Woman with OCPD looking out the window

What is Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)?

7 min.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a mental health condition that results in an obsessive need for perfectionism and order. Here’s everything you need to know about this mental health condition.

By: Ashley Laderer

February 28, 2023


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Table of Contents

What is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)?

Do you know someone who is obsessively driven by perfectionism, orderliness, and productivity? Maybe they need to be in control and do things their own way, stubbornly refusing to deviate from what they’re used to –– and maybe these behaviors are getting in the way of their relationships. If so, you may know someone with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).

To start, let’s define what a personality disorder is. According to the American Psychiatric Association, an individual must consistently think, feel, and behave in ways that defy cultural norms in order to be diagnosed with a personality disorder. These feelings and behaviors may cause someone distress or cause them to have trouble functioning in their daily life. Usually, symptoms of personality disorders first appear during the teen years or early adulthood.

There are three different types or clusters of personality disorders. OCPD falls into what is known as Cluster C personality disorders, which are linked with high anxiety and fear. Aside from OCPD, the two other Cluster C personality disorders are:

  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder

Ultimately, what sets OCPD apart from other personality disorders is that the condition is characterized by an obsession with perfection, being in control, and being very orderly or organized. People with OCPD are very regimented and have particular ways they need to carry out their tasks –– without any room for flexibility or compromise. Extreme perfectionism and these patterns overall can cause someone with OCPD to have trouble completing tasks, such as at work or school, and can cause difficulties with interpersonal relationships. This can end up taking a toll on someone’s mental health.

Oftentimes, people with OCPD do not see any problems with their behavior. In fact, they might be convinced that their ways of thinking and doing are the only right ways and that other people who criticize them are wrong.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is believed to be the most common personality disorder, affecting up to 7.9% of people in the United States.

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What are the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder?

There are many symptoms of OCPD, falling under the general umbrellas of perfectionism and maintaining control.

Some examples of signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are:

  • Having extreme perfectionism that gets in the way of finishing tasks
  • Being very stubborn and stuck on their personal way of doing things
  • Being hyper-fixated on things like lists, rules, or details
  • Following rules very strictly
  • Needing things to be organized and in order
  • Lacking the ability to compromise
  • Taking measures to avoid being a “failure”
  • Heavily focusing on work and being productive
  • Spending less time having fun, socializing, or being with loved ones due to their intense dedication to work
  • Perceiving things as either good or bad, with no in between
  • Being unable to delegate responsibilities or tasks to other people because they think they won’t do it “right”
  • Having trouble dealing with receiving criticism from others
  • Strictly adhering to personal morals or codes of ethics
  • Being indecisive or doubtful
  • Being very frugal with money
  • Hoarding things or not wanting to throw out objects even if they aren’t sentimental or if they are broken

While many people will exhibit some of these OCPD traits or behaviors, it does not automatically mean they have a personality disorder. When multiple symptoms occur over a long period, and when it’s interfering with someone’s life, it could be a diagnosable disorder.

This personality disorder is unique in that some of its symptoms may actually help someone with OCPD succeed at their job or school since they have such an intense focus on work, drive to be productive, willingness to follow rules, and strong organizational skills. However, sometimes someone’s perfectionism is so intense that it actually stops them from completing their tasks or assignments. Overall, the overall OCPD symptoms will result in a reduced quality of life and a strain on interpersonal relationships.

What are the causes and risk factors of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder?

Researchers are not sure of the exact cause of OCPD, but they believe a couple of factors may contribute to it. Genetics might play a role, and people are more likely to be diagnosed with OCPD if other people in their family also have personality disorders or other mental health conditions. Childhood experiences, such as childhood trauma, may also contribute to the development of OCPD.

Additionally, people with certain mental health conditions are more likely to have OCPD – such as people who have:

Someone coping with OCPD receives support from a friend.

What are the differences between obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Many people are more aware of the mental health condition obsessive-compulsive disorder than they are of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. While the names sound very similar, the two have major differences. Here are some of the key differentiators:

  • OCD is considered to be an anxiety disorder, while OCPD is a personality disorder.
  • People who have OCPD usually don’t think anything is wrong with their behavior, and they are not troubled by it. On the other hand, people with OCD can feel tortured by their unwanted and obsessive thoughts –– and they know they need help.
  • While OCPD mainly relates to work or general productivity themes, OCD obsessions and intrusive thoughts can have many themes that are intensely troubling to the person, such as germs, contamination, violence, sexuality, or other disasters.
  • OCD obsessions are accompanied by OCD compulsions, such as cleaning, counting, checking, performing a repetitive behavior over and over, or seeking reassurance that something bad won’t happen. The need to carry out a compulsion to neutralize a distressing obsessive thought is a hallmark OCD symptom.
  • OCD can interfere with all aspects of someone’s life, negatively affecting the quality of life, work or school, and relationships. OCPD can contribute to someone’s success at work, but interpersonal relationships will typically be compromised.
  • Treatment approaches are different. One of the main therapies for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) to help someone manage their unwanted thoughts and compulsions –– whereas this isn’t typical in OCPD treatment.

What is the treatment for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder?

People with OCPD don’t typically seek treatment on their own for their personality disorder. Usually, they’ll end up getting treatment if they seek mental health care for a co-occurring mental health condition like an anxiety disorder or depression. Then, when a mental health professional evaluates them, they might recognize signs of OCPD and make the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

Alternatively, a loved one such as a partner, friend, or family member might intervene if they notice that someone’s behavior is worsening and causing more negative impacts on their functioning and quality of life –– however, this can be tricky due to the fact that people with OCPD are very sensitive to criticism and also typically don’t see anything wrong with the way they act. Their need for control might also clash with their therapist.

Everyone is different, and treatment plans may vary among OCPD patients. However, psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the most commonly used treatment for OCPD. Two main therapy modalities used for OCPD patients are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
    Many mental health struggles are treated with CBT. This type of therapy can help someone become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, giving them the power to reframe negative beliefs and address unhealthy behaviors. They will learn new coping skills and how to deal with distorted thoughts, difficult emotions, and stress. Ultimately, they will develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors.  
  • Psychodynamic therapy
    Psychodynamic therapy is designed to determine the root cause of someone’s suffering. A psychodynamic therapist will help the patient engage in self-reflection to examine themselves, their past, their relationships, and their behaviors. By better understanding all of this, they can help the client make positive changes in their life.

Additionally, learning relaxation techniques with the help of a therapist can be very helpful for someone with OCPD since they often have trouble relaxing and letting go.

Examples of these are breathing exercises or meditation. In some situations, medications may be prescribed. A therapist may refer someone out to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication if they think it could be beneficial. Certain antidepressants might help people with OCPD, especially those who struggle with depression or anxiety.

Furthermore, if someone is dealing with co-occurring conditions, this will be taken into account when the psychiatrist decides what medication is best for their patient.

How can Charlie Health help?

If you think a teen or young adult in your life has OCPD and/or struggles with any other mental health conditions, Charlie Health may be able to help.

We know that every individual has their own unique mental health journey depending on the symptoms and difficulties they face. Our personalized intensive outpatient program provides mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families dealing with a variety of struggles, including OCPD and any other co-occurring conditions.

It is certainly possible for people with OCPD to experience a higher quality of life, better relationships, and improved mental health. Help is here now. Get started.

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