I am what is known as a “frozen perfectionist.” I was diagnosed with OCD as an adult, after discussing my childhood with a therapist after losing a child (the symptoms got too bad to ignore). I finally found out why I obsess over nearly everything but some of the symptoms didn’t add up. I started researching self help and found the term frozen perfectionist- when a perfectionist gets so afraid of failure, they can’t move forward. When I found that, it summed where I was in life. I wanted to go back to school, was too afraid of what could happen. I had a rough draft of a novel- I was too afraid to go any further. I had tons of dreams but I was so afraid of failing, I was stuck working in a dead end job afraid of going after anything better.
The book that changed me was “Stop Self Sabotage.” It made me stop and really start looking at my own issues. When I was 18 and a college freshman, I had confidence. I knew I had my life in front of me and since I was out of my parents’ rule, I had freedom. I messed up and starting skipping classes. That led to me being put out on academic suspension and I was talked into dropping out instead of going back the next semester. That summer, I started dating an old friend from high school who literally beat the confidence out of me. It took me two years to get away from him but in that time, I was shattered. I wasn’t “allowed” to open the business I wanted to open (even though my plan impressed the woman at the SBA so much I would have gotten the loan immediately). I wasn’t “allowed” to go back to school- if he was unable to graduate, I wouldn’t be able to either- he was “insanely intelligent” and I wasn’t- so if he couldn’t do it, I couldn’t. I dealt with tear downs along with those subtle insults for 2 years until I finally got him to kick me out of the house (after he cheated) and took advantage to finally break up with him fully. By that time, I was 21 and a wreck. It compounded on my own perfectionist traits.
What exactly is “Frozen Perfectionism?”
A frozen perfectionist is someone born with the perfectionist traits who goes untreated for too long and finds themselves frozen in fear- fear of failing and fear of moving forward for whatever reason. It could be considered a side effect of OCD/OCD perfectionism. This has become a nonresearched opinion due to not finding my original sources. The term that is now coming up is perfection paralysis- but it’s the same concept.
What is OCD Perfectionism?
OCD and perfectionism do not always go hand in hand BUT they do in a lot of cases. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not the quirk of needing everything organized or being really neat. That is a quirk, OCD is an Anxiety Disorder that causes random and truly meaningless (and often totally out there) thoughts- they become obsessions then that leads to a most of the time unrelated compulsion to do something and that will “prevent” the obsession from happening. (As in- fear of your child dying, it becomes a near- phobic obsession that you cannot shake. In order to prevent your child from dying, your anxiety tells you you have to count every step you take. Counting quickly eases the anxiety but now you’re stuck in the trap of having to count every single step you take at all times- otherwise your child will die.
That is the reality of OCD- it’s not a funny little joke, it’s a really severe Anxiety disorder that needs treatment (NOT medication)
Perfectionism also involves a lot of anxiety. It’s an obsession with everything being perfect. It’s the obsessive need to be the best- at everything and anything that does not come naturally is to be given up.
The kid sitting in the front of the class who studies all the time, finishes his test earlier than the rest of the class and still gets straight As is likely not a perfectionist. The kid in the back who writes a few words, erases, writes a tiny bit more and frantically tries to make his writing absolutely perfect while failing tests due to incomplete responses is more likely to be a perfectionist.
Perfectionism can go far enough to be an actual mental disorder- when the desire becomes obsession and anxiety takes over with every failure. That’s where perfectionist paralysis comes in. It’s when the fear of failing is so strong, you freeze in order to protect yourself. You’re unable to complete projects (like my novel) because you’re so afraid of failing, you get stuck.
How I am Trying to Battle OCD Perfectionism Without Professional Help
I was diagnosed at 26, after losing a baby. My OCD had got so bad, I was afraid of carrying my living child up or down the stairs. I started grief therapy to handle losing Cassie and started talking to her about my childhood. After mentioning some quirks I have held my whole life, she told me Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I started studying deeper into it and found it to describe my whole life.
She also told me to run from anyone who tried to medicate me because it needs treatment but not medication. She also gave me the advice that helped me more than anything else-
When your brain is stressing- ask yourself, is this a worry a “normal” person would feel or is it the OCD/Anxiety?
I started reading self help books about OCD and ran across Stop Self Sabotage. I ignored the advice that you need to be under a professional’s care to do exposure therapy, and so far, I’ve kicked a phobia of driving and am working on the fear I have of failing. I started cold pitching to different sites and magazines and in a few cases, I have even pitched and applied to places I knew would reject me so I could start to get used to being rejected before my book is ready to be published.
I also have started asking trusted sources if a thought is normal or I try to put myself in a normal person’s shoes.
Those have been helping me personally and I’m going longer and longer periods of time without the OCD acting up. I have read OCD is one mental illness that can totally clear up on it’s own, so I’m hoping with time I can fully kick it for good.
My Tips For Dealing With OCD On Your Own
- Step back and think- when you have an obsessive thought, try to determine if it’s a legitimate thought or if it’s anxiety
- Remember, above all, OCD is an ANXIETY disorder
- The compulsions are NOT going to help- when you learn your obsessions, identify them and avoid the compulsions. They ease anxiety, BUT it hurts your recovery.
- The best way to recover from OCD is to avoid compulsions and ride out the anxiety. Once you see that the bad won’t happen, it slowly eats away at the obsession until there is nothing left.
- It’s hard, and you may need a therapist but riding out the anxiety (through exposure therapy) is the best way to recover
Look at Perfectionism as a form of OCD- it’s an obsessive need to be perfect. Slowly expose yourself to failing and being seen as imperfect. Me blogging is part of my self therapy. Not being seen as perfect helps as exposure therapy and over time, perfectionism can be overcome.
*Side note- I started this post months ago and have been working on adding to it and finalizing it but since then, I lost all sources I found that mentioned “frozen perfectionist” so I can’t link to a proper definition. I believe the term that keeps popping up now is “Perfection Paralysis“*
Also- with any anxiety or mental health problem, you do need to have a diagnosis to deal with things like Obsessive Compulsive. Perfectionism is not a mental disorder in and of itself, but it can turn into one.