The Destructiveness of Perfectionism

Thanks to Gardner Campbell for leading me to this article: The destructiveness of perfectionism: Implications for the treatment of depression.

Through the lens of three suicides by “remarkably” talented individuals, Sidney Blatt differentiates productive treatment of depression for “anaclitic” patients, who are “preoccupied with the quality of their interpersonal relationships,” from effective treatment for patients with an “introjective form of psychopathology,” or the self-critics who are high-level perfectionists. The former respond relatively well to “brief treatments” while the latter (that’s me) do not…but they/we do respond to long-term, intensive treatment.

It’s a dense article and I’m still connecting all the dots, but the closing paragraph recaps the most important point:

“…perfectionistic, highly self-critical individuals who have intense investment in issues of self-definition, self-control, and self-worth, although relatively unresponsive to a number of different forms of short-term treatment including medication, appear to be quite responsive to long-term, intensive, psychodynamiocally oriented therapy in both inpatient and outpatient settings.”

The longer description of “introjective psychopathologies” is important too because, while the article is also concerned with how society can support those individuals so they can “continue their important contributions,” I’m not in that group  of “remarkable” people for whom society should feel some collective obligation…but I am absolutely in the same clinical class, to wit:

“…a second group or configuration of disorders can be identified as introjective psychopathologies that include disorders in which primary concerns with establishing and maintaining a viable sense of self range from establishing a basic sense of separateness, to a preoccupation with autonomy and control, to more complex internalized issues of self-worth. These patients primarily use counteractive defenses (e.g., projection, rationalization, intellectualization, doing and undoing, reaction formation, and overcompensation). Introjective patients are more ideational and concerned with establishing, protecting and maintaining a viable self-concept than they are about the quality of their interpersonal relations or about achieving feelings of trust, warmth, and affection. Issues of anger and aggression, directed toward the self and/or others, are usually central to their difficulties.”

This so exactly describes me that if I were only a little more paranoid I’d think they’d looked through my records.

The question for me is: what do I do? I suspect that, almost by definition and supported by my own experimental evidence using myself as subject, being my own therapist isn’t going to work. But there’s nowhere for me to get the intense treatment the article recommends, particularly when I consider Blatt’s findings regarding the difficulty this group has  establishing a positive therapeutic relationship.

Profit is a Dead Weight

Lucro è peso morto: Profit is a dead weight

Found at the end of Marianne Moore’s poem “To Victor Hugo of My Crow Pluto” in a section where she provides “impromptu equivalents for esperanto madinusa (made in U.S.A.) for those who might not resent them.”

Reading Log: A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)

I read somewhere that Fredrik Backman’s classically heartwarming novel A Man Called Ove grew out of a curmudgeonly character he introduced in his popular blog that had readers clamoring for more. The roots of this can be seen in the structure of the book, which is told in a braid of vignettes from past and present, each of which could easily be a (well-written) blog entry.

I’m a sucker for stories of curmudgeons and the history of tragedy that is usually employed to make sense of how they got that way; I’m generally less enamored with the inevitable revelations of those same curmudgeon’s heart of gold and their secret, not-so-misanthropic life. But I’ll admit this book, despite a rough start, hooked me. It probably helped that I listened to the novel on long, solitary drives to and from the small town where I spent much of my late childhood and to which I’d only returned twice in the last 25 years, so I was prone to pondering my own curmudgeonliness and my own small dark heart.

At any rate, despite the umbrage of my internal critic about the formulae for a work that is rightly called “heartwarming,” I found myself enjoying the story of Ove more and more as I went along. The sad stories are interspersed with occasionally madcap bits that made me laugh out loud many times, something books rarely make me do. That his story is too good to be true is part of the charm: Ove is a grumpy hero at the center of a fairy tale, a fantasy of a relentlessly taciturn and honorable man who talks little while doing much. In short, Ove is in most ways the kind of man I aspire to—but have made very little progress toward—being.

As Ove’s story is told, we meet a wide range of characters ranging from a neighbor who he engages in a long, passive aggressive battle with to the homosexual son of an immigrant cafe owner…each with important parts to play in Ove’s life, despite his resistance. But we see their lives aslant. The real story is that of Ove. Ove who wants to be left alone but who in his stolid, no-nonsense approach to the world can’t help but find himself helping people. Ove who sees the world in the starkest black and white until unexpected, unexplainable and finally tragedic (isn’t it alway?) love fills his world with color. Ove who never gives in to the temptation the rest of us feel to be something we are not (or something we wish we were not). Ove is Olaf, glad and big, and I’m glad he stays that way in this charming book.

