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Too Perfect

Too Perfect: When being in control gets out of control. Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeannette DeWyze.
Fawcett Columbine, New York (published by Ballantine Books) July 1993. 210 pages.

I took this small paperback out of my local library. A few minutes later I started reading it on the subway—shocked and relived by what I found. This book could have been written specifically for me! And most of my Family! I felt peace, reassurance, gratitude. Someone out there really and truly understands me (us)!

I scanned the list of 13 personality traits that belong to "Perfectionism": and recognized myself in 11 of those 13 items ("A fear of making errors". "A strong devotion to work". "An inclination to worry") So much of this material fit me 'perfectly'.

Now, a superficial observer might think that an entrenched perfectionist with a devotion to work would have a perfect and perfectly organized life. On the contrary! There is excellent material in this small but thorough book on various aspects of self-sabotage, including clutter and hoarding. "Perfectionists...tend to procrastinate because all tasks loom large when they have to be done flawlessly." Does this sound like someone you know? Or....take this observation: "Some perfectionists....are crippled by the fear that they may make an irreversible error in throwing something away." This book is full of wise and powerful information on the "dark side to ... perfection."

Likewise, the chapter on Demand-Sensitivity and Demand-Resistance was a revelation to me. I never understood why something as simple as a "Daily To Do" List (or a magazine how-to article) could cause me such guilt, turmoil, and irritation!

There is also wonderfully liberating material for The Thinkaholic—those who are prone to worry, rumination and doubt. I recognized myself in this description: one "whose keen hyperactive mind all too often bogs her down in painful worry and rumination." Just as some of us have homes cluttered beyond belief with a surplus of things, a chronic thinker fills her mind with cascades of useless and destructive thoughts, unable to "turn off the flow of concentrated observation, analysis, and reflection."

This book also includes insightful material on Orderliness and Rigidity. Many messies alternate between total chaos and total sterility, finding it hard to imagine any middle ground of normalcy. The authors advise that it is possible to "aim for average" but many obsessives get bogged down in "all or nothing" thinking. It must be perfect, or why even bother?

Too Perfect is not a fluffy self-help book full of sentimental or inspiring anecdotes; it does not offer a feel-good pain-free pat-on-the back. The tone is sometimes dry, always concise, occasionally technical, never superficial. It includes case-histories of many real-life patients: troubled, obsessive perfectionists who were able to change—doctors, bankers, teachers, physical therapist, sales representatives, all hard-working intelligent folks. The author hopes to help other intelligent, hard-working folks through the printed page: "I believe that my readers' most important tool will be understanding--coming to a clearer and deeper awareness of obsessive traits and of how they may be causing problems in everyday life." This book is ultimately about hope: "a starting point to positive change."


Consider the procrastinator who feels angry at his "laziness"—unaware that the real reason he is unable to undertake tasks is that his need to do them flawlessly makes them loom impossibly large ~ Dr. Allan Mallinger, M.D., Too Perfect: When being in control gets out of control