Discovering Overcontrol: a client’s story
When I first read the RO-DBT manual, I was blown away. In a sense, I felt comforted, knowing that I was not the only one who struggled with OC (overcontrol) tendencies. I remember reading descriptions of individuals who could benefit from the treatment, and I recall thinking, “Oh my god, that’s me!” Everything made more sense.
After all, I was a pro at masking my inner feelings. I always downplayed the negative rather than overstated the positive. I “noticed the trees but missed the forest.” A book misaligned on a bookshelf triggered anxiety and I can’t even tell you how many times I rearranged my bookshelf (and closet) over the years. I had a lot of frames in my room, and if the corner angle was not 90 degrees, it made me feel uncomfortable, and I just had to fix it properly. I despised messy environments, bottled up my anger until it led to self-injury, and had high standards for myself and others.
I enjoyed activities with greater self-control and discipline. I preferred horseback riding and was terrified of team activities, especially team sports. I falsely believed that happiness “must be earned and leisure time must be self-improving” and that my self-worth was based on my performance at school and work.
I didn’t take risks because I was so afraid of making mistakes, and I was proud of my fierce independence. I had a hard time with self-disclosure, could tolerate an incredible amount of distress, and experienced a whole lot of shame. I felt alienated from my family, sacrificed my needs constantly, and to top it all off, spent my teenage years wallowing in self-pity, writing romanticized stories about death and suicide, and becoming enveloped in feelings of despair.
In the past, whenever someone described me as “perfectionistic, cautious, disciplined, structured, conscientious, reserved, dutiful and restrained,” I felt immense pride. However, after years of suffering and learning about maladaptive overcontrol, I realized that I did not want those adjectives to define my whole person. Although being cautious and disciplined was helpful in some instances, I needed to find a middle path. I believed that RO-DBT could help me achieve that.
I’ve come a long way, and it’s been a few years since I first read the RO-DBT manual. For example, I no longer feel the need to have a perfectly aligned bookshelf. In fact, I’ve even taken the habits of stacking books all over the place! I’ve also stopped folding my clothes after each time I do laundry, and I’m not sure it’s a good habit to have! I am getting better at expressing my anger, and mindfulness skills have been helpful for that. I leave my dishes in the sink sometimes, and am OK with that – and thankfully, have understanding roommates! My self-injury has decreased, and I’m learning to lower my standards.
I’m currently looking forward to joining a team sport for the first time and make it a point to engage in one leisure activity per week. Watercolor painting, as frustrating as it can be, is teaching me that it’s okay to let go and not be in control all the time. Art is a fantastic way to challenge my perfectionism.
I’m taking more risks. For example, I’m submitting my writing to different publications, and learning to be rejected – which is truly not the end of the world. I have a solid support system, and lots of people who love me, and are part of my tribe. ?
I have not written sad poetry for a few years now and try my best not to wallow in self-pity. I’m hopeful about the future – and am looking forward to practicing my skills. Some of my favourite include Flexible Mind has HEART and Flexible Mind VARIEs.
RO-DBT is a new treatment that is not currently available to many. I’m so grateful that I can benefit from its approach, and I love practicing self-enquiry. I’m grateful for my group leaders and therapist who support me unconditionally.
It’s fair to say that the last decade has been a rollercoaster of pleasing, performing and perfecting. However, I’m not buying it anymore. That’s not how I want to spend the rest of my life.
They say sometimes that transitions happen with big events, like birthdays, marriages, and graduations. But sometimes change happens with the smaller events…like the time you allow yourself to have a solo dance party when your roommates aren’t home, or the first time you prioritize your sleep over schoolwork, or try something new, or allow yourself to cry after not allowing yourself to do so for ages. Events can be small and significant.
Recently, I’ve concluded that I have this one in a lifetime opportunity to build a life that I care about, a life worth living, worth sharing, with joy and meaning. A lot of people will never, never have that chance. It’s such a privilege, your quality of life. So, I’m going to admit my mistakes, practice self-enquiry and grow. I’m going to love myself, others, and embrace what the world has to offer.