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What is Obsessive Personality Disorder?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Obsessive personality disorder is more accurately named obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). This condition differs from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The main difference is the lack of ritual behaviors in the person with obsessive personality disorder, though hoarding, which may be a feature of OCPD, can be ritualized. Generally, OCPD is usually described as extreme perfectionism, where people are obsessed with doing things in one right way and are greatly disturbed when anything is done in a way not thought appropriate. This obsession can lead to depression, mental anguish, and indecisiveness and it also damages the person’s ability to interact socially with others because the tendency to judge others based on rigid personal standards exists at all times.

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Sufferers of obsessive personality disorder live in a rule-based world of their own creation. The “correct” definition for doing any one thing is inflexible, and in instances where a new thing must be done, there can be extraordinary anxiety about how to do it. New tasks could be left unfinished or cause someone with OCPD to obsessively think about the best way to perform them. The whole goal is to establish a sense of order, and this order overrides being able to be flexible about how others do things. The child of a parent with OCPD is likely to suffer this tremendously; putting an item in the refrigerator on a wrong shelf could minimally lead to a lecture. Anyone in a relationship — including therapists — with a person with obsessive personality disorder is likely to have a hard time satisfying this person’s standards.

Some symptoms of OCPD, though they can vary among individuals, include obsession with order, black and white thinking, and perfectionism. Morals, ethics or values are often rigidly constructed. Things like work or housework are more important than family or other relational interactions. Some people with OCPD also hoard or they are totally detail-oriented about all work or all decisions. In the absence or loss of control, a person with obsessive personality disorder easily becomes upset and anxious, and the upset response is often anger-based.

Causes of OCPD aren’t clearly established. Sometimes having a parent with this condition predisposes children to have it too. It’s important to point out that plenty of people with this illness had good and supportive parents, and other things like trauma or unknown genetic factors could be causal.

Treatment is more clearly defined and can be long and rigorous. Typical treatment is talk therapy that uses at least some elements of behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy is aimed at reducing negative behaviors, while psychodynamic therapy might round out the process.

Overall, the goal is to reduce obsessive behaviors and help the person find ways to become less rigid over time, while reducing emotional discomfort about greater flexibility. This requires significant commitment from the client. Establishing trust between therapist and client is particularly difficult because the therapist won’t always meet the perfectionist standards of the OCPD client, which could abruptly end therapy, if not appropriately addressed.

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