Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Philosophy of Perfection

Television has entertained us for decades with their more than extreme characterization of people who have obsessive compulsive personality disorder. First, there was Felix Unger, the anxious, perfectionistic, and above-board neurotic character played by Tony Randall who drove his messier roommate Oscar Madison (played by Jack Klugman) crazy with his OCPD behavior (The Odd Couple). Next, we had TV’s lovable, neurotic detective Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk and also TV psychiatrist Dr. Niles Crane (played by David Hyde Pierce) of Frazier. And, today, we have Bravo reality star  Jeff Lewis of Flipping Out; the OCPD real-estate developer who will not let his employees use the bathroom in his home office if they have to make a bowel movement.

These highly intelligent, neurotic and very lovable characters wipe seats with napkins before sitting, neurotically honk their noses without cause, and also possess dogged will when it comes to living up to their standards. They have an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder that like all disorders of personality has both its strengths and weaknesses.

But, don’t think just because I’m mentioning television’s famously fussy who seem to be primarily men does not mean that women are immune to this disorder. The rates of OCPD appear to be the same for men as they are for women. About 1 in 100 people in the United States is estimated to have OCPD with a lifetime prevalence rate of 7.8% (National Center for Biotechnology Information; and OCFoundation.org). 

OCD or OCPD?

ocdvsocpdPeople often mistake Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) as the same conditions. But, they are very different disorders in cause, symptoms, and treatment (National Institute of Mental Health).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is a dysfunction of brain chemistry rather than personality development. Unreasonable thoughts and fears lead to intrusive ideas (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions), like chronic hand washing or door checking that are unrealistic, irrational, and foreign to the person’s sense of who he or she would be normally. These symptoms cause them disabling anxiety and stress. They obsessively worry about harm coming to them or loved ones, and have unreasonable fears of contamination, and unwanted religious, violent, or sexual thoughts randomly popping into their heads. These symptoms disrupt their ability to function normally at home, work, or school. And, if their symptoms are severe enough or left untreated, the risk for suicide increases  (MayoClinic.com).

ICD-10 International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Edition

ICD-10 International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Edition

In contrast, OCPD is primarily a disorder of personality development that has no single cause. But, it is generally considered to be a disorder brought about by the effects of childrearing. The parent’s childrearing style squelches their children’s spontaneous self-expression. Either personality conflicts from their own past or social and economic pressures cause the parents to be intolerant of less than perfect behavior in their children. They may withdraw approval and affection or even punish the child, when the child’s behavior doesn’t live up to their standards.

In contrast, some OCPD persons were labeled the family savior by their parents. The child takes on the oppressive burden of either having to raise the family out of some adverse social or economic situation or having to bring happiness to a narcissistic, depressed parent who is using the child to fulfill unrealized desires of his or her own. OCPD traits arise in the child’s attempt to accomplish this formidable task.

No matter the particular relationship dynamics between parent and child, OCPD children learn that there is little room for imperfection, so that they begin to obsessively calculate every thought, feeling, and action to minimize the risk of falling below the  impossible standards they set for themselves.

But, what is this risk really all about? At its heart, it is the risk of disappointing themselves by falling below a standard of behavior that is really a consolidation of their parents’ hopes, fears, and expectations. This is what drives OCPD character traits. OCPD persons are trying to avoid disapproval, withholding of affection and love, or punishment, even more so than achieving perfection. They take on superhuman characteristics to assure that they feel good about themselves. All of their traits are meant to support a rigid ego that has only one way of dealing with the world. That is perfection. Anything that gets in their way of fulfilling this goal makes them highly anxious and fearful.

Because OCPD people run a tight ship on themselves, they usually excel at their professions and often become leaders of society. But, they also put impossible standards on family, coworkers, and friends. Thus, intimate relating can be problematic for them. They don’t know there is anything unusual or wrong about their behavior until lovers, family, and friends begin to point it out to them. But, intimate relating can actually become their greatest vehicle for emotional growth. They are fiercely loyal and want to do the right thing, so that it is possible to get them to negotiate needs, although they may kick and scream along the way.

Treatment of OCPD

The treatment of OCPD can be lengthy because their difficulties have become part of their general life philosophy. Their character traits are deeply entrenched in ego-behaviors that have brought them considerable reward in life. Research shows that one of the best treatment approaches for OCPD is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy treats symptoms that disable the person rather than deep psychological complexes. Cognitive therapy needs to help these patients to identify distorted thinking that reinforces their philosophy of perfection, undermines relationships, and leads to a rigidity that actually thwarts their relationships and goals. Also, stress management can help them to deal with anxiety that results from their fears of letting go of OCPD ways.

