Those who are correctly diagnosed with OCPD have unmistakably dysfunctional social or professional lives. This text hypothesizes one axis that makes the lives dysfunctional. This may only be valid for perfectionists of certain types.
According to this hypothesis, the affected individual faces four challenges:
- Dysfunctional motivation profile (DMP) which narrows down the tasks the individual is interested in to one’s own disadvantage.
- DMP results in neglect of the real world leading to what I call “depletion of headroom“. Practically this may mean bankruptcy, and serious social rejection.
- Headroom depletion forces the individual to make a choice between the real world and one’s inner world, leading to cognitive disonance, which translates to stress and anxiety.
- The affected individual may end up trying to escape the cognitive dissonance in wrong ways, such as through denial and withdrawal, resulting in further deterioration of life.
We’ll look into these in detail one by one before moving onto solutions.
Dysfunctional motivation profile (DMP):
The tasks that interest an individual get limited and unimportant activities may interest the individual more than the important ones. The affected individuals find themselves motivated by:
- Tasks purely driven by intrinsic motivation i.e. tasks that are not good only for extrinsic rewards, such as money, repute or fame.
- Tasks that lead to positive outcomes and not only serve to prevent the negative ones. (read this mindlog for more)
- Tasks with a moderate level of difficulty. Too easy or too difficult are hard to stick to long enough.
- Scalable tasks, in which there is always something to match the individual’s increase in competitiveness with time.
- Tasks that the individuals know that they will be able to finish. They won’t work on the ones they know they will only be working on transiently.
- Tasks not involving much social interaction, especially to start with.
- Tasks not having major hurdles in the initial stages. e.g If the individuals need money to take a certain exam that they are highly passionate about, but lack that money, they wouldn’t be interested in the exam at all. This contrasts with one typically expects from a passionate or obsessive person.
- Tasks which are not to be done only because they pave way for other tasks, the other tasks being the ones of actual interest to the individual. e.g the individuals from the example in #7 will avoid taking a job, regardless of how interesting it is, if its primary purpose is earning enough to pay for their examination.
- Tasks that are not important only because they add value to something that has already been completed out of one’s interest. e.g. a writer who has written a bulky novel in an entire decade may be satisfied enough in doing that. Now if he gets it published, he can add value to his hard work. Even though doing that needs little effort, and may possibly have a dramatic outcome, he feels unmotivated for that.
- Tasks which serve to make the meaninglessness of life (absurdism) less evident, rather than more evident. This affects only those with existential crises.
- Tasks that are nearing completion may either feel very interesting, or very uninteresting.
- Tasks that lead to tangible outcomes that can be hoarded. This one is interesting, since it can be used to one’s advantage, e.g in planting a desire to earn (and collect) money in an otherwise care-free individual.
At any point in life, one is more or less free to comply to one’s motivation profile. I call this freedom “headroom”. A decent earning, having fairly working relationships, being debt-free, having accomplished family responsibilities, are all required for a decent headroom. These requirements would vary person to person, and may be pretty dramatic for some, and non-existent for others. Neurotic perfectionists, e.g , will have to meet a lot of expectations of people around them in order to be mentally relaxed enough. Narcissists on the other hand will not care of any societal pressures, and would rather use the society to their advantage. The pressure of having enough earning would however be fairly universal, I believe.
Maladaptive behavior on headroom depletion:
If one depletes one’s headroom, one undergoes one or more of these:
- Surrendering own tasks. The person with depleted headroom shall surrender to the external pressures and give up intrinsically motivated tasks they were working on. Earning, and societal approval will be on top of their priorities, more or less transiently. The issue with this choice is that it completely ignores one’s psychology, leading to burnouts.
- Denial. Some people will continue to adhere to the tasks of their private interest in denial of the headroom depletion, only to deplete it more. Others will continue to adhere to their private tasks with the belief that if they’re successful with those tasks, they’ll regain the headroom. To them, a depleted headroom is inevitable for their success. They may or may not be right.
- Withdrawal: One may completely withdraw from both one’s private goals, and the headroom related responsibilities. This, I believe, happens with perfectionists who are as much pressured by their inner obsessions as their external responsibilities, such that they cannot figure out which way to go and end up in cognitive dissonance. Others have an innate tendency of withdrawal on stress.
This is too early to be able to propose solutions, both because of the primitivity of the above hypothesis, and my lack of exploration of solutions. Here are a few things to start with:
- Task crafting: This involves: (i) Carefully looking for tasks that both serve one’s innate obsessions and help heightening one’s headroom in any way. (ii) Finding some motivating aspect in tasks that favor the headroom.
- Fixing one’s motivation profile, by intellectulization, if possible.
- Headroom objectification: This involves: (i) Enlisting the things that increase and decrease one’s headroom, and sorting them based on imminence. (ii) Identifying things which should not affect the headroom, and are unnecessarily putting oneself in pressure, such as meeting absurd expectations of relatives. (iii) Identifying things that contribute to the headroom but you weren’t well conscious of, or were in denial of.
- Dead-end management: If you have depleted your headroom already, then realize that it’s more important to steer free of maladaptive behaviors than to try to re-establish it because doing the former would probably already accomplish the latter.
- Stamina building: No matter how much we excel in technique #1, we will encounter tasks which fail to be motivating at all. The OCPD inflicted must build their stamina to endure such tasks, while at the same time protecting themselves from training too hard,or burnouts, or ego-depletion. Those trying to build such stamina learn to defend intrinsically unmotivated activities through a host of cognitive distortions such as effort justification. Let me give an example. I started physical exercise because it is classically known to help fight conditions like depression and learned helplessness. The effects, however, were not readily apparent, and I lost motivation to continue. However, somehow I decided to try for at least two or three months. Now I was regularly engaging in an activity which didn’t motivate me, and surprisingly it got easier and easier. Biases such as the “choice supportive bias” and effort justification started making it easier for me, and now I am doing it on regular basis and enjoying it, and harnessing a sense of accomplishment from it. Experimental psychology believes we all have ego reserves that get depleted, and I am talking about putting those reserves to actual use, and of defending those reserves against overuse, and of increasing those reserves.