Mr. A, who lives in my neighborhood, is known to be extremely punctual. He’s even more punctual than the German philosopher, Kant was. The security guards in the apartment complex tell the time of the day by seeing Mr. A come to and from work. He is always extremely neat in his appearance.
His hair is oiled, shiny and perfectly parted. He often checks the mirror to make sure that his tie is perfectly straight. He carries a small pocket mirror and comb. His office is extremely clean and neat, to the joy of the cleaning lady of the company.
Although this may not seem problematic, Mr. A’s lifestyle inevitably leads to problems for his family members. For example, his wife must always make sure to have meals ready at the same time each day, and his children are always afraid of cluttering the house to avoid being scolded.
Not only this, but his children have never been on a plane before, because of Mr. A’s compulsive anxiety about flight accidents.
He also finds it difficult to go on trips, because he has excessive worries about traffic accidents, and food. If he plans to go hiking in the mountains with his friends, he lectures them about accidents and falls, so they may opt not to go at all.
Mr. A does not go on leave. When his company half-unwillingly forced him to go on leave, he brought home all his work and spent his holidays working at home. He feels anxious if he is not doing anything, be it the weekdays or the weekend. He almost looks like a person born to work.
According to psychological theory, such work addiction and obsessive compulsions can create a dilemma in the anal stage of child development (18-36 months after birth).
During the anal stage, there are several developmental tasks, which includes having autonomy over hygiene, work and movement. Autonomy involves performing activities on one’s own, without external regulations or rules. Children (or adults) who have gone through this anal stage well have the ability to perform “work” efficiently without external schedules, habits or rules. On the other hand, those who have not undergone this stage well must continuously be “productive.”
To overcome such obsessions though psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy, it is important to have an awareness of one’s problems. However, mild obsession, which often goes unnoticed by the person, can be improved with observation and short-term dynamic therapy with a specialist.
By Lee Dong-soo
Lee Dong-soo is a doctor at the Department of Psychiatry of Samsung Medical Center and a professor of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine. ― Ed