“Suffering without catharsis is nothing but wasted pain.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Catharsis is doing something effective with something that is painful.

Back in the early 90s, there was a book called The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. At the very beginning of the book, Peck explained there were two different kinds of clients he saw in his practice.  The first was the character disordered type.  Very simply, character disordered types believe NOTHING IS THEIR FAULT (No, it’s not wrong that I’m continually communicating to my ex-girlfriend about our relationship, you are just oversensitive!). On the other side of the spectrum, you have the neurotic type.  Neurotic types believe that EVERYTHING IS THEIR FAULT (I know there is something I can do to make him stop sending Facebook messages to his ex-girlfriend. I’ll try harder.)

I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but these two sides of the spectrum find each other and end up in a dance of sorts.

Neurotics are perfectionists.  I mean this in the best possible way. They are sensitive individuals, intuitive, and they can see many possible angles. So when someone says a critical remark, rather than just saying “What a crock” they weigh it out in their mind.  They believe, rightly so, each possibility should be calmly weighed before they make a final decision on a. what the person meant and b. what their response should be. This makes sense as it is good to reflect before action.   However, neurotics often reflect too long when the answer is simple:  The person is critical and critical lacks empathy, plain and simple.  Responding from this fact is helpful, internalizing is not.

Perfectionists had critical parents usually.  What a great way to keep the critical behavior low: Do Things Right. The problem is that neurotics have a sort of mental block when it comes to character disordered types, i.e. they don’t see them for what they are.  Society is the Jolly Green Giant representation of the character disordered type. The media does very little to help get perfectionists back on track, plastering ridiculous images of perfection on every billboard, telling married couples they should never get divorced no matter what, and creating workplaces so focused on making more money the expectations end up being too high to achieve. So these neurotics don’t learn that their thinking is slanted, they just feel more and more like they are the problem.

That is, until it starts to cause them so much pain they can no longer handle it.  Then they come online for help or go into therapy for help.

We need a real life example. Let’s say you are getting ready to sell your house to move into a smaller one. It’s in decent order but needs a few repairs like most houses.  You unknowingly hire a character disordered realtor with high expectations (for you). They want to make the best sale possible with the best commission. Their name is on sign, of course. At the first meeting, they notice the tiniest of flaws in the house – things like a single dent in the gutter or a crack in the sidewalk. In lieu of the fact that you know there are real repairs that need done, you begin to feel overwhelmed. You hadn’t even noticed a (slightly) dented eves spout. You are already thinking the current repairs were going to take thousands of dollars or hours of time that you don’t have. You begin to think of hiring several contractors to get everything fixed, feeling that your house really isn’t worth much. You become paranoid and kick your overworker into overdrive.

This is when you need to pause. Some therapists say, “USE YOUR ANGER”.  Say to yourself, “A dent in the eve spout? Really? A crack in the sidewalk? Come on.”  You are throwing it back out and not bringing it in.  Someone says to you, “Oh, I thought you were going to have that done already”.  (Criticism).  It’s as if neurotics need to be a little more like the character disordered types.  They need to say, even if only in their mind because arguing with character disordered types is often a poor way to spend your time, “Really, I thought you were going to stop worrying about what I’m doing.”  And mean it.

Character disordered types spot neurotic types like a lion sees a fawn down in the valley. Lunch time. They know how to get them working (so they get a better commission or attention or control or power or to keep anyone from noticing their own flaws).  Character disordered types lack the ability to self-reflect, whereas neurotic types over reflect.  Therapy is all about bringing these extremes into the middle.

Therapists say, “Don’t internalize.” That means handing the criticism back to the person who handed it out. This can all be in your mind, but you don’t take it on and become perfectionistic.  Seeing through the manipulative nature of these kinds of people definitely helps.  In fact, it’s essential.