Reading Log: The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)

Paula Hawkins’ novel of mystery and memory, The Girl on the Train, is a disappointment. Hawkins is a better writer than Gillian Flynn, whose best-selling Gone Girl must inevitably be mentioned in comparison (why else the echo in the title of Hawkins’ novel?), and she skillfully weaves the strands of the story together with stronger prose than Flynn does…but The Girl on the Train suffers from the cardinal sin of mysteries and thrillers: predictability. Every supposed twist is expected, every “surprise” turn well-lit and signaled. The narrator’s drunken unreliability and commitment to her disproportionate feelings of heartbreak are convenient mechanics for storytelling but the latter, in particular, quickly becomes unbelievable. The lack of interestingness makes the coincidence of connections—what should be a little knotty whorl of mystery and tragedy that we see exposed in isolation, the exposure of the threads that are inevitably and invisibly found if we dig beneath the surface—simply tedious. Skip this one.

Reading Log: Hugger Mugger in the Louvre (Elliot Paul)

I sought out Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre, a late 1940s novel, as part of a reading challenge to read “a book that is about, or takes place, somewhere you want to visit.” Or, in this case, two places: various districts of Paris, in general, and the Louvre in particular.

Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre is the 2nd in a series (the first is rather intrusively recapped in the early pages of this novel) of humorous mystery novels featuring Homer Evans, a master sleuth firmly in the mould of Sherlock Holmes and a motley assortment of secondary characters ranging from Lvov Kvev, a burly Russian taxi-driver to le Singe (the Monkey), urbane leader of the St Julien Rollers gang. The names of many characters alone should give you an idea of the madcap, Marx Brothers style antics that fill this novel—Hyacinthe Toudoux, Sergeant Schlumberger, the single-monikered Hydrangea—not to mention the chapter titles, whose wordiness echoes Paul’s prose style: “The Quick, The Dead, and Some Others In Between” and “A Sock Filled with Sand, and Joyce’s Ulysses” for example.

The plot, which involves the theft of a small Watteau painting (“L’Indifférent”, here called “The Pansy” in a bit of outdated humor) from the Louvre eventually involves scientists feuding over the effects of French vs Californian wine on the liver, the doctor and proprietor of an asylum imprisoning a toothless American and a Marchionesse in order to profit from a stock-manipulation scheme and an extortion scheme, respectively, an importer/exporter/smuggler named Xerxes using a stuffed monkey as a dead drop…well, you probably get the picture.

The fun of this novel lies in its zany confusion, a kind of mad-dash of humor of larger-than-life characters that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. That very quality, though, will make it a disappointment to those who read mysteries for—well—their mystery, and it can become tedious if not in the right mood. In small doses, though, this is a fun read even if it doesn’t leave you thirsting for more in the series.

Reading Log – A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (Nicholas Basbanes)

No one, on the evidence of this book at least, will accuse Nicholas Basbanes of being a compelling prose stylist. Fortunately, the people, the history and the very milieu documented in A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books make up for aesthetic deficiencies. From Cicero to the infamous book thief Stephen Blumberg, Basbanes’ book explores book collectors of every kind and stripe, from the ego-driven corporate-raider style library builders to the equally ego-driven individual obsessives whose passions Basbanes pulls reluctantly from the shadows. Basbanes exposes world of books and collections that I never knew existed.

Despite being a lifelong book accumulator, I knew virtually nothing of the world of book collecting before reading A Gentle Madness. What I learned was compelling, fascinating and depressing. I identify with a passion for books, but as works of art to be enjoyed and explored not objects to be hoarded. The incessant reduction of books to items for investment or to complete or add to a collection is depressingly material…and yet without such people, many books would have long since been lost to time. What was most disturbing to me is the number of books—and the amount of materials—that are locked away in library archives and basements with rules limiting access that are unnecessary. I understand minimizing handling of truly rare books and manuscripts, but most of the systems seem to be simply the product of a casual elitism that goes against something deep in my psyche (and, I must say, my own interests). The world of books as objects of art frustrates me in the same way the world of paintings and illustrations as art frustrates and stymies me.

But there are also many stories here of generosity, of people who devote their lives to creating important and accessible collections and whose commercial activities serve primarily as a means to allow them to continue their zealous pursuits. And there are the madmen (and women) whose desires outstrip their financial and, in some cases, mental and emotional resources, for whom I feel a sympathy equal to my distaste for the rich collectors.

A fascinating volume for book lovers of all kinds that retained its hold one me even when it occasionally devolved into a kind of catalog. Recommended.