OCD: How To Accept That Certainty And Perfection Cannot Be Guaranteed

I find it hard to grasp why lexicographers added the words "certainty" and "perfect" in the dictionary. And so a few years ago, I decided to look into it. I was happy with the outcome because it showed me how a new perspective can decrease one's fears about what matters to them, such as relationships.

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Perfect Relationship?

I’m not too fond of the words “certainty” and “perfect”. I can understand that somebody’s firmness of belief about something is crucial to them. For example, someone who trusts wholeheartedly that a partner will stay faithful likely makes them feel safe. They believe their relationship is stable. This person thinks he has the perfect mate and is sure that nothing can come between that. But I’m not entirely convinced of why he believes it or even if he does. I don’t feel persuaded by his conviction.

The reason I’m not convinced is that people who have relationship-intrusive thoughts brought on by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) plead for such assuredness that this guy shows. But what they don’t realise yet is that his surety is reassurance. He reassures himself and others that he has the perfect relationship. Reassurance is comforting. And the more he’s convinced that it will keep his relationship protected, he will continue to go along with it.

Inherent Fear

But what if he feels anxious at any time, such as spotting his partner looking at another guy? He might get the urge to ask her for reassurance that she didn’t find this other guy attractive. It’s just a fleeting thought, borne of inherent fear, so when he gets the reassurance he’s looking for, he feels relief and lets it go. The point is that even without OCD, people still want the assuredness that everything is OK, and this guy is no different.

But let’s suppose he does have OCD. Legitimately, he wants to guard his relationship. Naturally, he trusts that everything is going fine, that supposed certainty he’s believed in up until now. His relationship is his business, not OCD’s, but no longer is he convinced of his own judgement. His belief suddenly starts to crack when intrusive thoughts persuade him otherwise. “But what if she did find this other guy good looking?” “What if she wants to sleep with him?” “What if she already has slept with him?” The fleeting thought from the last time has now amplified to an obsessive-compulsive level.

How OCD Magnifies Everything

So the next thing that will happen is he’ll start to ruminate on the doubts about the what-if scenarios going over in his mind. His anxiety will be through the roof. He’ll want reassurance that everything is OK. And when he gets it, he’ll want more. It’s because ruminating and reassurance seeking are compulsions that feed the problem. And it’s all because he wants certainty that his relationship is perfect. It’s not his fault. Like anyone else, and as we’ve seen, people want to feel secure; it’s just magnified in OCD.

The Most Perfect Relationship

In any case, I find it hard to grasp why lexicographers added these two words in the dictionary in the first place. And so a few years ago, I decided to look into it.

I found the trouble with the word “perfect” is the usage. For example, some guides still object to the use of comparative terms like “the most perfect” or “more perfect”. That is on the grounds that the term “perfect” describes an absolute condition which cannot exist in degrees. As an example, a dead creature is perfectly dead, but another mortal cannot be more perfectly dead.

Still, it makes sense to me why the English language has never agreed to this objection. I mean because if its limitations. Saying the expression “perfect”, for example, has been compared since its earlier use, first in out-of-date forms “perfecter” and “perfectest” and later with “more”, “most” and “nearly”, and in most of the general senses within all varieties of speech and writing. Some examples would be “the most perfect relationship imaginable”. “He read his wedding speech more perfect than his brother did at his wedding”. Or in other perfectionism terms “My wedding is organised to near perfection.”

From this perspective, I consider the word perfect in terms of its meaning the best something could ever be or very good. I read somewhere that it is actually common and not illogical to say that one thing is more perfect than the other or that something is the most perfect or less perfect of its kind. Another example is when someone wants their wedding photographs or other things put in exact order, they can only align them as perfectly as they can be.

The Fear Of Having No Control

Next, I found the problem with the word certainty is that it means freedom from ambiguity. For context, I have no doubt that one day my life will end. However, I do have uncertainties about what will happen to my body when I’m dead. I want to be cremated when I die, but my family might decide to bury me instead, even if they assure me they’ll carry out my wishes. Still, because uncertainty will always be there, I can agree to chance low probability. In other words, I can tell myself there’s little point in worrying over the low likelihood that my family will bury me.

The reality is that by gaining a new perspective on the words perfect and certainty, it can help replace an original belief. For example, somebody’s fear of not producing or doing something completely perfect means not being good enough. And not being good enough brings the fear of not having the capacity to produce or do something perfectly. Similarly, having a fear of having no power to direct what will and won’t happen, as in the examples of protecting one’s relationship and being cremated, is just that, the fear of having no control.


Such fears involve the types of thinking errors that a person would change in treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). As an example, one might say, “I feel very good about my relationship. However, I will live with the low likelihood that my spouse might not think the same. Yet, I will accept that if that’s the case, it does not reflect on my ability to be a great partner.” As well as CBT to correct thinking errors, exposure-response prevention (ERP), the evidence-based treatment for OCD, can help a person systematically resist safety-seeking rituals. It helps weaken the fear-related obsession and builds one’s confidence to live with uncertainty in a world that is as perfect as it can be.

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