Author Topic: On Being Perfect  (Read 6183 times)

Certain Hope

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On Being Perfect
« on: July 12, 2008, 11:05:29 PM »
(excerpted from a longer article here:

.... a mother contacted me hoping I would mentor her son (many details in this section are fictionalized to protect the identities of the participants). I had lost interest in this activity so I politely declined.

But mom refused to take no for an answer. Against polite demurrers from me, she persisted in her requests for seven months, then brought her son to a place she knew I would be and forced a meeting. Her son was very bright, socially isolated for a reason I couldn't sort out, and I should have run from the room. Instead I accepted her son as a friend.

For the next year I acted as mentor for this boy, changing his perspective on himself and his substantial gifts. He was remarkably bright but very insecure for a reason I didn't understand at first. I encouraged him to see himself as an intelligent person, but this wasn't difficult — he was very talented, starved for any kind of encouragement, and his personal development took off.

I hadn't figured out mom's motivations yet, but I was soon to discover what they were. Her personal grasp of the world had the distinctly narcissistic property that everything was either true or false, and there was always a convenient unimpeachable authority to tell her which was which, e. g. she possessed a very shallow and fragile hold on reality.
She had been told that her son was gifted, and it had come to her that she would eventually lose control of him as he passed her up in intellectual development. Mom's uniquely narcissistic solution to this "problem" was to insist that her son was mentally handicapped, something she persisted in saying against overwhelming contrary evidence.

As time passed, as her son came out of his mom-imposed shell, as he realized he had a rightful place among gifted children, the day of reckoning finally came. Increasingly frustrated at her son's accelerating personal development and my role in it, mom finally thought of a way to force an end to the threat I posed to her control — she began to invent imaginary crimes for me to be guilty of. Most of them were too poorly articulated to bother with, but when she claimed that a child sitting on the lap of an adult constituted molestation, then refused to discuss this belief, I knew I had to leave. Because she was a narcissist, possessed of no common sense or personal restraint, I realized she would say such things to anyone, anywhere, therefore my leaving might serve to minimize the harm she could do to her son. I offered a weak and false explanation to her son (that she and I had important philosophical differences).

I stayed in touch with her son by e-mail, hoping I could prevent his relapse into the clinical depression that had preceded my appearance on the scene, but mom realized what I was doing and arranged a civil court hearing in which, as I expected, she abandoned the original issue of e-mails and made a series of vile claims that might have impressed someone with an IQ below 70, but that had no effect on the seasoned judge who heard her recital. I pointed out that mom's claims were a fantasy, the judge agreed, but mom got her way, no more e-mails.

After the hearing, in conversations with a mutual acquaintance I discovered to my shock that this woman had made similar false accusations against someone else. I thought this would have been useful to know when mom was trying so desperately to get me to meet her son, and it would have come in handy during the hearing, but I didn't think it mattered any more, since the judge had ruled against her. As it turned out, I was wrong about that — six months later, mom arranged another civil court hearing and tried to hold me responsible for her son's return to clinical depression, a depression that resulted directly from her decision to exclude me. In her new claim she had the temerity to describe her very bright son as "developmentally delayed," which some of my readers may know is a euphemism for "retarded."

At that point I realized this wasn't going to stop.
Unless I shut her down, mom might try to hold me responsible for each of her many dissatisfactions, possibly for years.
So in a prepared statement I explained that mom's assessment of her son's mental abilities was at odds with reality, she had tried the vile-accusation tactic on someone else, and the entire sequence of events resulted from her seriously dysfunctional personality.
This woman was served with my position in advance and had time to consider any rebuttal she cared to make, but I think she realized what would happen to her if she disputed any of it (I came prepared with detailed evidence), so at the hearing she silently accepted my position without comment, thereby turning my claims into stipulations (matters on which both sides agree).

At that point the judge had a clear picture of this woman,
but in case any doubt lingered,
mom ended the hearing by asking whether I could be punished even though I had done nothing wrong.
Under the circumstances the judge exercised remarkable restraint and, saying "no," gaveled the proceedings to a close.
This woman was a textbook narcissist — completely self-absorbed, unable to foresee the consequences of her own actions, predatory, truth-challenged, oblivious to how she looked and sounded to others, and absolutely incapable of accepting personal responsibility for anything.

As to mentoring as a pastime, I had naïvely assumed that, because I can encourage most bright kids to develop their gifts, it was a worthwhile activity. I had not seriously considered the possibility of such a dysfunctional parent, but now that I know they exist, I won't allow parents to arrange such meetings. The parents have too much control, they are often the real problem, and they sometimes don't understand themselves well enough to accept an excellent outcome. In the final analysis, they victimize their own children.

Certain Hope

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Re: On Being Perfect
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2008, 11:15:49 AM »
Superiority and perfection

The foundation of narcissism is self-inflation.
 It is hard for someone with normal self-awareness, who acknowledges their shortcomings and vulnerabilities,
 to understand how anyone could have total and unquestioning belief in their own perfection, superiority and greatness.
It is inconceivable that ordinary, fallible humans could have such exaggerated beliefs about themselves.

Our inability to understand such delusion leads most of us to assume that problem behaviour must be the result of low self-esteem and over-compensation.
But throughout history into modern times countless dictators, religious and cult leaders, aristocrats, royals and tyrants have believed they had the right to control and dominate other people or even the entire world.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell was perhaps only slightly exaggerating when he claimed that
all men
(and presumably many women)
want to be God and that some can’t believe they are not.

The narcissist, the heartbreaker, may not be a potential dictator believing they have an inalienable right to dominate (although some are) but their self-images of superiority are not poles apart.
The comedian Peter Sellers for example, acted like royalty, insisting on deference and adulation, expecting to be feted and catered to in all things at all times.
In the narcissist’s mind they are not only the centre of their own world but the centre of the lives of everyone around them and more important to other people than they are to themselves. They are the star and everyone else the supporting cast.

Just as we might see ourselves blown up to giant size in the distorting mirrors at a carnival, narcissists see themselves magnified, as bigger, better, and more important than they actually are.
Narcissists believe they are already automatically whatever they want to be, that they need no teacher or role model to learn from, that they need no achievement to work towards, no maturity or growth to strive for, no ideals to pursue.
They are perfect just as they are.

Narcissists truly believe they are more important than anyone else.
They may have talent and ability, but never as much as they think.
They exaggerate the smallest asset and if they lack some quality, they will create it in their imagination or denigrate it as being beneath them.
They might, for example, despise and disparage anything at which they do not excel.
They may be the most ordinary of men and women or even far below average yet still believe themselves to be superior to almost everyone.
Narcissists believe they are unique and extraordinary and expect others to acknowledge and applaud their superiority whether or not there is any evidence to support it.
Such self-inflation makes them immune to self-doubt and allows them to convince themselves they are all the things they have ever wanted to be.

Like Narcissus, they love and admire an illusion, an inaccurate, idealized self
and not the reality of a whole, authentic, if imperfect self.

Beyond the image of perfection though, they are hollow because he or she denies, ignores, and neglects any aspect of themselves that is less than perfect and so rejects who they really are.

They have no interest in discovering the whole self beneath the image of perfection,
preferring to avoid self-awareness and self-examination
with the assurance that if they believe something
(that they are perfect)
then it is so.

Certain Hope

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The Perils of Perfectionism
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2008, 08:07:35 PM »
Excerpted from Nov., 2007 Harvard Mental Health Letter

Investigating indirect aggression

A study published in 2007 in Aggressive Behavior supports the idea that perfectionism may develop in a social context and suggests an unexpected trigger: indirect aggression.

This type of aggression involves socially manipulative behaviors such as talking behind someone’s back, giving someone the“silent treatment,” divulging secrets, and being nice to someone in private but mean in public. Females tend to engage in indirect aggression more often than males, with the theory being that this reflects the fact that girls and women are not encouraged to be overtly aggressive and so must express such tendencies in covert ways. To find out whether experiencing indirect aggression might be linked to long-term perfectionism, researchers at McMaster University asked two groups of college-age women to fill out surveys to determine what types of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and indirect aggression they had experienced in grades 3 through 12. They also asked the women to answer questions to gauge whether they were perfectionists. The researchers found that the women who recalled experiencing indirect aggression in childhood were more likely to become perfectionists by the time they reached college. Verbal and physical abuse had no impact.The authors acknowledge that the study’s retrospective nature may have biased its findings, in that those women who were perfectionistic might be more likely than others to recall past events in a negative way.

Even so, the authors propose that this study provides further evidence that perfectionism may develop as a coping mechanism that helps people who have felt rejected in the past to assert themselves socially,and to maintain some sense of control over a threatening environment.

Certain Hope

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Re: On Being Perfect
« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2008, 10:03:59 AM »
Article warning  :D   If'n you don't enjoy reading, run!

Just sharing some stuff that's helped me to gain understanding. Some old, some new... some with links, some not.
Hope this helps!


When the going gets tough...
the Perfectionist takes control

by Steven Phillipson, Ph.D.

The period in human development when we go from being the protected child under our parents’control, to being aware of our independence and autonomy, generally takes place from the ages of 12 to 21. It is at this point that we realize that mom and dad are not always going to be there to bail us out. It is during this time that we realize that mom and dad are not going to be the ones to make play dates for us. It is during this phase that we realize that other people outside our family have opinions about who we are, whether we are admirable, worthy or likeable. It is at this stage where most forms of emotional turmoil and mental illness develop.

The form of mental illness I am going to be discussing in this article is the development of an obsessive-compulsive personality. For it is in adolescence and early adulthood that an obsessive-compulsive personality type generally begins to manifest itself. It is at school that a person tries to gain control of a world that seems to be slipping out of control. One needs to produce a high level of work and receive grades that demonstrate one’s security and stability. The goal of a perfectionist is to study to the point where no questions can be asked for which he/she cannot provide complete and perfect answers. A perfectionist believes that he needs to protect himself from the potential of his world crashing in around him, because it might be discovered that he is imperfect or that he does not have all the answers.

Many instances of a perfectionistic personality originate from some form of trauma, whether acute or prolonged, that overwhelms the developing mind and spirit. Children and adolescents often do not have the mental and emotional resources needed to deal with these traumas, and as a result engage in a primitive effort to gain control of a world which otherwise seems to be threatening and unmanageable.

Often perfectionism in school is driven by both a need to protect one’s identity, to keep oneself from being seen as anything less than the best, and/or the need to maintain a sense of being in control and scaving off further potential mayhem and chaos. Many times the severity of this condition is completely concealed and unknown to parents, siblings, and not to mention, the best of friends.
A person with this condition lives in silent torment, while the rest of the world applauds him or her as being a conscientious, capable and “together” student.

Often adolescents with this developmental condition live precariously between maintaining a high grade average at the sacrifice of sleep, free time and social diversity. On occasion, the perfectionist is discovered because of a sudden dramatic contrast in grade performance. I have worked with a number of adolescents who, at the beginning of college, are finding that their grades are deteriorating. It is not uncommon to see a fifth grade report card with an almost straight A average, turn into a six grade report card with a C- average. There seems to be no apparent explanation for this contrast, and often parents and professionals are confounded in their search for an explanation of what seems to be completely incomprehensible. Their parents are confused because they’ve never mentioned a single word about the nature and severity of the need to function at their highest level.

Oftentimes, the symptom of distractibility is noticed first. This can be misconstrued as symptomatic of attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
For example, perfectionism often involves reading and re-reading and difficulties in concentrating. Sentences and words of written form are read and/or re-read, not because of distractions but because of the need to make sure that the word is comprehended exactly. Often this struggle is not conveyed in a way to derive an appropriate diagnosis. Occasions arise where distractibility plays a part, but not because of a neurological measure. Rather it is because the word is still being processed and solved to create a complete sense of understanding and control, rather than not being able to focus on a specific idea for a prolonged period of time.

When parents become involved in the development of a diagnostic impression, they are often devastated at finding out the depth and breadth of this condition, and the torment that their child has been living with for years. This is a condition in which the person’s very nature is attacked by his/her own philosophy in spirit, and he/she will become lost in his/her own rigid and perfectionistic ideas. In treatment, we deal with this paradox of human existence i.e., the brain’s need to gain control and to keep it’s world intact in a world where nothing is perfect and mistakes are made by everyone routinely.

The first part of assessing someone with this condition is to establish the degree to which the human element has been eradicated by the disorder. By this I mean that there is a potential for someone with this condition to be simultaneously aware that his/her mind is driving him/her to behave in a rigid and inflexible way, and yet one recognizes that this drive, although mysterious and compelling, is alien to what he/she knows in his/her heart to be a more functional way of existing.

There exists an ongoing process in regard to the degree to which a person with this condition seems capable of working inward in establishing or recognizing an insight into the ability to identify rigid and perfectionistic ideas. It is this degree of insight which acts as a profound determination of one’s prognosis.

A young woman with this condition, 19 years of age, presented at the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy, consumed by her mind’s perfectionistic guidelines. She came to treatment because her mother clearly recognized that her daughter’s perfectionism had taken her from being an honor student at high school, to now being completely incapacitated and home-bound, performing tidying rituals and obsessing over her speech. Her ritual in this was that everything she said had to be perfect in both form and content.

Sad to say, this patient reported that her clinical goal was for the therapist to help her be more perfect. She felt confined by her perfectionism, but was more distraught at not being able to perform her rituals more effectively. She was unable to see that her condition was responsible for her life’s deterioration. She was fully willing to sacrifice the diverse life most often associated with a young adolescent, for the goal of getting things exactly right.