But, I also recommend psychodynamic exploration so that the person can bring into full awareness the developmental contributions to their belief system and character traits. The goal of therapy is to help these persons to cope with change and unpredictability better, manage anxiety and stress, and become more spontaneous and comfortable with feeling. The aim is to get their character traits to loosen up enough to allow for new learning and emotional growth.

Remember, there’s usually an upside to our weaknesses and emotional problems. And, this is true of OCPD. These persons have an uncompromising standard of excellence, an unshakable commitment to their beliefs that helps them to endure suffering and opposition. Their nose to the grindstone mentality, integrity, and high intellect can be used as a treatment tool for personal change. OCPD people love to understand, so that a treatment that increases their awareness and ability to be in the world in new, more functional ways will hold their interest. Therapy can become a powerful vehicle for becoming better—only, now, in a healthy way.

To learn more about OCPD, you may want to explore the links in today’s post. There’s a wealth of information on OCPD on the internet, today. Some of these websites include Psychcentral.com; MentalHealth.com; OCFoundation.org; and The Gift of OCPD.

I hope you liked today’s post and gained some new understanding into OCPD and the making of a personality disorder. If you did, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 to let your friends know about it. Take good care friends. Warmly Deborah.

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33 Responses to “Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Philosophy of Perfection”

  1. avatar Zerevan M Xalid says:

    I find all of your topics useful and interesting. Thank you for caring. ^_^

  2. avatar Mohamed says:

    This is an excellent article by Dr. Deborah, I really enjoyed it :)

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Mohamed. Thank you. I’m glad you liked today’s post. Hope to see you here again soon. Warmly Deborah! :)

  3. avatar ammar says:

    this is superb artice,covering all the aspects…a person can well judge himself,where he stands..simple and easy thoughts to understand..and in addition i think ur this own site should have a Message option,so that people should discus their personal problems with u,which will be cured by you in a good way,it will be hectic,i suppose..but just a thought…rest its a very nice artice…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Ammar, I’m so glad you find the article useful and interesting. You are right about a Message function. I have a contact link where people can message me but perhaps it needs to be more visible. I will look into this today. Warmly Deborah.

  4. Its necessary to educate people about OCPD, many educated people don’t have knowledge about OCPD neurosis, this article is useful for concerning readers.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Talib, thank you. You are so right. The more all of us everywhere can understand all areas of our living the better able we will be to take good care of ourselves physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Thank you for commenting. Warmly Deborah.

  5. avatar Rahat Jan says:

    Respected Dr.

    Thank you very much. Really i found this article a pregnant and productive one. Kindly write on Militancy and psychological trauma….
    Wish all the best…

    Once again thank you….

  6. avatar Carol Barrett says:

    Dear Dr. Khoshaba, this is the first article I’ve read that gives me hope this condition can be improved. My therapist believes my spouse suffers from OCPD and it is affecting my depression for the worse. Our long marriage is getting harder to manage mostly because of it. Even though I am careful to use “nonviolent communications” and have done many things to bring us closer together, they haven’t worked. It’s frustrating because he thinks “the world is against him.” His flawed philosophy is that things that differ from the way he believes they should be are wrong. His behavior pushes people away from us as a couple. He doesn’t even realize he’s adversarial, or that his compulsion a problem. I’m interested in how spouses cope with this. How much is too much. Thank you for informing us of the positive aspects here and for having a helpful approach.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Carol, I understand how your mate’s OCPD can make you feel depressed. It’s hard to deal with a person who feels others’ ways are wrong. Carol, has your spouse gone into therapy for himself or have both of you had couple’s therapy? I think it is great that you got into therapy for yourself to be able to establish a boundary between what is your and not your problems. But, he needs his own therapy to gain awareness into how he imposes his expectations and belief system on you and other people. When you feel controlled you can constructively label the controlling or problematic behavior. Say exactly how you feel, “I feel controlled and also make a statement that establishes differences between you and him in terms of what makes you comfortable. He most likely won’t change immediately just because you put words to the interaction and to how he makes you feel, but you will feel less beaten down by his perfectionistic and anxious ways. Thank you for commenting Carol. Best of luck to you. Let me know how it goes. Warmly Deborah.
      ***Oh, I do know people who have OCPD spouses who are generally happy.

      • avatar Carol Barrett says:

        Thank you for your encouraging and helpful advice. We are about to seek couple’s therapy. Hopefully with a different way of relating we can turn this ship around. Keep up the good work.

  7. avatar shakeel gondal says:

    AOA. a very remarkable contribution. plz.

  8. avatar waseem shahzad says:

    great job done

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you Waseem. I appreciate your kind words and for reading my posts. See you here again soon. Warmly Deborah.

