OCD vs. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are often a source of considerable confusion for researchers, healthcare professionals, and patients. Despite having similar names and symptoms, OCD and OCPD are distinct forms of mental illness that have unique and specific characteristics.

The main difference is that OCD is designated in the DSM within its own category called obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. However, OCPD distinct from these and is considered a personality disorder.

Characteristics of OCD

OCD is a disorder defined as the presence of an obsession (an irrational thought or idea that continually repeats) or a compulsion (an irrational behavior performed repeatedly). These behaviors can occur together or on their own, and interfere with a person's quality of life and ability to function.

Obsessions

Obsessions are not simply worries about real, everyday problems. They are defined by specific clinical characteristics:

  • Irrational thoughts, images, or ideas that won’t go away, are unwanted, and cause extreme distress
  • Thoughts accepted as their own, but that seem impossible to control
  • Thoughts that are distressing enough to prompt actions to dispel those thoughts, such as engaging in compulsive behaviors as a means of distraction

Compulsions

Compulsions are neither routines nor addictions. Rather, they are characterized by abnormal behaviors that may include:

  • Repeating irrational and often ritualistic behaviors, such as cleaning, hand-washing, counting, tapping, or double-checking
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors for fear that something terrible may happen, such as getting an infection
  • Hoarding things out of fear that something bad may happen if these items are not near you
  • Performing ritualistic behaviors to dispel anxieties about an obsessive thought, such as the fear of someone dying
  • Repeating behaviors recognized as irrational but which feel impossible to stop

Characteristics of OCPD

OCPD is a personality disorder defined by strict adherence to orderliness and control over one's environment at the expense of flexibility and the openness to new experiences. OCPD is characterized by personality traits such as:

  • Excessive need for perfection and relentless control over one's environment and interpersonal relationships
  • Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, and order that can result in missing the major objective of an activity
  • Excessive devotion to work at the expense of family or friends
  • Rigidity and inflexibility with regards to morals, ethics, values, and/or the adherence to rules
  • Inability to get rid of items that no longer have value (hoarding)
  • Inability to be generous to others

OCD vs. OCPD

While there is considerable overlap between the two disorders, there are four basic ways to distinguish OCD and OCPD.

Presence of True Obsessions and/or Compulsions

OCD is defined by the presence of true obsessions and/or compulsions. Conversely, with OCPD, the behaviors are not directed by uncontrollable thoughts or irrational, repeated behaviors.

Feelings About Obsessive Behaviors or Thoughts

People with OCD are typically distressed by the nature of their behaviors or thoughts, however much they are unable to control them. People with OCPD believe that their actions have an aim and purpose.

Willingness to Seek Help

People with OCD will often seek professional help to overcome the irrational nature of their behavior and the persistent state of anxiety they live with. (Some, however, may not see their actions as irrational and will not seek help for behavior they believe to be helpful or necessary.)

People with OCPD will usually not seek help. They don't see that anything they are doing is particularly abnormal or irrational.

Consistency of Symptoms

The symptoms of OCD tend to fluctuate in association with the underlying anxiety. Because OCPD is defined by inflexibility, the behaviors tend to be persistent and unchanging over the long term.

A Word From Verywell

There are clear conceptual differences between OCD and OCPD. But in practice, these disorders can be difficult to tell apart. In some cases, a person may even be affected by both disorders.

To come to an informed diagnosis and find appropriate treatment, it is important to seek the care of a qualified mental health professional. Some people with OCD and/or OCPD may not recognize the detrimental impact of their behavior(s) and may be in harm's way. If you know someone in this situation, encourage them to seek professional help in a supporting, sensitive way.

Example:If you or a loved one are struggling with OCD, OCPD, or another mental health condition, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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