Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
Wed, April 21, 2021

Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder were considered meticulous, detail-oriented perfectionists. / Photo by: Ion Chiosea via 123rf


Back in 2013, author Joshua Kendall released a book titled “America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation.” The book was filled with stories of some of the most popular people in the US who rose to the top of their respective fields largely due to their obsessiveness. For instance, Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, kept a written record of every penny he ever spent. He also charted every vegetable market in the Washington, DC area.

Another example was Ted Williams, a baseball legend, who had obsessed with practicing his swing. He even approached this as a science to the point that he attended physics lectures at MIT to better understand the dynamics of swinging a bat. 

These people were considered meticulous, detail-oriented perfectionists – symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture, and history, reported that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) described OCPD as "a mental health condition in which a person is preoccupied with rules, orderliness, and control."

Compared to other types of personality disorders, OCPD is the most prevalent. Reports showed that the condition affects 2 percent to 7 percent of the population, which is equivalent to 1 in 100 people. It is believed that OCPD is twice as common in men as in women. Also, those who have already been suffering from a mental health condition are more likely to be diagnosed by OCPD.

The Difference Between OCPD and OCD

Tackling OCPD means also talking about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is a different condition. According to Verywell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides the guidance people need to improve their mental health and find balance, OCD is defined by the presence of true obsessions and/or compulsions while the behaviors of people suffering from OCPD are not directed by thoughts that they are unable to control.

OCD makes people feel distressed by their behaviors or thoughts, which they are unable to control most of the time. People with this disorder often seek professional help to overcome the irrational nature of their behavior and the persistent state of anxiety they live under. Meanwhile, people with OCPD fully believe that their actions have an aim and purpose. They also believe that anything they are doing is not abnormal or irrational, which is why they often do not seek treatment. 

Symptoms of OCPD

Extreme perfectionism, order, and neatness are the main characteristics that describe OCPD. Most of the time, individuals suffering from this condition often feel the need to impose their own standards on other people because they think that their way of doing things is the “right and best way.” They are convinced that following set procedures or routines in their work or daily living are justified reasons for people to believe in them, even when these routines are inefficient and ineffective. They tend to overly control their environment or relationships with other people.

While those characteristics are somewhat negative, people with OCPD have a great chance of being successful in life. “Their perfectionism keeps them at a high standard. That said, others may find the individual with OCPD difficult to work or live with because of their style of operating,” Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center, said. He added that these individuals have a rigidity when it comes to following rules, a strong sense of “how things should be done, and an overwhelming need for order.”

People with OCPD believe that there are certain rules that others should follow and that is how things should be done even at the expense of relationships. According to Psych Central, the Internet’s largest and oldest independent mental health online resource, some of the symptoms of OCPD include being preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost; showing perfectionism that interferes with task completion; being excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships; and being overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values. 


People with OCPD believe that there are certain rules that others should follow and that is how things should be done even at the expense of relationships. / Photo by: melpomen via 123rf


Treating OCPD

Suffering from OCPD can be extremely hard. For one, people who have the condition find it difficult to express their feelings as well as form and maintain close relationships with others. While they are hardworking and goal-oriented, their obsession with perfection tends to make them inefficient. Also, they are more likely to face isolation and experience anxiety and depression. Fortunately, there’s a treatment for OCPD. 

According to Healthline, an online site that covers all facets of physical and mental health openly and objectively, therapists usually use a three-pronged approach in treating OCPD. The first is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). which involves regular sessions with counselors and people suffering from the condition. They talk through any anxiety, stress, or depression. 

“CBT also helps the person to identify the unattainable standards and rigid rules they are living by and to understand how these things get in their way,” Dr. Anthony Pinto, Ph.D., director of the Northwell Health OCD Center, said. 

Second, doctors would prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to decrease some anxiety surrounding the obsessive-compulsive cycle. And lastly, relaxation training, which helps in decreasing the patient’s sense of stress and urgency. 

While it is hard to approach someone with OCPD about their behaviors, it is still important to support and encourage them to seek help. They will deny their condition most of the time but a daily reminder that you are there for them will help a lot.