What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?

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What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is defined by strict orderliness, control, and perfectionism. Someone with OCPD will likely try to stay in charge of the smallest details of their life, even at the expense of their flexibility and openness to new experiences.

OCPD is a personality disorder, which means it involves personality traits that are stable, long-held, atypical, and problematic in some way. In the case of OCPD, people with this condition may find it hard to relate to others, and their devotion to perfectionism and rigid control can make it difficult to function.

OCPD is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed (DSM-5)," OCD is organized in its own category of mental conditions called "Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders."

Symptoms of OCPD

Someone with OCPD may experience symptoms like:

  • Acting restrained or restricted with their emotions
  • Adherence to rules in an inflexible, rigid way
  • Creating order and lists for tasks
  • Desire to control their relationships with others
  • Difficulty empathizing with others and/or maintaining intimate relationships
  • Extreme dedication to their work
  • Having trouble giving things to others
  • Need for perfection even in the smallest details
  • Problems with self-identity and/or self-direction
  • Trouble giving up control and delegating tasks

At first glance, OCPD may seem similar to an anal personality type. While someone with an anal personality might share some of these traits, like perfectionism, orderliness, and a need to be in control of their environment, having these quirks isn't the same thing as having a personality disorder.

Diagnosis

To diagnose you with OCPD, your doctor will likely look for at least four of the personality traits described in the DSM-5:

  • Excessive devotion to work at the expense of family or friends
  • Extreme need for perfection and relentless control over your environment and interpersonal relationships
  • Inability to be generous to others
  • Inability to delegate tasks
  • Inability to get rid of worn-out or worthless items (even those without sentimental value)
  • Over-conscientiousness
  • Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, and order, which can result in missing the major objective of an activity
  • Rigidity and inflexibility with regards to morals, ethics, values, and/or the adherence to rules

They may also look for additional signs of OCPD. These include the presence of rigid perfectionism and at least two more personality traits:

  • Intimacy avoidance
  • Getting mentally "stuck" on an idea
  • Reduced emotional expression

Your doctor may also check for any difficulty you have with:

  • Empathy
  • Identity
  • Intimacy
  • Self-direction

OCPD vs. OCD

While OCD and OCPD are distinct forms of mental illness with their own unique and specific characteristics, there is considerable overlap between them. There are some basic ways to distinguish between them, however.

Presence of True Obsessions and/or Compulsions

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

With OCPD, on the other hand, the personality traits are not directed by uncontrollable thoughts or irrational, repeated behaviors.

Feelings About Obsessive Behaviors or Thoughts

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

Because of this, those with OCPD may also avoid seeking professional help. In some situations, the traits of OCPD can even translate to success—someone who is overly dedicated to their job and conscientious of every detail, for example, might see benefits at work, even if they are struggling in other areas of their life.

Consistency of Symptoms

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

Causes of OCPD

We don't yet know what causes OCPD, although there are some theories that explain different possibilities. One theory deals with attachment styles and says that OCPD may develop in children who:

  • Had overprotective parents who didn't offer much care
  • Didn't develop emotionally and empathetically during their childhood
  • Weren't able to form secure attachments with their parents

There may also be a biological component to OCPD, as having relatives with the condition might make you more likely to have it.

Risk Factors

OCPD is one of the most common personality disorders. Men and women seem to experience it at about the same rate, though it's less common in younger adults. It can occur with several other conditions, like:

Treatment

Though we need more research in this area, most treatment plans for personality disorders begin with psychotherapy, while medication might be used as a complement.

Psychotherapy

Therapy options for OCPD can include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on helping you notice and, eventually, change the negative thought patterns associated with OCPD.
  • Psychodynamic therapy, which is intended to help you understand your conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions, so you can make healthier choices in your daily life.

Medication

Your doctor might recommend medication to help control some of your OCPD symptoms, especially if you're also experiencing another condition like depression. This might include medication to control your anxiety and/or antidepressants.

Coping

In addition to seeking treatment, you can learn some strategies to cope with OCPD. These could include:

  • Educating yourself: Learning more about your condition can be an empowering experience. It may help you notice when a symptom of OCPD is causing your behavior, so you can take steps to cope.
  • Managing your stress: Keeping your overall stress levels low is always a good idea. Try developing a plan to reduce stress so you'll be ready to cope with whatever comes your way.
  • Practicing self-care: If you have OCPD, it can be easy to neglect yourself while you focus on your current project. Consider making self-care a regular part of your day.
  • Trying mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness can help you spot times when perfectionism is causing anxiety, for example, so you can take steps to calm down. Meditation pairs well with mindfulness, and it's an effective stress-reliever.

A Word From Verywell

If you have traits of OCPD and you're looking for help, it's important to seek the care of a qualified mental health professional. You may not immediately recognize the detrimental impact of your behavior and how it's affecting different areas of your life. A mental health professional can determine whether or not you have OCPD and help you deal with the symptoms of the condition.

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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