Saturday, July 23, 2011

Letting Go of Self-Discipline

Goodness, I don't do well with free time.  What happens when I have a wide open expanse of time in front of me?  Well, it looks something like this.

Step 1:  Plan on getting things done - dishes, showering, laundry, decorating, etc.

Step 2:  Avoid the above because I am feeling unsure whether I am "clean enough" and am unsure of how to do complete the activities mentioned - the compulsive way or the non-compulsive way.  So, with the possibility of having to do said things the compulsive way looming in front of me, I have a hard time finding the motivation within me to just get up and face them.

Step 3:  Spend all of my free time thinking about how above tasks are not being completed while searching my soul for the drive and courage to face them.

Step 4:  Wishing I could sleep the weekend away and or find something to distract me from my avoidance and/or motivate me to actually just get things done.

That's how I've mostly spent my Saturday, and I hate it.  What's the real solution?  The self-punishing OCD side says the solution is to just get up and do all of the above in the "right" order and "right" way despite the dread that comes with having to do so.  The more logical side of me knows that I dread these things precisely because trying to get them "right" is a dangerously ever-evolving standard that can make things ever harder than they need to be with no clear sign of when things are actually "done."  When I can get myself through this obstacle course of compulsions and can meet or exceed my standards for having done "enough" work in the "right" way, I am rewarded with that elusive sense of accomplishment and productivity, but when I can't, it results in boredom, depression, and frustration.  Is it really worth it?

Getting through the rigorous list of chores I set aside for myself in the "right" way is something I'm just starting to really see as yet another compulsion.  When I think about it, it seems remarkably comparable to how I feel when I am sure I have washed my hands "perfectly" or the "right" way, no matter how long it took me to get there.  I feel complete.  I feel "right."  I feel vindicated.  I feel like the universe is as it should be and like I have passed some internal test of self-discipline and perseverance.

I'm starting to finally recognize, I think, what it is I am seeking when I perform some compulsions.  I have always had a hard time relating to the idea that OCD sufferers feel "better" when they do their compulsions and thus it is hard to resist the quick (though misguided) fix.  I see a lot of compulsions as pure hell.  I don't do them because they make me feel good - usually it's the opposite - they make me feel bad.  And if, everyday say, I can push myself to do a bunch of useless compulsions even if I hate them, then, at the end of the day, I get a sense of accomplishment that I am otherwise void of.  That's where the feeling "better" part comes in.

So I have a decision before me.  There are several paths I can take.  There is the "perfect" path - the one where I do all my chores in the "right" order at the "right" time and in the "right" way.  This is the one I beat myself up for not taking.  This is the one that I find so alluring and yet absolutely hate at the same time.  Failure to do things the "right" but compulsive way seems like proof of my inner laziness and lack of self-discipline.

But when I step back, and allow myself to think, for a moment, more rationally, I realize the challenge probably shouldn't be testing my ability to force myself to complete things the compulsive way.  No.  Instead, I should see the challenge as testing my ability to do things in a way that makes sense, whether or not it instills that sense of "perfect" self-discipline when I am done.

The third option is to avoid and procrastinate doing anything, torn between wanting to find a way to do all these things "perfectly" while despising that idea having to do things "perfectly" at the same time.  That's the path I've mainly taken today - urging myself to do small things here and there in the way that is painfully "right" (or despite the fact that I'm not sure I'm doing things the "right" way, which makes me feel decidedly "wrong").

So yes, I get so mixed up sometimes.  Sometimes forgoing the compulsions isn't the "hard" thing for me.  Rather the difficult thing is letting myself to things more "easily" and in a way that may or may not instill that since of having worked "hard" at the end of the day.  It's such a confusing paradox, but someday I hope to break free of this way of thinking.  It's an approach to life that I have adhered to for much of my life, just in different ways and in different settings.

I feel the need to test my self-discipline.  And yet I define self-discipline as getting myself to do things this arbitrary "right" way that I usually arrive at by forcing myself to do whatever it is I want to do the least.  If I sense hesitance towards having to wash this or that better, or do this task or that in a particular way, then that becomes how it "must" be done for me to get the sense of accomplishment I seek.  It's all about searching for that elusive feeling of achievement that comes from forcing myself to do things I don't want to do.

Really, I should be aspiring to self-discipline in my ERP homework.  That makes much more logical sense.  But because being "good" and doing my ERP homework doesn't feel like the same kind of hard-work and self-discipline of compulsions, I get confused.  Isn't ERP supposed to feel "hard"?  What does that mean?  It's difficult, but not in the way that forcing myself to do compulsions is difficult.  It's difficult in a strange and different way, which is why I think I often get so thrown off.  I'm waiting for that feeling of self-disciplined accomplishment to come from my ERP homework, but it doesn't, because it's not designed to create that feeling like my compulsions are.  No, my ERP homework encourages me to do the opposite - to resist seeking the strange and backwards sense of reward I get from doing things the "hard" way.  And this is something I am just now starting to realize - that doing things the "hard" way is, in some ways, the "easy" way, and that doing things the "easy" way is, in some ways, much harder for me.


  1. I keep running into "just right" feeling issues, too. Mine can seem silly, like choosing the right pen, pencil, marker, or crayon. Or blog comment to leave.

    I think of myself as lazy, because I don't even plan on getting much housework done at home. My "work" includes things like watching a movie or reading a book or knitting. Oh, and showering always counts as something, because I don't like to do it. I'm pretty sure that my "lazy" description of myself is one of the judgements my counselor wants me to let go of. But I like to set low goals in my to-do list so that I think I can cross off everything at the end of the day.

  2. Karin says:

    Yeah, i spend much more time in bed than i actually should, especially on those days when i have to do a load of laundry before i shower. I even do these chores around noon so i can shower and count it for the next day too! I hate showering. I hate the rituals i have come up with to make sure i do it the 'right' way, to come out clean. ( if i'm going to go thru the work of showering, i should come out CLEAN, right? ,not sort of clean but ABSOLUTELY, VERY CLEAN.

  3. My worst behaviour is avoidance, but for different reasons to yours. I've been thinking it's because I'm not self-disciplined or self-motivated. Like Abigail, I think of myself as lazy.

    I addressed this with my therapist just today. It turns out there's a difference between someone who chooses not to do things like housework and someone who has fears of contamination and avoidance problems and so on. So we're not lazy!

  4. Thank you for enlightening me. I always thought that compulsions were a "quick fix" for anxiety, but now I see how complicated it all can get. I wish I were smart enough to give you some advice!
    On another note, what a coincidence that you described your ERP Therapy as "doing the opposite." That is exactly what I talked about in my last post. Maybe if you try to look at your therapy in this manner, as you suggested, it will simplify things for you. Good Luck!



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