The obsessive compulsive’s primary way of dealing with life is by thinking. As a young child the OC decided that to survive in the world one must think. It was chosen as the way to deal with things and solve problems. The opposite to this is the hysteric personality type who has decided to deal with the world by feeling, the young child decided that this is the way to deal with the world and to solve problems. Hence, to put it somewhat unkindly the hysteric is an ‘airhead’ who can’t think and the OC is ‘dead from the neck down’ who cannot feel.
Sometimes the hysteric and OC will marry each other because they are attracted by the other having the thing which they feel complements them and provides the thing they do not have. Needless to say they can end up in counselling at some point.
As with all personality types the goal is not to change the OC personality into something else. Firstly, what would it be to changed it into? Everybody has a personality and it must be of a particular type. It is impossible to not have a personality type. There is no such thing as the ‘normal’ personality type - which is probably a very good thing. Instead there are the following personality types:
As you can see there is no ‘normal’ personality type defined.
Is it possible to have the normal personality type?
The goal is to modify how the personality type is expressed such that it is used in life to help the person rather than to cause them difficulties. For example the person piloting the plane of which I am a passenger I want to be an OC. The surgeon about to cut into me on the operating table I want to be of an obsessive compulsive personality type. As you can see there are occupations where it is a positive to be able to think, be very precise and orderly. On the other hand the hysteric can be a good people person because they can be outgoing, and the ‘life of the party’. They can work well in public relations or other occupations like sales.
OC and indecisiveness
Of course if not managed well then there can be a downside to each of the personality types. For example one feature of some OCs is indecisiveness where the thinking results in problems rather than having a positive outcome. The cause of this indecisiveness provides a good illustration of the decision making process. The decision making process is diagrammed below as a four part process.
The decision making process
The person initially receives information via the Adult ego state. Next they internally listen to what the Parent and Child ego states have to say about the information and then the Adult makes a decision based on these three pieces of information. For example the person may be deciding on whether to take a new job.
1. The Adult gets all the information like the job description, level of pay, place of work and so forth.
2.The Parent then makes its assessments about the job. It may think, is it a good job such as helping people by being a counsellor or a not so good job like becoming a tree logger that destroys the forrest.
3. Next the Child has its input. It may think that it likes the tree logging job because it pays much more and you get to be outside a lot rather than sitting in an office all day.
4. The Adult then assesses these three pieces of information and makes its decision.
In good decision making this process is meant to happen. With the OC it can fall down in two ways. Firstly the OC can overwhelm self by over researching. In part 1 of the process they simply get a mass of information. Due to their insecurity they think the more information they have the better informed decision they can make. What actually happens is they get swamped by a tsunami of information. For example in deciding which new car to buy the OC can get lost in all the technical information of the various models. As the saying goes, “They loose sight of the forrest for the trees”. They loose sight of the overall picture and find it hard to make a decision.
FC mud therapy for the OC?
The second way the OC can be indecisive involves the third part of the process. Due to their inability to access feelings and remain only with thinking they can loose contact with the Child ego state. If the choices are reasonably equal then the Free Child has the answer. The Free Child knows what is the right decision for the person. Those who are out of touch with the Free Child, like the OC can be, find it hard to make a decision because they lack the Free Child input.
OC and family relationships
I recall counseling a couple where the wife was an OC. She had strong needs for cleanliness and also strong contamination fears. The husband liked to garden but was never allowed to use any pesticides or chemicals in the garden. If he ever entered the kitchen or prepared any food he would be watched very closely. She tried to not make it obvious but he knew he was being closely watched on everything he did in the kitchen. She was very scared of possible contaminations by not cleaning correctly and ‘improper’ food preparation.
However the outcome of this was that his domestic life was significantly effected. He did not want her to feel anxious which meant he had to behave in very specific ways in his own home. This is an aspect of the OC that often does not get much consideration. The family dynamics aspect of treating the OC. The OC can end up with a very controlling presence in the family and home and those living there will have to adjust in some way. That can either be a sympathetic response where they become controlled in the home or there can be an angry response to the restraints where little consideration is given to the OCs fears.
This is a very real and difficult situation which can lead to marital and family breakdown where there are no winners. The OC has real and at times strong anxieties about what are usually mundane things in the home. On the other hand it is not fair for the various family members to have to live in a home that can be highly restrictive and indeed tense. When working with the OC, at times it is wise to meet with the other family members to find out the family situation and how they cope with it.
Obsessions and compulsions as a defense mechanism
Whenever I meet a client who tells me how they are constantly on the go, always doing things and never seems to have any spare time the first thing I think is, “What are they hiding from”. One way to avoid painful feelings or memories is to distract self. If one has a very full and busy life that can be a technique for distraction. Another way to do it is to have obsessive thinking. One way to keep painful feelings out of the conscious is to repress them with obsessive thinking. There is no space left for them to come up into the conscious.
The counselling approach here is clear and is often needed with the OC. Ask the client,
“If you stopped obsessing what would happen?”
“If you had to sit still and not do any thing what would happen?”
Most report some kind of feeling would come up which they are trying to avoid. With most OC client’s the therapist is wanting them to start feeling and expressing their emotions. If they achieve this then they tend to start to relax more and the obsessions and compulsions lessen.