Episode 59: Perfectionism and OCD

Episode 59

Optimism in OCD Recovery

In this week’s episode Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, join us for the first podcast after the Christmas holiday break to discuss how perfectionism pops up over the Christmas period.

For those with OCD, the holiday season can be triggering and the need for things to be ‘perfect’ or ‘just right’ can be difficult to manage.

Lauren and Kelley chat about their experiences over the past few weeks and share some helpful insights on how you can manage perfectionism and OCD during the holidays.

Let’s dive in!


Lauren: Perfectionism during this time of year is tough. We’re trying to accomplish everything and we can’t, right? We are only humans and all of that pressure we put on ourselves to do everything perfectly can be really difficult to manage. Get the perfect gift. Decorate the perfect tree. Host the perfect dinner. And this can be hugely triggering for someone with OCD. The stress itself can be a jumping-off point for many who have struggled with this disorder.

Kelley: That’s right. And then when you’re sick like we have been, it’s really great exposure.

Taking a pause from perfectionism


Lauren: The idea of slowing down is so central. Being willing to take a pause, even when it feels really scary to do so, is vital. It always feels like you’re gonna miss something, right? And that can be a horrible feeling.

Kelley: But you are gonna miss something. In terms of emotional enjoyment and fulfillment, if you’re constantly focused on checking the boxes and getting the house right, cooking the right meal, getting the right gift and wrapping it perfectly, or making sure you make the right decisions… you then lose track of why we’re even doing it.

Lauren: Absolutely. And in many ways that’s a microcosm for the rest of OCD, right? We’re so narrowly focused on having to resolve this or fix this, that we miss out on everything that’s going on in our lives. 

Kelley: It’s like having a child and saying, “Let’s make cookies together”. But it doesn’t go well! The eggs are everywhere. The kitchen is a mess. You have to explain things and you’re getting super stressed out and suddenly the experience is not enjoyable.

You have to accept that things are going to get messy and the cookies might not turn out how you wanted. Your child is going to grab things and make a mess and do things wrong, and that’s okay. If you don’t adopt that mindset then it’s a miserable experience and you and your child won’t enjoy it.  

Acceptance of what is…


Lauren: So, what do we do? We accept. And, you know, we started this conversation today talking about the fact that we’re both sick. And even the tendency to resist the sickness is strong.


Lauren: How much of that is about the expectations we place on ourselves? I ‘should’ be able to get this and this done because that was my expectation last week when I wasn’t sick. So instead of resisting everything going off course, we should go off course with it.


Lauren: So last year for those of you who have been with us for any length of time, you may recall the story of tootle. And Tootle was a locomotive and he was learning how to be a good locomotive like all the other locomotives, but then he kept going off the rails. And it was really sad because they kept telling Tootle to go back on the rails. 

As the book progresses he becomes horribly oppressed and gets back on the rails. And that’s the end of the story. But I got the book and I cut out the picture of Tootle when he is off the rails – frolicking in the tulips, the sunshine, the grass – as a reminder that sometimes life goes off the rails and we can accept that and be open to that.

There’s no such thing as a Pinterest Perfect Life


Kelley: I know that I personally get really hung up on wanting the holidays to be perfect for my child and Pinterest is just a landmine of things. It’s not helpful!

Lauren: I’ve often wondered how many people’s homes actually look like they do on Pinterest. Even the rooms and stuff? How many people does it take to maintain those things, I think I’d need full-time staff.


Kelley: In reality, anybody who’s working full time and trying to have a life and social life – if there is such a thing – trying to maintain the perfect home is just not going to happen. And if it does, at what cost? Like, I want to meet these people with these homes. Are they strung out?

Lauren: I think for a lot of them, it’s their job. They’re doing it for social media and marketing purposes perhaps. But by and large, I think that that’s an unrealistic expectation to set of yourself and if we link this all back to OCD, the tendency to want everything to be just right or else is going to feel forever nagging especially if we are telling ourselves that our homes must look like what we see on social media. 

Obsessing about obsessing


Kelley: I think my perfectionism during the holidays does pull from my primary obsession, which is my child. I think I’ve gotta give her the most perfect experience. So perfectionism can come up a lot with people who are obsessing on obsessing. So they may think about the fact that there is a holiday coming up and how they ‘should’ feel a certain way and that includes not having OCD. That includes having a perfect day, right? Emotions are great, no intrusive thoughts. Well, that’s not gonna happen.

Lauren: It’s a really bad recipe for inviting all of the intrusive thoughts. The more you push them away the stickier they become. So it’s about learning to accept them when they do show up and being open to them being part of your day.

It’s okay to be a mess. I mean, holidays are. Anything else is setting an unrealistic expectation. But wanting everything to be perfect for the holidays is actually a very common thought process. It would make sense that people want things to be in their control. That’s just human behavior. But it’s false control. And that’s okay, we don’t need to judge ourselves. Most people with anxiety and OCD do this. And I think to some degree, the general population does too.

Kelley Franke, LMFT (20.34)

Does perfectionism or the need for everything to seem perfect have to relate to a bad consequence occurring? Or can it simply be due to a feeling of unease?


Lauren: No, it doesn’t have to. For some people, it is directly related to potentially negative outcomes. For example, if I don’t clean out my bathroom drawers then I’m going to die. But this isn’t the case for everyone. It could just be that it feels it’s off. It’s a nagging feeling that is going to take me out of these moments and I can’t have that. So you try to fix the feeling by sorting out the drawer but then the irony is that you miss the moment anyway.

Kelley: This is complicated… Enjoy the experience that’s positive when you have it, but don’t grip too tightly to that. Allow yourself to feel negative experiences and allow your emotions to be all over the place. Be nice to yourself in that process. Just be imperfect. Because that’s the reality and it can’t be anything other than that.

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