This initial process of evaluating the degree to which a person with OCPD’s condition is consuming him/her, can be a complicated and lengthy process. This condition is also extremely elusive, in that as mentioned previously, society often rewards and compliments the outcome of this condition. Being a straight “A” student, studying for hours and having a perfectly arranged bedroom, are all attributes that most parents would seem to die for. However, although seemingly commendable, these behaviors are far from what is common behavior in adolescents, and therefore, should act as a warning signal for both adolescents and their parents.

It is also common for adolescents who are developing OCPD to adopt what are considered very rigid and stringent moral guidelines. People with OCPD of this type often eliminate friends for violating strict codes of high moral standards. If a friend were to smoke pot, or cut a class, that could very possibly be justification for ending the relationship. These kids believe that they are the final mediators of morality. They often judge a friend’s character by behaviors that they believe to be a representation of their goodness or depravity. This form of OCPD can be particularly challenging since these strict moral standards can be applied to oneself as well as to the people with which one interacts.

Profound low self-esteem and depression are often dividends which are derived from these self imposed strict standards. It is perfectly appropriate for an adolescent to live in a world of experimentation and trial and error. For the adolescent with OCPD, failing to meet these standards, which a sufferer imposes on himself/herself, as well as on others, often justifies his/her self-hatred.

For the overwhelmed and isolated adolescent, this seemingly inescapable situation can lead to suicidal ideation, along with depression and self-loathing. It is important for persons who are having thoughts of harming themselves to notify their parents and/or therapist. Sometimes a person with OCPD can feel the need to be punished for not living up to their own perfectionistic standards.

The rigidity of ideas regarding right and wrong cannot only crop up in areas of criminal law, but can also be applied to areas such as sexual standards and political ideology. It is during adolescence that many young people start to experiment with their sexual independence. Persons with OCPD often derive a strict code for not only their own sexual practices, but also for the sexual practices of those who are important to them. It is not uncommon that this code is imposed in a harsh and rejected attitude towards people who do not live within that social code. These attitudes not only apply to sex but also to drug use.

It is during this time in life that adolescents become aware of their potentially independent political views. It is not uncommon that people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder become more vehement and extremely passionate about their political and religious views. Once again, others can often perceive these qualities as really strong convictions and a strong sense of identity. There exists a clear differentiation between someone who’s passionate about an idea compared to someone who’s rigid and adamant about an idea. Within the home, obsessive-compulsive disorder can manifest itself through obstinate decisiveness and can result in division between parents and child or between siblings. To illustrate, I work with a person whose religion dictated that grown women were not allowed to sing. This person grew up in a household where a younger female family member, enjoyed singing. Although the law allows for children to sing, he held this belief so rigidly, he would become physically violent toward the family member when she would sing.

Although an almost universal derivative of religion is to provide a sense of meaning to life and guidelines for living a spiritually strong existence, persons with OCPD often take religion and turn it into oppression. Within OCPD, there on occasion exists a manifestation referred to as scrupulosity. Scrupulosity is the unhealthy adherence to a strict moral code, which manifests itself well beyond the intent of the religious practice. Scrupulosity is also a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, when prayers need to be repeated until they are achieving a perfect soundness or a perfect pronunciation. Scrupulosity also manifests itself in secular law by being overly conscientious and avoiding any behavior which might, in any conceivable way, violate state or federal laws.

It is very important to recognize the difference between the obsessive compulsive personality disorder and the anxiety disorder of OCD.
Although in many ways there are a number of crossovers, the two conditions are distinctly different.
A case that comes to mind is a young woman who had cleaned her apartment for hours.
Her goal in cleaning was not to protect herself from deadly germs, or to protect others from the harm of disease, but to keep her apartment in absolutely immaculate condition because dirt is “wrong”, and cleanliness is next to “godliness”. On the surface, her cleaning rituals might seem to be a classic form of OCD, but in this case they are not. Just because something involves a cleaning ritual, it does not necessarily imply that it involves the experience of anxiety.

There is a tremendous need to differentiate between OCD and OCPD because the treatment for each disorder is extraordinarily distinct and different.
As is well-documented, treatment for OCD involves a consistent exposure and response prevention paradigm.
Although an exposure-based paradigm for OCPD has been demonstrated to have some benefit on the overall condition, the nature of OCPD is driven by a perfectionistic and rigid style of thinking, and therefore a person’s cognitions are much more paramount to take into consideration.