Creative Writing As A Means Of Illustrating Compulsive And Obsessive Behaviour

Posted at 12:54pm on 15th April 2009

I hope you’re not going to lose patience with me, but I’m so impressed with Friedman’s Fables that, yet again, I’m going to apply one of them to a real-life situation, in what I call a ‘combi-blog’. Because it addresses not only a real life relationship problem but is also of relevance to writing fiction.


I was speaking with someone recently about the people we all encounter from time to time who seem to become fixated by some destructive notion or action and who, despite all our best efforts – yours and mine – appear to be incapable of changing that mindset. (You, of course, are not the one with the obsessive, destructive behaviour! You are the one observing and attempting to change it in another.)

  • The person with the mindset may be your partner, a family member, friend or work colleague.
  • The obsessive behaviour in all instances is repetitive, and either self or relationship-destroying – possibly both.
  • Also, in all cases, the person concerned is not only quite unable to move on, but may also be utterly incapable of seeing the necessity for doing so.


For instance one partner in a marriage may be sulker. So every time a situation arises in which they perceive their wishes to be thwarted – i.e. they feel they’re unable to get their own way – rather than talk it out in a mature and rational manner, they go off on a mammoth sulk. This, of course, is a power thing, whereby the sulk is intended as punishment for the one who is seen as standing in their way.

Or the family member – perhaps a sibling, a child or a parent - may have made a decision which is clearly going to lead to disaster. However, rather than admit to the possibility of their error in judgement, they prefer to accuse those who have cautioned them to reconsider, of jealousy. You then become the scapegoat.

In the case of the work colleague, he or she may be reaping the catastrophic failure of an earlier decision. But rather than admit defeat and take evasive action, they prefer to persist in their previous trajectory, even though to do so will clearly lead to further collapse.

In all the above scenarios, you may be totally committed to helping your beloved, your family member, your friend or co-worker. You are desperate to save them from their fate. Out of your love and concern, you will do anything. If only they will allow you! And you perceive your time and effort as insignificant when compared to the salvation you can offer – if only they’ll listen.

Recognise any of these circumstances? Can you, perhaps, see yourself, or someone else, in the illustrations described? Or are you uncomfortably aware that one or other of the players could, conceivably, be you?


Then Friedman’s Fable of the fly and the moth are for you. He tells the tale of a newly hatched moth who – as moths are wont to do – flies to the source of a light, in this case a window. There he encounters a fly. And as the moth alights on the window pane, he can’t help but observe the behaviour of the fly.

It buzzes against the glass, flies away for a few inches, returns, and buzzes again. Again! And again! And again! The fly is displaying the features of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Intrigued – perhaps exasperated – the moth strikes up a conversation. Why is it so persistent in buzzing against the glass? Why so repetitive in the distance it flies? Why so blinkered in its objectives?

The fly, it appears, is obsessed, with one object in mind: the need to find a way out. The moth points out the futility of its action. The window is shut. It is sealed. There is no escape. Why, it asks, does the fly not look elsewhere?

Still the fly - fixated on this one perceived means of escape – is unable to respond in any rational way. Still the moth – fixated by his desire to turn the fly to a more productive manner of thinking – persists in the futility of his argument. All day – a substantial part of the life of either a fly or a moth – the two engage in the same, useless dialogue; the same ineffective pursuits. Until evening approaches.


And, suddenly, someone enters the room and switches on the light. Instantly, the moth perceives the light; flies to its source; and is zapped!


if you – or the lead character in your novel – are the moth, don’t waste too much of your short life in trying to change the fixation of a fly, when your own instincts to do so may lead, ultimately, to your own destruction. Look to your own needs instead!

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