Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)
As many as one in 12 people have the medical disorder known as Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) without knowing it. In fact, while it’s prevalent and well established as a diagnostic category, it is one of the least recognized by the public. Also, the people who have this “disorder,” are so determined to maintain order that they wouldn’t consider that they have a dis-order. This lack of awareness leads many to perservere in being critical, workaholic, perfectionistic, and procrastinating.
OCPD is characterized by controlling, perfectionistic, and rigid behavior, and has probably wrecked at least as many lives, careers, marriages, families, organizations and communities as some better-known problems. But it goes unacknowledged, undiagnosed, and untreated partly because it’s more acceptable; many of the people who have OCPD are workaholics, and, hey, that’s OK.
At least in our culture. People in other cultures think we’re more than a little crazy for working so hard. But this is about far more than how hard we work. It’s about using an old, ineffective coping strategy that we think we need to prove that we are morally good. More later on that.
How Do I Know If I Have OCPD?
If you’re sincerely asking yourself this question, it’s less likely you have full-blown OCPD. People who meet the full criteria for a personality disorder usually find their “symptoms” perfectly normal, if not desirable, admirable and virtuous. Certainly that’s the case with OCPD. And that’s part of the problem. People don’t realize they have a problem. But that may not be you.
Still, there’s probably some reason why you’re asking this question. Even people who don’t like these characteristics can still meet the full criteria. But even if you only have some “traits” of OCPD, recognizing the tendencies in yourself can be a first step toward a healthier life.
So, first I’m going to give you the standard psychiatric spiel. Then we’ll get down to what this really means.
But before I do, I want to reaffirm what The Healthy Compulsive Project Blog is all about: seeing past the pathologizing, negative perspective on the compulsive personality and recognizing the more positive potentials that underlie it. Carl Jung called this the Prospective Method…but that’s for another post.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Criteria
According to the American Psychiatric Association, OCPD involves “a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.”
If you have four or more of the following symptoms, you meet the criteria for a diagnosis of OCPD. If you have one to four of these symptoms you would be described as simply having some traits of OCPD.
DSM-5 Criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
- Is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost.
- Shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met).
- Is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity).
- Is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification).
- Is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value.
- Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things.
- Adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes.
- Shows rigidity and stubbornness.
(This is different from OCD. Find out more about the difference here.)
So that’s what the APA says. And it’s fine as far as it goes.
Let’s Get Personal
A more helpful way of looking at this is to ask whether your compulsive traits have a negative impact on you and those around you. Ask yourself:
- Do I cause suffering to others or myself through rules, control and overworking?
- Do I get impatient, angry and judgmental when I am blocked from reaching my goals and standards?
- Do I have difficulty letting go, and relaxing unless everything I need to do is finished, and finished perfectly?
- Am I losing out on the possibility of better relationships or more joy because I work too much or I’m too rigid?
- Have I lost the point of what I wanted to work so hard for in the first place? Is my life based on a conscious approach to living meaningfully, or have I become machine-like?
- Do I take appropriate care of myself emotionally and physically by taking time for re-creation, reflection, leisure, rest, exercise and play?
- Have I been getting depressed?
If I had to boil it all down, I’d say that if you want to know if you have OCPD, ask yourself honestly whether your need for rules, perfection and order detract from your well-being, your original priorities and your relationships.
Four Different Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality
Four fairly different people could all meet the criteria for OCPD, some traits being more predominant than others. For this reason I’ve described four sub-types of OCPD in a separate post. Here is a very brief description of the four types.
1. Teacher/Leader (who can get bossy, authoritarian and critical)
2. Worker/Doer (who can get addicted to work)
3. Friend/Server (who can become a people-pleaser)
4. Thinker/Planner (who may get stuck procrastinating and obsessing)
So what if you do have any of these traits?
This doesn’t mean that the foundation of your personality is somehow irreversibly flawed. It’s only a disorder because your priorities are out of order. They’ve been hijacked for security. I won’t pretend that putting them in order is simple, but here are some essential steps.
• Compassionately acknowledge that you’ve gotten out of balance. Denial will get you nowhere, and intention will get you where you want to go. OCPD and its traits do respond to attention, and to treatment in psychotherapy. But they tend to get worse with age if ignored. Besides, there is good reason that you have this personality. (Find more about this in a previous post on the evolutionary and adaptive benefits of a compulsive style)
• Set intentions to withdraw from addiction to anger, to stop over-working and to quit being so rigid about how things are supposed to be. Yes, your intentions have been very good, but you’ve gone too far.
• Face into the feelings that you avoid by being so controlling and upright. Fear of being judged or getting in trouble? Fear of being alone? Fear of being found to be an imposter?
• Re-direct your abundant energy to the original intentions that you feel strongly about. You have passion, energy, and determination. You are conscientious and concerned. What’s really important to you? Focusing on these by becoming aware of what really holds the most fulfillment and meaning for you will be essential. Part of the problem with OCPD is that people get so lost in their work and their rules that they lose track of how they feel, what they really want and what will make them truly happy. That’s really what’s out of order.
Of course there’s much more to this shift to becoming a healthy compulsive. But the good thing is, because you are compulsive, you have the determination to apply yourself. If you bring the same determination you’ve brought to your outer world to your inner world, you will reap the rewards.
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