Perfectionism and OCD often go hand in hand. Whilst some types of perfectionism can be healthy and helpful, maladaptive perfectionism pours fuel on the fire. If you struggle with OCD you may feel like you have to do something ‘just right’ before you are able to move on from an obsession. This can take many different forms depending on the particular OCD theme that you may be struggling with.
If you are dealing with pure O thoughts to do with harm, you may feel like you have to completely prove that the thoughts are wrong before you are able to truly get on with your day. Or perhaps you are struggling with contamination themes, where you feel you need to wash your hands again and again and again, until you get that just right feeling.
You may or may not see yourself as a perfectionist
You may not view yourself as a perfectionist, but I can almost guarantee you that in some way, perfectionism is playing into the OCD and making things worse. It is even possible to go a step further and argue that perfectionism is at the heart of OCD.
The need for certainty keeps people trapped in a never ending loop of rumination. Just as soon as you feel like you’ve reached a conclusion or explanation that gives you some peace regarding an obsession, a new worry or concern will suddenly appear from nowhere to take it’s place. It doesn’t matter how hard we try, we can never quite get the 100% certainty that we crave.
Perfectionism is at the heart of OCD
But this doesn’t stop us to continuing to look for it. This is why perfectionism is at the heart of OCD. So even if you don’t view yourself as a perfectionist, if you really reflect on what you are doing when you perform compulsions, you will begin to see that you are looking for a state of perfection, one in which you will know without any doubt whatsoever that the terrible thing you keep obsessing about will never happen.
Clearly in someway, despite piles of evidence to the contrary, you believe that this perfect state must be achievable. However the truth of that matter is that this perfection myth is the very thing keeping you trapped.
Learning to let go of the need for perfection is one of the hardest things to do when it comes to OCD. I think this is because it comes down to some of our core fears. The fears of rejection and abandonment that are at the bottom of so many of our neuroses.
In order to deal with these very deeply held negative beliefs we feel an urge to do things perfectly. Somehow, if we can just work hard enough we can show the world that we are good enough, strong enough, smart enough. When seen from this light we are able to recognize that many of our compulsions are not actually related to the theme of the obsession, but rather a deeper seated preoccupation of rejection.
Self-compassion can turn things around
To overcome this we must learn to shine the light of self-compassion on our fears. Only then will we be able to truly accept and move past them. Self-compassion is one of those things that routinely gets thrown around on Instagram. ‘Hey, you have to be more self-compassionate, give yourself a hug’ and you kind of think ‘yes I know this is important, but it’s so annoying, how do I actually build it?’. People often leave out the explanation for why it’s so important and what you can start doing to build it, so lets explore that.
One of my favourite ways to build self-compassion is through loving kindness mediations. Now when I first came across this type of meditation I was instantly completely put off by the name. To me back then it sounded self-indulgent, new age and a bit annoying and I wanted nothing to do with it, but thankfully I gave it a chance and I was surprised to see what an impact it had on me.
Meditation is key
If you truly want to learn to accept yourself for who you are, scars and all, then this type of meditation is for you. By routinely giving yourself loving kindness you are nourishing and accepting those parts of you that have been neglected for far too long. By bringing attention and awareness to those places you can start to release some of that need for perfection at any cost.
It isn’t going to heal everything overnight, but it is going to start to interrupt some of those unhealthy thought patterns that keep getting you stuck. If this is something that is interesting for you, I can recommend two loving kindness meditations that I think can be particularly helpful, one is by a lady named Tara Brach and another is by Jack Kornfield.
If you can get into the habit of doing a loving kindness meditation a few times a week, or even a few times a day if you’re feeling really keen, then I’m pretty sure that you are going to see a lot of benefit from that. For me one of the best ways to build self-compassion is to exercise. There is nothing quite like going for a run or a bike ride as it leaves me feeling so good afterwards.
Work out what works best for you
Why not take some time to think about healthy things that you really enjoy and make time to do it. It could be preparing a healthy meal, going for a walk, meditate, use positive affirmations or even do something creative.
Routinely taking some time to look after yourself in this way will help you to build a more positive and accepting self-image which will help you to let go of some of the unhelpful perfectionism.