A Most Perfect Contradiction

Humans are contradictions. It’s something that I find beautiful and frustrating (see how easy it can be?). We can hold two disparate beliefs sincerely at the exact same time, be aware of the fact that the beliefs are antithetical, examine them thoroughly, and still arrive at the conclusion both must be right. Perhaps that is why I love stories dripping with irony like Jane Austen’s works.

My greatest contradiction is that I am a people-pleaser with OCPD. That ought not to be allowed (even though I do believe I have found the axis around which these two things rotate).

People-pleaser should be clear to most readers: someone who wants to please other people, who finds value and importance is being a positive resource in others’ lives.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) might be a foreign concept for those, especially if you are new to the blog. Many people are familiar with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), even if their pop culture notion of the condition is not the best – OCPD is similar except that the thoughts are the obsessive-compulsive part. Those with OCPD have a menu of symptoms that can include perfectionism, obsession with rules, obsession with lists, and so forth (a severe oversimplification).

The art of this contradiction then is being a perfectionist people-pleaser in a world of imperfect, displeased people. If it sounds impossible, remember, I do not have a choice because both things are imprinted on my DNA.

Either one by itself would be, well, I hesitate to say fine, but one imagines considerably more manageable. Being a people-pleaser to a fault is itself problematic, but strong personal boundaries and a developed sense of diplomacy can make that work. Having OCPD is no picnic, but having personal boundaries and a set of coping mechanisms make it a liveable condition.

What does one do when compelled to keep others contented while facing their unendurable imperfections? Diplomacy can carry only so much weight before the OCPD begins to rebel, finding the tolerance of the imperfection even worse than the imperfection itself. Setting stronger boundaries or confronting people (constructively and appropriately) about things is a solution, but only to such an extent that the people-pleasing does not resist.

My personal solution to this quandary is severe introversion. People tend to conflate introversion with misanthropy, and the OCPD parts of this piece are not going to ease that perception at all.

The truth is that introversion has little to do with attitudes towards people and everything to do with energy. Extroverts gain energy while interacting with others; introverts lose energy. One can be a misanthropic extrovert just as one can be a saint of an introvert. The question is simply as to whether being around people grants or uses energy.

I find that in my personal attempts to balance this contradiction, interaction severely depletes my energy level. The target of the introversion (remember, this is an energy thing) is irrelevant. It’s not about being around that select few whose personalities walk the line of my contradiction – I don’t walk that line. No one does. People that I love beyond measure deplete my energy. It just takes some people longer than others – much the way cold affects a battery.

While I am around other people, the diplomatist kicks into high gear. I sacrifice my comfort sometimes beyond what I should make an effort to reduce personal boundary to the furthest extent so the other person has room for their comfort. I even find that it helps the OCPD to an extent because it allows more negotiating room to steer conversations and behaviours away from where it becomes agitated.

However, it’s a disorder. Those with OCPD are aware that we are not talking about a simple disagreement between worldviews. The OCPD mind has strict and severe guidelines about what is acceptable because it maintains lists of rules and applies them exhaustively to everything. I don’t just think something is wrong – I think it is wrong on principle because it checks off boxes 3, 6, and 28 on the list of rules.

Everyone has been in a disagreement at some point. Consider the difference between a casual disagreement with someone and a principled disagreement with them.

It’s difficult to persuade someone with OCPD on these matters because the evidence is exists.

An example I like to use is that of a two-lane street with shoulders. Cars approach from opposing directions and a double-parked lorry obstructs the one lane right about where the cars would meet. The unobstructed car can steer into the open shoulder and allow room for both vehicles but is under no obligation to do so. The shoulder is not a legal lane and this practice of creating room is just something we agree to do.

What I have observed is that a driver can view this situation differently depending on which car they are. The unobstructed driver might become irate if the obstructed driver assumes the practice of creating room and pulls into the lane. They are, after all, under no obligation to do so. However, that same driver, if they be in the obstructed car, might become just as irate if an oncoming car does not provide them with room. The proper way to handle the situation, according to this driver, is whatever best accommodates them.

As a passenger in that car, I am torn between the people-pleaser who wants to understand their frustration and guide them back to a more peaceful state of mind and the OCPD sufferer who wants to condemn their self-centred thinking. The introvert in me just wants to get out of the car. See, the diplomatist in me will allow the driver to vent because I can understand these various perspectives on the situation, but the OCPD in me will eventually require that I draw a line against selfishness (after all, there is another driver in this scenario equally entitled to me people-pleasing). If that part starts to engage it will not be about which way is best to handle that particular situation (a casual disagreement), it will be about the social contract and why one cannot simply apply whatever solution is best for themselves (a principled disagreement).

People tend not to react well to principled disagreements. It’s the principle of the thing – everyone entrenches.

One of the biggest assaults on the people-pleaser is the sense that the OCPD is holier-than-thou (which, let’s be honest, it is). The only relief I take from that truth is that “holier” is morality and not me and “thou” includes me more than anyone else.

That is axis around which I believe this contradiction spins: I’m not good enough.

The people-pleaser is a desperate attempt to rise above my being not enough, to earn the worthiness for others’ time and attention. The OCPD is a constant reminder of the being not enough. On the spectrum of other people, one is either too close to perfection (and thus I am not worthy of their time and attention) or too far from it (and thus not worthy of my time and attention because that would require my indifference, which I cannot give – I have tried indifference and apathy many times, but they will not take).

The OCPD does not win because I am aware both that I have a personality disorder and that imperfection is beautiful. A world governed perfectly by my moral compass would be boring and still imperfect.

1 Comment

  1. “Much the way cold affects a battery.” You even help me to better understand those things on which I feel I have a firm grasp already! And your explanations of the feelings and disorders to which I cannot always relate directly, help me even more.

    I wonder how much these comments take from you, to read them and then have to wonder (at times, anyway) just what someone meant by the nuance of what they said or how they said it. This makes me regret it less when, for example, a recent comment I tried to leave you was consumed by a login/refresh combination that cleared the page without giving me any indication of whether it took or not (after several days, I decided ‘not’, and of course I’ve no idea how I phrased it now, to try again, without feeling like *I* will then say something the wrong way and make things worse instead of better). Yet I will still speak up, when I have something to add to the conversation, even if it is just my thanks to you for a new understanding — which, I think we can both agree, is often what I seem to post in your comments. 🙂

    Thank you again, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

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