Highly sensitive people experience very strong emotions. Sometimes these emotions can be so overwhelming that they impair these people’s ability to maintain their composure and function at their best. In attempt to prevent the consequences that come with this loss, many of these people do not express these emotions and hope that others do not as well.
People with OCPD may be closed to the expression of certain emotions because their all-or-nothing thinking hyperbolizes the consequences of losing their composure.
Many people with OCPD have adopted the wrong idea from their past that some of their human emotions are unacceptable. They may have once expressed those emotions freely, but were punished with hurtful consequences. Those consequences, however small, were then magnified by their unmerciful all-or-nothing thinking.
People with OCPD then fall for another one of their tendencies: they make it a rule not to express those emotions. Even though it is a difficult rule to follow, people with OCPD do a good job following it because of their strong work ethic.
But to their frustration, it appears that everyone else seems to be breaking that rule. This can feel so unfair to people with OCPD. They question, “Why am I the only person who makes the effort to keep myself controlled?”
If the answer to this question comes from their all-or-nothing thinking, many of these frustrated people will judge that it is because others are “weak.” This is a very dangerous judgment for people with OCPD to make because they will eventually judge themselves in the same way when they break their own rule. This then leads to perfectionism and guilt.
The emotion that I have so much difficulty handling is anger. My father, like many other traditional Asian men, did not let me express this emotion because his culture taught him that speaking in an angry tone around elders is disrespectful. He would shut me up and I would be left feeling unheard and invalidated. I learned from him that the only way I would be taken seriously is if I suppress this emotion, communicate in a controlled manner, and validate all my points with logical reasoning.
After functioning out of this condition for so long, I have become a very controlled communicator. I carefully manage my choice of words, the tone of my voice, my body language, and the expression on my face as I construct what I want to say. Many times, my service of containing my emotions has saved others from becoming over-stimulated while we discuss sensitive topics. Giving others no reason to get defensive, I have been able to efficiently debate with others and be heard.
But others do not seem to work as hard as I do in controlling this emotion. They use offensive words, raise their voice, position their body as if they about to fight, roll their eyes, flare their nostrils, etc. I then quietly judge them in my mind. “You are so weak. How can you possibly think that your offensive language and tone of voice strengthen your pathetic argument? You are not worth listening to!” But as they keep on expressing this emotion that I never got to express, my anger builds up inside of me until I cannot hold it in any longer. I explode. Extreme guilt then follows as I tell myself how weak and pathetic I am.
Now I am moving towards handling anger in a healthier way through a process of forgiving my father and teaching myself that what I have to say does matter, regardless of the perfection of my communication. Along the way, I am also becoming more compassionate for those who express anger.
SO WHAT NOW?
HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OCPD):
Be open to others about your difficulty in handling their expression of certain emotions. Let them know how you feel. Let them know your boundaries. Ask them kindly to be more sensitive to you.
HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OTHERS):
When you catch your OCPD friend breaking one of his or her own emotional non-expression rules, let him or her know that it’s ok. Fight against his or her guilt. Help him or her realize that the consequences of his or her loss of composure are not as bad as his or her all-or-nothing thinking makes them out to be. If your OCPD friend gets upset at you for breaking one of his or her emotional non-expression rules, be strong and do not allow yourself to feel guilt. Let your OCPD friend know that you prefer to give yourself more freedom to express your emotions. Let him or her know that the consequences of your emotional expression are not as bad as he or she thinks.
HOW TO FIND FREEDOM IN EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION (OCPD):
Think about that time when you adopted the wrong idea that it was unacceptable to express your emotions. What did you tell yourself? Understand that your all-or-nothing judgments were inaccurate. Forgive the person who made you feel that you should have never expressed those emotions. Tell yourself that you deserve to express those emotions just like everybody else. Whenever you feel those emotions come, face your fears and try to express them. If guilt follows, tell yourself that it’s ok.