Denying flaws in oneself requires psychological gymnastics of striving for perfection at all costs or displacing imperfection (hostility, disapproval) onto others. In both cases, feelings of defectiveness and vulnerability have been buried. Although compulsive personalities can be demanding, they expect the same or more of themselves and feel responsible to prevent minor mistakes and major disasters. The anxiety of this enormous task is avoided by intellectualizing and taking pride in strict standards. Guarded people are less demanding of themselves because they displace (project) their flaws and self-loathing onto others. Resulting tension is handled by lashing out, and the loss of relationships is replaced with pride in independence and decisiveness. Five or more items marked below suggests that the self has been disenfranchised of its right to err.
ORIGIN OF PROBLEMS
People with these characteristics had controlling parents with high or unrealistic standards—“You must do better to be worthwhile” or “You must be special, different, and loyal, but you are inherently flawed.” Both types may take on characteristics of their cruel or controlling parent(s) to keep the “defective” parts of themselves in check. Guarded people may find that being a good, lovable person is so far out of reach that, as adults, they avoid intimacy unless they can control partners or they choose sadistic partners who recreate their childhood drama. Compulsive people generally had consistent discipline and could escape punishment by meeting demands. They may choose free-spirited, loving partners who represent the side of themselves that they suppress.
Compulsive personalities are often first-born and even as infants can have difficulty experiencing pleasure. Guarded people may be predisposed to overrespond to their environment and have difficulty inhibiting impulses (to strike out) under stress.
THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE
Modifying high standards, allowing emotions, and being more accepting and less attacking can be threatening. Such changes can make you feel defective and vulnerable. However, staying the same creates self-fulfilling prophecies that your significant others will not succeed or betray you. Recognizing what you are doing is a giant step forward. No matter how good you are at meeting your standards or scrutinizing others, you will have moments of great tension. These are opportunities for growth. Keep a journal of upsetting incidents and use them to turn inward and identify what others’ behavior means about you.
Directions: Mark any of the thoughts that you get in your worst moments. Then, identify beliefs you would like to have and affirm these new ideas regularly.
Turn Defeating Thoughts into
Beliefs That Promote Change
I’m unimportant if I don’t get my way.
I still count even when I don’t get my way.
I’m weak or a loser If I don’t defend myself.
My power comes from understanding others.
I’m stupid or foolish if I’m deceived.
Deception is caused by others’ dishonesty.
I’m defective or guilty if I’m corrected.
I have the right to cry and be illogical.
I’m a failure if I don’t make things go right.
I’m responsible only for my part.
Thoughts of entitlement
Accepting, responsible beliefs
People should accept me as I am.
People can love me without liking all of me.
I should get what I want.
I can ask for what I want and negotiate.
I shouldn’t have to . . . .
I can take care of myself, do my part, and say “No.”
I should be able to release all my anger.
I can turn my anger into effective action.
Others cause my anger.
I’m responsible for how I handle my anger.
Others are too sensitive.
Understanding others gives me choices.
Generalizations and distortions
Observant, curious beliefs
People are evil, greedy, out to get me.
There are reasons for the worst behavior.
All men (women) are . . . .
I can see differences in people.
I cannot trust anyone.
I can learn whom and find people to trust.
I know what others feel without asking.
Assuming without asking is asinine.
The worst will happen.
Most of my “catastrophes” don’t happen.
Perfectionist, rigid thoughts
Realistic, flexible beliefs
I’m better than others.
I’m as good as others and they’re as good as I.
My way is the best.
There are many good ways of doing things.
Things are either right or wrong.
I can respond when I don’t like others’ actions.
People should be appreciative, courteous. hardworking, fair, good drivers, etc.
Others don’t have to live by my rules and can experience the consequences of their mistakes.
It will be easier to identify your defeating thoughts by intentionally creating situations that bring them to the surface. Pick any of the following exercises that sound hard or distasteful and find a family member or friend to be your coach.