myself. Unlike with others where I can step away for a time (or altogether) if the violations become an issue, I must live with myself. My life is one of constant self-berating over violations real and imagined.

I feel guilt constantly as to whether I handled situations as well as I could. I suppress feelings like anger, especially on media like Twitter, because others should not have to hear my anger. It’s not due to them and none of it should go their way. They should not have to log in and consume anger from my timeline. My problems are not everyone else’s. I acknowledge that I work to cultivate a certain personality of kindness and openness, both online and in real life to help others.

But I don’t want most people actively engaged. Let’s have our transaction and then separate again, because in all likelihood if we spend too much time together you will start to violate those standards at least in one aspect of your life and I will be left feeling conflicted about tolerating it or confronting you about it. Both options are awful if you’re me.

I increasingly struggle to live in this world – not in a suicidal sense (I’m not religious, I believe this life is all we have so whatever time we get, no matter how challenging, is better than the alternative).

This is the origin of my novelist pursuits. I once read of Walt Disney:

During a peripatetic childhood of material and emotional deprivation, at least as he remembered it, he began drawing and retreating into his own imaginative worlds. That set a pattern. His life would become an ongoing effort to devise what psychologists call a ‘paracosm,’ an invented universe, that he could control as he could not control reality…For all his outward sociability, associates found him deeply private, complex, often moody, and finally opaque. No one seemed to know him.

It struck me. Growing up my friends were Disney characters and literary characters – the princesses, the March sisters, the Austen heroines, the Dickensian heroes. I invented my own characters and universes – not with the robustness of an actual literary method, but for personal entertainment. I still do. I’ve long relied on the Method of Loci for managing my thoughts, but mine took the literal form of a holiday residence where I spent time with my heroes. It’s where I go to this day to escape the stress of people.

Do I worry about how this might sound? Absolutely. It’s taken a lot of internal debate to decide to share this information with others – I mostly caved because of it’s relation to mental health (anxiety and OCPD).

As with introversion, it has nothing to do with hating people. Trying to describe this in 280 characters often comes across as a sense that I’m better than other people. I try to be and fail. Then I try again. I actually feel horribly inadequate much of the time. That feeling is pronounced around those who do a good job of meeting (or at least appearing to meet) my standards. I feel like they do not deserve to have their time and attention wasted on me.

Sometimes, frankly, I do think, “How much of this am I supposed to tolerate in the name of civility? How long do I have to pretend that this person isn’t selfish and horrible to preserve my relationship with the person? They have no issue with me, so it seems stupid to create one. I’ll just run out the clock on this interaction and then keep away from them.”

But, especially in the age of Trump, Brexit and the rise of right-wing politics and the vitriol that came with it, I find myself trying to retreat to my paracosm more often. I feel everything more intensely. I feel more resolute in my sense of morality. I feel more inadequate in my efforts to meet those standards.

Welcome to my brain.

2 Responses to “An OCPD Take on Morality, Introversion, and Social Anxiety”

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