A while back I was involved in an infuriating (to me) conflict that seemed to be made up of a lot of little niggly nothings that got blown up into bigness. It stopped me in my tracks and got me riled up…badly.
IS IT A VIRUS?
In reaction to it (and also out of my, I admit, boundless impatience), I coined a new word for a phenomenon I was noticing at the time: PETTY-PHOBIA.
I say it means “the fear of all the little things in life”…all the myriad little concerns and dust-mote details of the World….things like whether some form was filled out properly or some rule was followed in exactly the prescribed manner or…well, you get the picture, I bet.
Petty-phobics — people who are afflicted with this seemingly chronic condition — often have major anxiety attacks caused by the massive overload of petty details and the perceived importance of each and every one of the durned dingleberries.
They spend a lot of time trying to get every single little thing just right. They insist that everybody else around them have to get the things right before anybody can move on to more productive concerns.
Another name for these guys is “Perfectionists.” (They probably call the rest of us more doofus sorts “Scruff-balls.”)
[I’m sorry, but I have to do this. This is a You-Tube video of the Starrkeisha Cheer Squad @TheKingofWierd by TIU Campaign. It is just too joyous not to share….]
NO GOOD RESULTS
Meetings led to stalemates and dead-ends. Conflicts erupted and kept erupting over and over again.
A lot of good work kept getting stalled or had to be re-done again and again. Redundancies proliferated. A lot of trees died and mountains of paper grew.
It caused me incredible heartburn for a while until I got my head turned around.
DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN PAIN
I finally figured out that these people were really hurting. What seemed like a minor thing to me was, for them, something that was of apparently earth-shaking proportions.
It boggled my mind. I thought, what happens if they have to face something that is really earth-shattering?
Yeesh! I mean, really. If every situation you face is life-and-death, you are going to be suffering through lots and lots of deaths.
And I thought, how often do you make it to Perfect in this life?
For me, the answer to that question is just about never. Something is always going to go aglay. It’s the way of the world.
I wondered, then: How can you even MOVE in the face of that? OMG!
WORKING AROUND IT
I finally figured out that rather than trying to pound some sense into the nut-heads, I had two other choices: I could either (a) adjust and help them feel more comfortable, or (b) opt out of the game.
I could use either one of those two choices, depending on how important it was for me to be able to get on with my own dance.
It did occur to me that petty-phobics probably rule the world.
It is my opinion that this is because people who are busy doing their own thing let the petty-phobes get away with so much nonsense rather than doing the sensible thing (which, in my fantasy world, is picking up my light-saber and whacking off their heads or something).
But, I also figured out that you really can’t go around being like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.” Doing a bad Bette Davis imitation all the time is just…tacky.
So, how do you deal with all the petty-phobics littering your landscape? Basically, it involves the same three steps you need to make every time you come up against fear or anxiety or insecurity.
ACCEPTANCE. You can accept that this is the reality with which you are faced: There is a petty-phobe in your face and you get to deal with that.
ADAPTATION. You can adapt to this circumstance in whatever way seems to work best in the situation and then go on from there. You need to help that petty-phobe feel comfortable and safe and secure. It will not be easy.
Remember that this person is a good person trying to do the very best he or she can. Your job, if you want to get around the roadblock in a civilized manner, is to make their job easier.
CHANGE. If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.
You can change your response. (In my case I had to stop blowing my top and losing my temper and come up with compromises and suggestions and solutions.)
Or you can change your environment. (Walking away and finding more amenable situations is better than going postal, I say.)
AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Now comes another big question: Are you a sufferer of Petty-Phobia your own self?
Do you like it being in that space? Do you like the results you are getting as a result of being in that space?
Would you like to move away from that? Are the results you are getting unsatisfactory? Would you like to change your behaviors and get different results?
For you, too, the same three steps apply.
ACCEPTANCE. Know that you are a sufferer. Know that you will never be an easy-going sort. Petty-phobia and the quest for Perfection is never-ending.
Know that you’re going to worry and get anxious and afraid.
Know that other people are not going to understand your issues. Accept that other people are going to get enraged at you for doing that thing you do.
Remember that the shlub of a wild-eyed maniac who is standing in front of you is a good person trying to do the best he or she can. Your job, if you want to get the fool out of your face, is to make their job easier.
This does include being sympathetic about their distress. Getting all self-righteous will exacerbate an already-bad situation.
ADAPTATION. Notice when other people start to act weird around you. Pay attention when things start getting hairy.
Check to see what you are doing as well as what other people are doing that triggers behaviors that seem to result in not-so-good results.
Think about how you could make things easier for other people without getting yourself too tied up in knots.
CHANGE. If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.
You can change your response. Maybe you can make one or two small concessions without hyperventilating and curling into a fetal ball.
Definitely try to see the other person’s point of view.
If there really is nothing you can do about a situation and you are governed by rules that demand utter compliance, then say that and stick to your guns while helping them work through your dilemma. Definitely acknowledge their distress.
Or you can change your environment. Walking away and finding more amenable situations where you are not having to battle unreasonable sorts is always an option.
Notice that the advice is the same for both sides. It’s always the same. Humans do human things. We work together (or not) and we’re all still trying to do the best we can.
Here’s a poem:
You are angry, you are tired,
Caught between the desire to live your own life
And the need in some other’s eyes.
A heavy burden imposed on you
By old connections, old ties, you say,
But admit it:
You chose to swallow it whole
And now the anger festers in your gut.
You say you are tired of waiting for change,
Of picking up after one who is unaware,
Uncaring of the cost.
You say you are angry at holding up one
Who makes his legs rubber over and over.
You are tired, you say,
You are angry,
Yet compassion dictates your next move.
Trudging on, carrying the burden,
You persevere and you endure.
You persevere because it’s what you do.
All the effort that went before means nothing at all
If you don’t follow it to the end.
You say you are tired,
And you say you are angry,
But you go on because you chose to do this once
And you choose again to do it
Every time you feel exhausted.
By Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Face of the Dragon” by Stuart Williams via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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