In Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets out of ControlAllen Mallinger asserts that the central dynamic in the obsessive personality is that of control.

Most of us, obsessives included, would allow that life is fundamentally unpredictable. As hard as the best-intentioned, most conscientious person might try, it is impossible to control every aspect of one’s existence; we are vulnerable. Despite such lip service to these truths, however, somewhere near the center of their inner being, far from their conscious awareness, obsessives are trying to deny this reality. Their subtle but constant efforts to control everything in the world around them (and inside them) are an attempt to do the impossible: to guarantee security; to assure safe passage through the risks and uncertainties of living. (8)

The price of this attempt to control is an inability to show or share feelings, reluctance to trust anyone, loneliness, the stress of being perfect in everything, the fear of embarrassment, an over-sensitive conscience, a phobia about trying anything new, and an inability to relax and enjoy the moment.

In pages 10-12 of Too Perfect, Mallinger provides 25 self-test questions. The most piercing and telling in my view are:

2. Is it hard for you to let go of a work project until it’s just right—even if it takes much longer than it should?

4. Is it important to you that your child, spouse, or subordinates at work perform certain tasks in a certain specific manner?

9. Do you have a particularly strong conscience, or do you often feel guilty?

11. Are you especially wary of being controlled, manipulated, overpowered, or “steam-rollered” by others?

12. Is it important for you to get a “good deal” in your financial transactions, or are you often suspicious of being “taken”?

15. Is it hard for you to let yourself be dependent on others, rather than self-reliant? (For instance, are you uneasy about delegating tasks at work or hiring help with taxes or home repairs?)

17. In thinking about some future event, such as a vacation, a dinner party, or a job report, do you dwell upon the things that might go wrong?

18. Do you worry more than most people?

22. Do you feel guilty when you aren’t getting something done, even in your time off (no matter how hard you’ve worked all week)?

The number of “yes’s” is important, but even more so is the question: “Does this characteristic cause difficulties in relationships, work, or leisure activities, or does it interfere with your ability to enjoy life in general?”

To go back to the beginning though, at the root of all this, though often deeply buried in the psyche, is the irrational conviction, the myth, that perfect control can be achieved and can guarantee a safe and successful life. Dealing with that myth requires reason and revelation, but that will have to wait until next week now.