I’m driving. Something around the dashboard starts vibrating. I’m a perfectionist. I’ll do one of these:
- Stop the car and continue driving only after having found and fixed the source of vibration.
- Stop the car, look for the vibration source for a while. Give up. Stay depressed for the rest of the day for that one little imperfection I couldn’t fix.
- Overcome my innate tendency of obsession by not giving any attention to the noise.
- Pull out my to-do list and write, “Fix the vibration”, and draw a little flow chart outlining the steps that would effectively eliminate the vibration.
These four approaches are totally different, yet represent various attitudes of the same type of personality: OCPD, aka pathological perfectionism. Lets examine each of these approaches one by one.
ONE – Raw Perfectionism
Defense mechanisms used: None
Raw in the sense that the perfectionist has not intervened against their obsessive perfectionism at all and has done exactly what their obsessive personality demands.
TWO – Depressive Defense
Defense mechanisms used: Withdrawal
Some defense mechanism has come into play and the perfectionist is able to stop themself from diving into the trivial task. They have continued living their usual life but the standard of the usual life has slightly deteriorated, nevertheless it hasn’t collapsed.
THREE – Maladaptive Defense
Defense mechanism used: Reaction formation
The defense mechanism is so strong that it has overridden the perfectionist’s obsession completely and has over corrected it instead. The perfectionist has grown the habit of completely neglecting things that secretly beg for the perfectionist’s perfection.
FOUR – Channeled Perfectionism
Defense mechanism used: Intellectualization
The perfectionist has learned to be manage his tendency of perfection with perfection. Sounds good but here’s a big catch: The perfectionist has chained everything in his life together, into schedules and to-do lists. They’ll not care for the vibration around the dashboard only because doing that would make their life imperfect as a whole. They’ve set for themselves such a harsh overall standard of life that one of these would be inevitable:
- Serious self-neglect or neglect of family and friends. Neglecting most social norms that turn out to be absurd to the perfectionist.
- High level of confidence leading to distortion of one’s perception of reality and to arrogance.
- Burnouts resulting in serious crests and troughs of performance and mood.
Pathological perfectionism can assume diverse forms depending upon the defense mechanisms used. Scientists and psychologists must seriously put some efforts into classifying pathological perfectionism better. They must stop studying it as a single discrete entity.