January 28, 2012

OCD and The Doormat

OCD is prevalent in so many areas of my life......it’s not just limited to obsessing about my sexual orientation and my “significant other” relationships.  I have a major problem with taking too much responsibility in relationships.  And that goes for ANY of my relationships.  I obsess about a lot of my relationships with people......friends, acquaintences, family members – you name it.  It’s not just isolated to my boyfriends (when I am actually in a relationship).  Frankly, I cannot tolerate having anyone mad at me.  I cannot tolerate making any mistakes in any of my relationships, and I have a very difficult time if I don’t interact “perfectly” with them.  What, you may wonder is my worst fear surrounding these obsessions?  Usually my fear is that the individual will be mad at me and won’t tell me and then some other horrible thing will happen.....she/he will stop being friends with me, I will get fired from a job, the whole relationship will just be a lie and that will all confirm the worst, - that I actually am the horrible, awful person that my core beliefs tell me.  It will all be proven true.   

The problem with this type of obsessing, is that it makes me a TOTAL and COMPLETE doormat.  If ever there is a sniff of conflict with anyone I have a relationship with, I immediately jump to the worst case scenario and then blame myself.  I COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING ELSE TO PREVENT IT FROM HAPPENING.  I could have been calmer, a better communicator, more mature, less driven, less controlling, and in general just MORE PERFECT.  It causes big problems because it is the absolute opposite of acceptance of myself, imperfections and all, and it also just creates anxiety and anger towards that person because I constantly feel like a victim of my own fears. 

The two compulsions that I associate with this type of obsessing are reassurance seeking, and checking/mental reviewing.  Soooo many times I will call several friends and have to tell them the whole story about a situation where conflict has ensued, and get their reassurance that I was in fact right and the other person was wrong.  (Because if I was wrong then that would mean that I am a horrible person and FOR SURE my worst case scenario will come true!).  I also spend hours and hours ruminating over the situation, re-playing it in my mind thinking to myself “what could I have done differently?  Is she wrong?  Am I wrong?  If I could just be more patient, or less controlling, maybe this wouldn’t have happened  etc etc.  This type of thinking just leads me down a horrible path feeling horrible about myself, and blaming myself for everything that goes wrong in my life. 

I’ve really been struggling with this type of obsessing regarding a relationship I have with another woman (let's call her Jane) I am working on a project with.  We just do not “mesh”.  Jane clearly does not like me, and though she has never said so, she certainly acts like it through her communication with me.  She is, however, only one woman, and really not that important to the whole project.  But it doesn’t matter, because all I do is obsess that because she and I clearly do not work well together, I may get kicked off of the project.  I worry that she will tell her boss (a colleague of mine), and that my entire reputation and all the work that I have done will be called into question.  I am driven to talk to all of my friends and get reassurance, or talk to her boss (and pre-emptively get reassurance that I’m “safe”).  Jane and I had a very cold email interaction this week, in which I made an attempt to very gently put up a boundary.  She did not take well to that, and responded very coldly and did not answer any of the questions that I asked her.  The email interaction sent my anxiety sky-rocketing, and all I have done since then is review the email correspondence and look for ways that perhaps I could have done something different to prevent her from getting upset.  Here's the thing:  there's ALWAYS something that I could have done better, so I just cannot win with that game, because upon review I can always find something that I did wrong which just ends up in endlessly beating myself up and blaming myself for the crappy interaction. 

I need to get a handle on this obsessing.  I have tried to realize that I have to live with the uncertainty that yes, my worst case scenario may happen.  I may get kicked off the project, and it might be all my fault, and I will have to live with guilt and regret.  I need to start empowering myself because like any other type of OCD, this is a slippery slope.  People can practically behave however they want to me, and I start to cave over the smallest of things because I don’t want to take the chance that it could be my fault, my responsibility if we have conflict.  The sad reality about this is that people lose respect for me and I end up scared to have relationships and try for things that I care about because all it does is cause anxiety.  This is a tough one. 
Does anyone else struggle with this issue?  If so, how do you handle it? 


  1. Oh, yeah, I deal with this, and it's a hard one.

    I don't want people to dislike me, and I don't like to face conflict head on. If I do, I end up feeling like I'm a mean, bad person.

    But I've gotten a lot better about it.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote about taking on too much of the responsibility of the relationship. I do this too, quite often. If there's any conflict, I think it must be my fault.

    Years ago, when I was single and I had not started dating the man who would become my husband, this kind of thing defined my relationships. I let people run all over me, and then I felt guilty for not doing things differently.

    What happened, though, is that I gradually got really tired of being treated like a doormat. I started to care less about what people thought of me. I can't explain how the changes came about except that I think I became more comfortable with who I was. And I got pissed off at other people who treated me and others like dirt.

    I didn't have a "aha" moment. But as things have happened in my life, such as the death of my father, I have begun to prioritize things differently.

    I still worry a little about what people like my co-workers think about me. I hear them talk about others behind their backs and I know they will probably talk about me. But I quickly move to a place where I don't care. I have no control over them.

    I saw a title of a self-help book one time. I never read the book, but I loved the title: "What You Think of Me Is None of My Business."

    I think with your co-worker, you set a boundary because you believed that was what you needed to do. How she reacts is not under your control. You need to do what you need to do to do a good job and be the person you want to be. That is all you need to do.

    Sorry this comment is so rambling. Just know I understand what you're talking about, and I wish I had a good answer!

  2. Hi Pure O. I'm so sorry, what you describe is very tormenting. It is not something I struggle with all the time, but I definitely have had some of this.

    One of the reasons that I struggle with this is that I feel that because I am a Christ follower it is my responsibility to always treat people lovingly. Now I do agree with that, but at the same time, I'm not sure that means I should be a doormat either. And I leave myself very little room for just being human and making mistakes.

    I don't know if this is helpful or not, but perhaps you can try (it's hard, I know) to look at this as a third party. If a friend came over to you and described the same situation, what advice would you give her? How do you think she should respond if it was her in that scenario? Anyway, just a thought.

    I also get the struggle you have about feeling like a terrible person. Oh, how that thought torments me! I'm afraid of being horrible, and I'm also afraid that people will say I am a Christian hypocrite and a fake, and even worse than that, I'm afraid I really am a hypocrite and a fake. But you know, when I'm in my non-OCD mind, I think I can see that not being perfect does not make me or you horrible people. We're just regular people trying to do the best we can in spite of a terrible, terrible illness.

  3. I do have this issue sometimes. Mostly I just wait for time to pass. I know I'll ruminate for about 30 minutes to, say, 8 hours, and then let it go. Just last night, I went to my sister's house. I brought a ton of great Thai takeout. I also brought egg rolls that I love. No one else liked them. So of course, on the way home I thought about nothing but those darned egg rolls.

    But it sounds like in your case, you could try two things: one, a CBT approach where you write down your worst case scenario outcomes, then look at some alternate outcomes, and contemplate the realistic likelihood of the worst case ones. Probably actually quite low.

    Then you also work the ERP side, where you don't let yourself go over the emails/conversations, etc, and you especially don't let yourself make followup emails/phone calls/conversations or check in with friends about it.

    Easy, right?! :)

  4. Thanks everyone!
    Ann - yes I think ERP is the only answer here. The CBT just ends up being reassurance for me. Because it COULD happen - so it doesn't matter that it might not or probably won't happen. This for me is probably one of my biggest struggles with OCD!!!

  5. Hey Pure O!

    I just now stumbled upon your blog, and it amazes me how much we are alike. I don't think anyone can truly understand what another pure O sufferer is going through unless you've been there. I applaud you for sharing your story, for I feel that more people need to be educated on this type of OCD.

    It's hard to explain this to anyone without them thinking you're crazy or a closeted lesbian.

    I use to as a younger girl, worry about what people think about me, and still do to a point. I eventually (lots of time) 'learned' that it is not possible to please everyone. Obsessing about what we don't want to obsess about is what we pure O'ers are good at.

    I'm excited about your blog, and definitely will be keeping up on it. You are doing awesome on your progress!

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