What is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder?

Mental Health

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a medical condition that causes a person to experience an overwhelming need for order, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control.

People with the condition have an obsessive need to follow rules and regulations, as well as a moral and ethical code from which they will not deviate. In other words, they think that they are always right.

While people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are aware that their compulsions are illogical, people with OCPD are not. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), an estimated 2.1–7.9% of the general population have OCPD.

Having OCPD can interfere with a person’s ability to relate to others. While individuals with this condition can often improve their quality of life if they seek treatment, they rarely perceive that there is a problem, so the condition tends to go untreated.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of OCPD.

a woman with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder say in an office in front of a laptop. Share on Pinterest
A person with OCPD may have an overwhelming need for order and perfectionism.

A person with OCPD usually demonstrates some of the following personality traits:

  • excessive fixation with list-making, often down to minor details
  • having such a level of perfectionism that they cannot finish tasks because they become fixated on the details
  • an unwillingness to delegate or share tasks, unless the person whom they are working with agrees to perform them exactly as they ask
  • strict following of their personal moral and ethical codes with little room for understanding others
  • often come across as being ungenerous or even frugal
  • displaying hoarding behaviors, such as refusing to throw things away

A person does not have to demonstrate all of these signs for a doctor to diagnose them with OCPD. However, a person with OCPD will usually have some of these behaviors, and their symptoms will often impair their social life, career, and family relationships.

People with OCPD can be extremely difficult to work with or have a relationship with because they typically only see things their way. They believe that their approaches are the best way and cannot usually understand another person’s point of view.

These personality traits make it difficult for a person to recognize that they have a problem. Instead, they often feel and may vocalize that if others followed their rules, everything in their life would be fine.

Doctors do not know exactly what causes a person to have OCPD. However, they have some theories:

  • Genetic factors may play a role in the development of OCPD. If a person has a close family member with the condition, they may be more likely to have it.
  • A person may have had a childhood with very controlling or protective parents or caregivers. Some doctors see OCPD as a coping mechanism by which a person instituted order in their life to deal with their feelings.
  • People whose parents or caregivers were often unavailable may also have an increased risk of OCPD.

However, a person may have OCPD without any of the above factors as causes.

OCD is a condition in which a person deals with thoughts and behaviors that they cannot control but feel the urge to repeat continually. Examples include fears relating to germs or the need to arrange items in the “perfect” order.

A person with OCD may also engage in repetitive behaviors, such as frequent handwashing or repeatedly reorganizing items.

Some examples of the ways in which OCD and OCPD differ include:

Comfort with thoughts

People with OCD cannot control their thoughts. They often wish that they could stop thinking a certain way but find that they cannot.

A person with OCPD does not have a problem with their thoughts. Instead, they find comfort in their thoughts and believe that they are acting correctly.

Belief in need for treatment

A person with OCPD often does not see a problem with their thoughts. They do not usually think that they need treatment.

In contrast, a person with OCD is more willing to accept the idea that they may need treatment. Their thoughts might make them feel upset and guilty about how their condition could affect others.

Existence of conflict

A person with OCPD can often appear extremely critical and unyielding. This personality trait usually causes problems with friends and family, who often think that the person is behaving unreasonably. This feeling can lead to conflict.

Meanwhile, OCD may affect relationships for different reasons. Often, for example, a person’s thoughts and behaviors interfere with their ability to work with and talk to others.

Doctors classify OCPD as a personality disorder. These disorders are a disturbance in behavior that can affect a person’s social and work life. Most commonly, a personality disorder will develop in late adolescence and persist “in a stable form” in adulthood.

Although there is no specific diagnostic test for OCPD, such as a blood test, a doctor can talk to a person about their life to gauge whether they may have OCPD.

A doctor may also speak to close family members or loved ones about the person’s day-to-day activities and interactions with others. A doctor will then consider whether the behaviors that the person is displaying align with those of OCPD.

A doctor may not be able to diagnose a person with OCPD immediately. Several counseling sessions may be necessary before they are able to do so.

Those who live with a person who has OCPD generally find it a challenging experience. Family members often report feeling as though they cannot meet the person’s expectations and are subject to constant criticism.

Co-workers may have difficulty working with a person with OCPD. A person with OCPD often works very well on their own, but they may have difficulty working on group or team-based projects.

Co-workers may find that the person with OCPD is too rigid and critical. Sometimes, this can lead to the loss of a job due to conflict.

People with OCPD do not see themselves as having a problem, so it can be difficult to persuade them to seek treatment.

However, if their condition starts to interfere with their work and personal life, they may be more willing to seek treatment, according to the International OCD Foundation.

Treatments for OCPD include the following:

Therapy

A person may seek care from a therapist, who can take a variety of different approaches. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps a person recognize their behavior as rigid or abnormal. A therapist can then help the individual identify behaviors that can help them improve their ability to get along with others.

Medication

Sometimes, a person with OCPD can benefit from taking medication. Doctors usually prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help a person reduce their fixation on rules and order. SSRIs increase serotonin levels in the brain and can have a positive influence on mood, emotions, and sleep.

Relaxation exercises

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques, can all help a person reduce the stress levels that are causing them to engage in OCPD-like behaviors.

With time and treatment, many people with OCPD can find the motivation to change.

Sometimes, it is hard to recognize that a person has a problem with OCPD and should see a doctor. Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • A person continually finds themselves saying, “my way is the right way” or “nothing is right unless it happens this way.”
  • Others have told a person that they are stubborn, rigid, or excessively perfectionist.
  • A person repeatedly has conflicts or problems with other people at work because they feel that people are not doing things the right way.
  • A person experiences feelings of anger or turmoil if someone challenges their rules or processes.

Sometimes, a person’s loved ones may need to encourage them to seek treatment.

OCPD is a personality disorder that may cause a person to establish a significant number of rules and a sense of order to get through their day.

As people experiencing OCPD often do not recognize that their behavior is problematic, they may take convincing before they agree to seek treatment.

If a person suspects that they or a loved one has OCPD, they should speak to a doctor or mental health professional about treatment options.

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