Author Interview: Neil J. Lavender, PhD: Impossible to Please co-author

February 1, 2013



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I was privileged to interview Impossible to Please co-author, Neal Lavender, PhD. Enjoy learning more about the author’s thoughts about why the book was written, what lies behind controlling perfectionists, and how to deal with them at work, home or anywhere. Our thanks to Dr. Lavender for his time and thoughts.

– Megan Hunter, Unhooked Books

Author Interview

I was privileged to interview Impossible to Please co-author, Neal Lavender, PhD. Enjoy learning more about the author’s thoughts about why the book was written, what lies behind controlling perfectionists, and how to deal with them at work, home or anywhere. Our thanks to Dr. Lavender for his time and thoughts.
– Megan Hunter, Unhooked Books

Megan: At Unhooked Books, we offer books that help people understand themselves, others and how to more successfully relate to difficult people. Your book, written with Dr. Cavaiola, fits in this category very well as you describe the inner working of people who are overly critical and very difficult to live with. Dr. Lavender, would you give us a short synopsis of the book, please?

Dr. Lavender: Our book deals with people who are hyper-critical and how they relate to other people. We call them “controlling perfectionists”. They may be someone you are married to, a coworker, a family member, neighbor or friend. Their perfectionistic behaviors can be mild to extreme and over-the-top to quite severe. This book helps us understand controlling perfectionists and how to better relate to them if you have to be around them in daily life.

These are people who are addicted to criticism, even self-criticism. Actually, they are not so different from a drug addict. They criticize to regulate their own self-esteem, so they’re always looking for something or someone to criticize.

Megan: Who is your target audience?

Dr. Lavender: Impossible to Please was written with the people surrounding the controlling perfectionist (CP) in mind. Often, these relationships fail because the CP is so difficult to deal with but it doesn’t have to be that way. Our book helps people understand what is going on behind the scenes and how to manage the relationship differently.

 Megan: What is going on behind the scenes?
Dr. Lavender: We believe that CP’s are afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCPD is listed as a Cluster C disorder in the DSM-IV and this is a group of anxiety disorder. A CP may have been raised by another CP or raised in an invalidating environment in which more attention is given for negative behaviors than for positive behaviors. Also, an unstructured environment creates and leads to the CP craving structure and unable to operate effectively without it.

CP’s often become leaders and excel in the workplace, but the controlling, critical behavior eventually tends to take over. They are honored in our society because they are high-achievers, take great care of their appearance, and appear to have it all together. Unfortunately, we feed their disorder by giving them positive feedback. Eventually the CP can implode although many main the behavior for a long time or forever.

Megan: Where do you most often see difficult relationships with CPs?
Dr. Lavender: CPs create difficulties in romantic and work relationships but can and do have difficult relationships with anyone they are around.

Megan: How best can someone who works or lives with a CP deal with them differently?

Dr. Lavender: First, they must realize that they have to stop trying to please the CP and that they can’t make the CP happy. Second, they have to recognize their own reactions and responses to CPS and realize they have to come of the habitual patterns established between them and the CP. Empathy can be used to disarm a CP, especially when trying to give feedback. Typically any feedback comes across as criticism, so we give the reader tips to give feedback without triggering the CP’s defensiveness, at least to the extent possible.

Megan: Is it possible to stay in relationships with CPs?
Dr. Lavender: Yes, it is, but it takes commitment, sacrifice and dedication. It is difficult to maintain your own health while in relationships with CPs. Some people remain in unhealthy relationships for a long time but others make decisions to end or modify the relationship. At work this can be more complicated if others see the CP as a high-achiever and meaningful to the company’s end goals.

Megan: Is there help for the CP?
Dr. Lavender: It is difficult to get CPs into any type of treatment but there are a few forms of help available, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and any kind of awareness of mindfulness. They have to begin go think about and understand the thoughts they’re having. Also, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is starting to be used for OCPD.

 Megan: Can OCPD co-exist with other disorders?
Dr. Lavender: Yes, particularly other anxiety disorders, dependence, passive-aggressive, agoraphobia and lots of fear-based issues. They have strong reactions against intimacy, they find it difficult if not impossible to say ‘I love you’, can have body image issues, and experience difficulties with sexual intimacy.

Because of their desire to achieve and excel, some become bulimic or anorexic to be seen as beautiful and physically fit. Their strong need to control everything can extend beyond relationships to their own bodies.

 Megan: Can a CP be considered a bully?
Dr. Lavender: Yes, their massive anxiety can lead to bullying behavior, and we see overlap with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in which the person needs to feel superior. Both disorders can create bullying behavior because of their need to put others down to feel better about themselves.

 Megan: Any last thoughts?
Dr. Lavender: Thanks for asking. Yes, it’s important to understand that change is difficult for CPs and change cannot be expected to happen quickly, nor will the CP have insight into their own behaviors. The non-CP must address the part of the CP that is real, which might eventually get the CP to give up what’s not real. This can take a long time.

 Megan: Thank you for writing this tremendously helpful and insightful book on controlling perfectionists and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. We wish you and Dr. Cavaiola great success with your book and your continue work!
Dr. Lavender: Thank you.

neillavender_biggerNeil J. Lavender, PhD, is professor of psychology at Ocean County College in New Jersey where he also maintains a private practice. He is coauthor of Toxic Coworkers and Impossible to Please. Neil, who is also an avid blogger, resides in Beachwood, NJ.

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3 Responses to “Author Interview: Neil J. Lavender, PhD: Impossible to Please co-author”

  1. nlavender Says:

    I love this site! Thank you Megan for a wonderfully thoughtful and insightful interview!

  2. nlavender Says:

    Reblogged this on The Toxic Coworker.


  3. love your book; explained my family in detail- wondering since childhood…you detail is exacting….finally…i just was not like them and unacceptable since early childhood; constantly spanked etc until i went into myself to survive and the became perfect like one of them….never really made it tho; became house clean/cooking girl…then one day i got pretty, big turn around w/ lots of perf shaping…escaped asap to college where suddenly everyone like /loved me just for mydelf, esp my own thiking and all the etc’s. at 22 a grad, eating at my favorite outdoor quiche after a sucessful day at work, i came out!!!! m i was fully aware…and was so pleased that i was just great like i was…unlike them!

    always a problem then, parents did not like my independant thinking, actions, anything that wasn’t their idea first, and were very vocal about criticising me all over again just as they had when i was a small child…cond love lives forever; no contact…they dumped me!

    your comment about no dna involvement is wrong. in my family we have a generational controlling perfectionists lifestyle….for 4 generations; my grandfather, mother whose husband accepted her way of thinkink….they were pro’s at cdutting you down in front of a crowd and also cond love, my sister…my parents loved he, i had a brother -he escaped asap at 18 and never came home, but as a parent, c.p., now sadly my eldest son….it is dna based…i raised both my boys to be independant thinkers; difference the most intersting aspects of life, accept others; all that got thru was believe in yourself…only/only your ways…love to talk.

    my life was miserable because of them. my philo was do as you choose as long as you don’t hurt another, and i expected the same for all “good” people…an innate hippie philo! so i became more and more unacceptable, about nonsence issues like my weight, same since hs, my thinkinking about children, i was a teacher, and i got a tatoo of a stunning tatoo omn my hand which caused an outloud scream by mom in a resturaunt…public gareas was allways best choice for critism…etc

    then in 2002, i got hate letters from mom and sister about untrue character faults i had and they said never contact them again, and they did not contact me. stunned, all these years, is the why? which issue was finally to much? dad and aunt died…did not tell me

    oh well…i grieve for the lost heritage i feel very deeply, but actually i don’t like them anyway…just opposite thinking

    oh, grandpa’s brother was c p as well…they hated each other of course so brother went off to find sucess milw, wi, and raise another dna bound generation

    the cp’s in general, all married women who worshipped them…how come? my sister just married a dr for money, and buys from catalogs and cleans ornate house daily while he is unfaithful, nbut she has her cat’s

    i’m lynne lancelle, 11050 n biltmore 3224
    phoenix 85029
    forward we moving soon

    or ell1974@aol.com

    your book gave me answers…and peace, and they are jerks…who do hurt other peo; see they cross my innate line.

    i’d love to tell you so much congrats on an excellent book on an unique personality! send me a copy…i’d love to have one to keep!


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