Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Philosophy of Perfection

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).


People 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).

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *