Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

The Need for Order and Perfection

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is an extreme personality style involving an overwhelming need for order, organization, and perfection. OCPD is a personality disorder, and as such it affects the way a person acts and thinks about everything. A personality disorder interferes with the ability to effectively manage common life problems and relate to other peoples. For someone with OCPD, the smallest of things take on monumental importance. Items such as cans in a pantry or other household items must be arranged in a particular order to satisfy the perfectionistic drive of the person with OCPD. The person’s life becomes inefficient because of the all-consuming obsession with details. These concerns interfere with work, relationships, and happiness.

The cause of personality disorders and OCPD seems to be based on multiple factors that may not be the same for each person. Childhood experiences and traumatic events in life may play a role. OCPD seems to be partially genetic and is more common in men than in women. Like all personality disorders, OCPD is a longstanding character trait that is deeply-rooted. Psychologists call this ego-syntonic, which means that the disorder is closely tied to a person’s self concept and the overly perfectionistic behaviors are sensible to the person with OCPD.

OCPD Symptoms

According to the psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-IV-TR), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is best described by a “pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” It is diagnosed when someone has four or more of the following traits:

  • Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost.
  • Perfectionism that gets in the way of completing tasks
  • Devotion to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not caused by economic hardship)
  • Extreme conscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible attitudes about morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by culture or religion alone)
  • Resistance to disposing of worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value (in some cases)
  • Reluctance to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things
  • A miserly spending style toward both self and others, where money may be hoarded for future catastrophes
  • Rigidity and stubbornness

OCPD Interferes with Relationships

People with OCPD usually have difficulty maintaining relationships and may suffer from clinical depression. Being obsessed with perfection, they tend focus on organization over fun or social activities. They spend an excessive amount of time and energy organizing an event, but are then be unable to enjoy the actual event or spending the time with others, thus they may appear socially avoidant. Not surprisingly, people with OCPD are often workaholics. Those with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder who do find long-term relationships may be demanding toward their partner and children, holding them to the same unrealistic standards they impose on themselves.

Nonetheless, a person with OCPD is generally able to function much better than someone with other mental disorders. They can live a normal life for the most part and tend to be productive at work because of the OCPD. They are less likely to engage in drug abuse, which is common to other mental disorders.

OCPD and OCD are not the Same

There is some overlap between symptoms of OCPD and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), such as a compulsive drive for order and perfection, but OCD is a different disorder and as such the two should not be confused. Most people with OCPD do not have OCD, and likewise most people with OCD do not have OCPD. The main difference is that OCD patients tend to focus on specific upsetting obsession, such as fears of germs and contaminaton or other extreme fears of danger. OCPD involves a constant mindset of order and perfection. Unlike OCD patients, people with OCPD are not concerned by their tendencies, feeling very comfortable with their behavior, while OCD patients are disturbed by their abnormal thoughts and repetitive actions. Thus people with OCPD are unlikely to seek help on their own.

Help for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

There has been very little research on the treatment of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Clinical wisdom has focused on long-term cognitive or psychodynamic therapies to help people with OCPD slowly change. Because people with OCPD are often anxious or depressed, serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil, may be prescribed. These may help to reduce anxiety and depression but, they do not cure OCPD, and are instead a partial treatment to be taken repeatedly. The newest approaches for OCPD are cognitive-behavioral strategies, which seem to be effective over time.

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