  9. avatar m ayub says:

    it is excellent

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello, thank you very much. I’m glad you found the information in this post valuable. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Warmly Deborah.

  10. avatar Asdgjll says:

    Treatment for OCD? :O

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Asdgjll, the treatment for OCD differs from OCPD in one very specific way. Because OCD is a problem in brain chemistry, it is treated through medication. for OCPD, medication may used only to relax the nervous system enough so that the person can learn new ways with limited anxiety and fear. But, medication in this case is not always needed–as it’s a problem of philosophy. Great question! Warmly Deborah.

  11. avatar aami says:

    salam…its a very benificial article in all aspects,covering day to day life..while studying OCD nd analysing all in myself,mainly many of its common compulsions with a religious veiws dominating bt other common compulsions are also involved and apart from that,keeping hand in a head hairs or pulling out head hairs….is there is any required level of this or just mediciation is the only way out.apart from that OCD is of low level or high…as its a fact that its effecting day to day life…u cant give input of 100 % which u are able to do..?

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Aami. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. You are right; many obsessions and compulsions involve religious ideas and rules and punishments, like hair pulling for not being religious enough or for trangressing a religious rule. Aami this can mean that your religious ideas and rules that you live by are so hard on you that they do not allow enough creative self-expression in your personality. We are like cooking steam pressures. We have pressures through our days by work, family, and religious beliefs that if we don’t let out enough steam through free self-expression, we build such tension inside that it feels like we are about to explode. Behaviors like hair pulling is actually a way to release tension–but a pathological way for sure. Yes, there is medication for OCD. But, also understanding yourself better helps very much too. I hope this helps you to understand more Aami. If you haven’t seen a doctor for help with OCD, may I suggest that you do so. It can help very much. Warmly Deborah.

      • avatar aami says:

        deborah tanx alot for being so kind…ur these words,and way of attention and realizing all, means alot for me for ever….as sitting too far away and giving an impression that a person cant think that ….ur this way of owning have no words for me to describe at this time…simply superb….will do all this…and all things which u had mentioned are 101% right….once again tanx alot

  12. avatar Khan says:

    Very nice…
    Keep moving…
    You should write about factors and motives behind increasing rate of incest relationship,its very important to let the peoples know and aware them about and that how they can maintain limits with spouse and other relations which are the cause of this tabboo.
    Thanx to Allah that we are still far away from this tabboo but due to some indian incest websites its increasing also in our culture becuase this is not a punishable crime in their religion and law,young generation is attracting fastly because of some safety problems of making a relationship in outside world..
    Hope i ‘ll see soon your article about this tabboo..

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Khan, you are so right. The increased rates of incest is a very important topic. And, it’s clear that incest and sexual abuse negatively alter a person’s life forever. It is a worldwide problem Khan. I promise you I will write about this soon. Thank you for your excellent suggestion Warmly Deborah.

  13. avatar Khan says:

    I ‘ll wait….

  14. avatar adam says:

    Hi Deborah,

    It is known how OCPD can impact a person’s life and relationship but have you seen people been obsessed with beauty of women and not been able to meet their expectations in that aspect in terms fo relationship and would that also be something caused by OCPD? or would it be OCD or something else? like always finding other women attractive except his spouse and feeling depressed? is that something you have seen something that have been positivily improved witht ehrapy or it cannot be fixed?

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Adam, it may certainly involve obsessive compulsive issues but perhaps some narcissism as well. Both disorders have issues with perfectionism. Adam, I hope I’m understanding well what you are saying here. Yes, I have seen such issues in therapy. There are a couple things I will mention here to think about.

      First, some people take their mates level of attractiveness as a sign of their own self-esteem. It may point to feelings about oneself rather than the mate. If I’m good enough or attractive enough myself then I should be able to attract someone who I think is very attractive. This can be one issue. In time, when we grow comfortable with our own selves and realize that the inside is more important than the outside of a person then we come to accept our mates. But, don’t get me wrong, finding our mates attractive is important, which leads me to the next issue.

      You have to evaluate if you really love this person or is the connection based on superficial needs. I don’t know what drew both of you together in the first place. But, if there is a strong relationship connection and shared values, interests–and real liking and appreciation for the person, then by all means work through this issue in therapy. Again, we do have to have some attraction to our mates and they to us. There’s a whole science of romantic connection. But, as you know one person’s cup of tea may to be good for another person. Ask yourself if you are measuring your mate against a standard that she will never meet and if this standard has something to do with your self-esteem.

      I hope this helps for now. Oh, one more thing–yes, this problem can be helped if the relationship is really a good one. Adam, I don’t know your age, but overtime, we get more comfortable with ourselves our flaws and in turn become more accepting of other people. Take good care. Thank you for commenting today. Warmly Deborah.

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