Bleeding edged sword

​Its reassuring, and at the same time depressing, to find that the same underlying snippets of neurocircuitary can drive exactly opposite behaviors.

Reassuring because most of our shortcomings can act as our strengths. Clichéd much? Well… I’m stressing this possibility only at a more neurological level rather than in the usual self-help tone.

Depressing because, sadly, vice versa.

e.g. The exact systems that work to desensitize us to painful or stressful experiences also work to make us take the beauties of life for granted. One of these effects prevents us from misery, while the other rips off the essence of life from life.

Advertisements

Mind Toolbox

I’ve been observing and assisting surgeries for the past couple of months, and everyday I was surprised to see new surgical instruments that I had never heard of before. The instruments would play small very specific roles, but play those really well.

I’ve spent my entire life in search of a simple and minimal set of mind tools that would help me fix my serious motivation and productivity issues. I’d try one mind tool, and then abandon it for another one days later… working on one tool a time. Why one? Because I wanted to keep things dead simple.

But now I have come to this important conclusion that I’ll have to work on building a rather comprehensive set of tools, and that a simple unified model of motivation/productivity etc might not be the right way to go.

Anger Control, Philosophically

There’s moral nihilism. Morality is but necessary. Necessary not for equilibrium in society. Necessary emotionally. Something should be there to tell us what we have to feel, and how we are to behave in response to actions and attitudes of others. Our biology doesn’t tell us anything there, nor does our rationality. Some sort of morality models floating around us have to be internalized to maintain a steady stream of such information. These morality models aren’t always formal, not always doctrines, not always written. These aren’t internalized consciously. Our minds pick these up all on their own, perhaps to fill up a critical gap in our ability to judge, decide, and react.

Since there’s moral nihilism, there’s no global consensus over absolute rights and wrongs. Such consensus is impossible. This is good. This can be exploited. I get angry over stuff so easily. All it takes for me to get rid of these emotions is to internalize an alternative model of morality, and hence an alternate judgment. This trick plays really well, such that I’m able to tolerate what the most tolerant of minds couldn’t. I’m not always able to do this, especially when i’m overwhelmed with emotions already. But I’m learning with time how to kick off this defense at the most optimal time possible. Perhaps you could too.

Of the forms of Pathological Perfection

I’m driving. Something around the dashboard starts vibrating. I’m a perfectionist. I’ll do one of these:

  1. Stop the car and continue driving only after having found and fixed the source of vibration.
  2. 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.
  3. Overcome my innate tendency of obsession by not giving any attention to the noise.
  4. 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.

CONCLUSION:

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.

Justice is a human Invention

My sister is sitting on the couch for the second month, trying hard to grasp the content of her science textbook for an upcoming exam. She’s so devoted. In an era ruled by technological distraction, her behavior strikes as surprise to me. She has no direction in her life, no big ambitions. All she needs is to pass the exams and yet she continues the effort with dramatic determination.

Contrast that with me. I’ve attempted most of my exams without reading books at all, since class one. Although I wouldn’t make dramatic scores, I’d achieve more than most others. I precisely realize the downsides of my behavior, but that isn’t the topic today. What made me feel sad is the striking difference in the things different people can do, and in the efforts required to do those things. I know such diversity serves many purpose at larger scales, it still hurts. It hurts to see my sister, and others, read the same page over and over for hours just to grasp the concepts. I could blame my educational system and textbooks for that too, but again that’s not my topic today. I’m talking about the injustice that prevails across all aspects of nature.

I realized that justice, something humans talk of as a simple concept, is rather a complex invention, perhaps an innocent attempt to compensate for the absurdities and inequalities thrown upon the living by mother nature.

An invention no where else to be found.

Project 13

“I expect the least from you. You never accomplished a thing in life. I paid for your medical education, you wouldn’t even be doctor if I didn’t pay for you”, says father.

I am only 24. I graduated from medical school only last year and am doing my internship. Such statements, at best, are senseless, and at worst enough to break an otherwise harmonious self into an irreparable mess, irreparable enough to receive a diagnosis from the psychiatrist.

I was diagnosed with OCPD last year. When I was diagnosed, I tried my best to outline the key events in my life that could have messed me up. I found nothing because I couldn’t recall much from my early life. I ended up concluding that my OCPD was purely genetic, and that I could fix it if I wanted to.

Before the diagnosis, I had already worked on at least 12 major projects, all left uncompleted, for my uncompromising perfectionism and my stubbornness to continue committing to projects that I was not well qualified for. Committing to challenging tasks was my obligation. If I wouldn’t do that, I’d be very anxious, feeling that I was wasting life, a one-time privilege. After getting diagnosed, I realized that rather than abandoning my habit of targeting at extraordinary projects, I could train myself in the skills required to bring such projects to completion. I did that. I spent 4 months in learning Ruby on Rails, a web development framework. As soon as I had finished, I started working over my 13th project. Things were indeed different this time. Not only that I was now well versed in what I was doing, I now somehow knew how to keep a check over my perfectionism.

While I was still working over my 13th project, I had to travel to my family in Saudi Arabia for some reasons. That wouldn’t hurt my project as my laptop was almost my entire workstation and I could carry that workstation back home.

I knew pretty well that with OCPD ruling my behaviors, I’d have a hard time keeping balance between socializing with family and working on my project. In anticipation, I had crafted out a sophisticated task management framework to take care of just that, months before traveling back to my family and had been practicing it ever since. I started writing a dedicated journal just to keep track of this balance.

Everything was well planned with one major exception: I had overlooked the other half of the problem: My father’s OCPD.

He couldn’t endure my obsession with my project. “Are you busier than me? Can you accomplish more than me? Do you care for the family more than me? You suck”, said dear father. He made me miss important appointments at least twice. He would force me to accompany him in his usual business long drives. I was cursed badly the one time I refused to go with him because of a critical appointment. I felt so low, so worthless. I realized I had to choose between my ambitions and my family’s harmony and that I couldn’t go forward without absolute compromise in either. As someone with OCPD, I could understand my father like no one else. So I decided to keep my father smiling.

I was met with a drastic challenge: To give up my longing for engagement in any of my projects. I worked so hard to accomplish this near-impossible task. I was successful. Life came back to normal.

But today, for the third day in a row, my father cursed me for “Not having ambitions”, and because I “talk big but are practically useless” and “keep wasting time doing nothing”.  He keeps convincing me how my life is a mess, how the world is miles ahead of me and I’m wasting my life. Normally, this paradoxical behavior was bad enough to fly me into introverted rage. But fortunately, thanks to my high defenses that I had erected in anticipation, I was able to keep my temperament in check. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop myself from obsessing over my 13th project all over again. I strongly felt as if I needed to prove myself to my father, and to the world, and the project was the best way because it involved doing what I loved.

All of a sudden…

I realized I had reached to the etiology of my pathological longing for perfectionism-tainted engagement in my projects: My father.

Impulsivity – The greater evil.

Impulsivity is a fairly simple concept. If you are impulsive, you pick up tasks that lead to instant gratification and put off those which serve you only in the long run. On the same note, you pick up tasks which save you from immediate threats and put off those in which the deadline isn’t imminent. You can understand the whole concept of impulsivity very well by taking a Barrat’s Impulsivity Scale test and then listening to the psychologist’s or computer generated analysis of that.
I do not know if this disposition can somehow be reduced. I couldn’t find any hard scientific information on that. But I do know that psychotherapy largely bases on the assumption that inherent psychological tendencies can be overridden by environmental influences as well as by expert interventions. So I’ll take impulsivity as a modifiable trait too, until otherwise proved.

Impulsivity: The psychological perspective:

The concept of impulsivity was first described by psychologists purely based on their observations and experiences. The underlying neurological mechanisms were only discovered later.
Freud has used the terms Id, ego and superego to explain human drives in essentially the same tune as the concept of Impulsivity. Id represents one’s childish self which needs instant gratification and knows no past, no future. Ego represents one’s mature self. Superego is the interaction between the two. The relative development of one’s id, ego and superego determine one’s impulsivity at a given age. Freud’s Impulsivity reduces with age. For this reason children and teens always see their parents as over regulating and dictating whereas elder ones always see the younger ones as careless and valueless.

Impulsivity: Possible interventions:

From my very little understanding of psychology, I realize that no active personality manipulation is possible without the subject’s motivation. Because an impulsive person, by definition, cannot easily be motivated to do something beneficial in the long run, active interventions shouldn’t be very effective. But psychologists never give up, do they ?
To combat impulsivity induced procrastination, one strategy is breaking up of vague long term tasks into smaller more objective ones. The other is making the tasks more interesting to the procrastinator by use of what I call pseudo-rewards. An example of pseudo-reward is the score in arcade games which sounds rewarding to the player despite being useless and non-existent in the real world. I have used both of these strategies at a time when I had no idea of the whole science behind procrastination. These worked pretty well. I got academic distinctions the very few times I tried these. The question that arises here is: Why couldn’t I continue using those strategies if those were so rewarding ? Maybe that’s because you have to incorporate any working strategies into your psyche by many repetitions over time.

References: