If you were to ask ten people on the street, “What does it mean to be perfect?” you’ll likely get ten different answers. One person may say that it is the state of being without flaw. Another may say that it’s a state of complete harmony or of having solely positive qualities. Although perfection is a subjective concept, and thus virtually unattainable, there are still individuals who will go attempt to reach it. When this desire for perfection becomes ingrained in every aspect of a person’s life, it begins to consume them. This is the case for those with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is distinguishable from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in that those with OCPD believe their habits and actions to be rational and meaningful while those with OCD find that their behavior is unwanted and unhealthy. Most people with OCPD do not have OCD and most people with OCD do not have OCPD (De Caluwe, 2014). OCPD is a pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control and affects approximately 3-8% of the general population. Those with OCPD are noted to be obsessed with details, perfectionistic, stubborn, and inflexible. In addition, they are also extremely devoted to work, unable to discard objects with no material or sentimental value, hesitant to delegate tasks or give responsibilities to others, and often do not spend money (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
While some with OCPD are able to perform duties immaculately as a result of their perfectionism, others struggle to complete their daily tasks. People with OCPD often look in control, responsible, and orderly, leading many people to believe that they have everything going for them. Even though everything appears right from their point of view, this disorder causes several complications. In an empirical study assessing comorbidity in 43,093 individuals with OCPD, approximately 30% of those who had OCPD met the criteria for substance abuse disorder. They are also more likely to develop depression, attempt suicide, and have difficulty expressing emotions than their non-OCPD counterparts (Steenkamp et al., 2015). Many with OCPD are unable to complete their work in a timely manner because it didn’t reach their high standard. They easily become overstressed when things aren’t perfect, thus exhausting themselves. When they lose control of a situation, they will either emotionally withdraw from a situation or react strongly, often times in anger. Those surrounding a person with OCPD may view that person as arrogant for his or her unwillingness to work with others, stuck-up for being too hard working, and anti-social for focusing more on work than other leisurely activities. As a result of their refusal to work with others, people surrounding someone with OCPD will grow frustrated and distance themselves from that person. (Cain et al., 2015).
Marie Giunta, a freelance writer who focuses on OCPD, had spoken about her friend Marion’s husband, George, who has OCPD. Marion initially believed that her George’s habits regarding cleanliness and work ethics were innocent and desirable traits of a husband. However, once they moved in together, the extent of George’s perfectionism became clear:
“An example of his extreme view was how he insisted on a clean, tidy house – ALL THE TIME. Once cleaned the house was to stay that way. If you moved something it had to be put back exactly where it was. Believe me, you didn’t want to be around if George noticed something wasn’t how he had left it. We, (the children and I) knew that if he cleaned something, especially his work areas, we didn’t touch anything. Imagine living with that kind of scrutiny all the time?”
George was eventually diagnosed with OCPD but refused treatment and after 20 years of marriage, Marison asked for a divorce. Although she cared for him deeply, the tension was too much. Marison states:
“Had George been open to seeking help for his OCPD the marriage may have survived, but why would he seek help when he didn’t believe he had a problem?” (Giunta, 2016).
When you’re in a work environment that promote organization and cleanliness, it’s difficult to change how you think and what you do. Those with OCPD have difficulty identifying when there is a problem. When aspiring for perfection, it is sometimes natural to expect others to express the same. George’s life was structured; he had a loving family and a successful career. When there are so many positives in one’s life, it’s difficult to see that there’s a problem.
People with OCPD present traits that most would see as useful and almost enviable. However, not everything is what it appears to be. Like most mental illnesses, OCPD is difficult to see and even the most well balanced and calm individuals can possess one. OCPD affects not only the person who possesses it, but also everyone around them. When you see someone working to reach perfection or something of the utmost quality, you would see them as admirable and they may believe it too. However, even if you can’t acknowledge that there is an issue, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there and it doesn’t mean that your life isn’t affected by it.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Cain, N. M., Ansell, E. B., Simpson, H. B., & Pinto, A. (2015). Interpersonal functioning in obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Journal Of Personality Assessment, 97(1), 90-99. doi:10.1080/00223891.2014.934376
De Caluwe, E., Rettew, D., & De Clercq, B. (n.d). The Continuity Between DSM-5 Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Traits and Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms in Adolescence: An Item Response Theory Study. Journal Of Clinical Psychiatry, 75(11), E1271-E1277.
Giunta, M. (2016, July 25). Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Life After an OCPD Marriage Breaks Down. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://hubpages.com/health/Obsessive-Compulsive-Personality-Disorder-OCPD-Life-After-an-OCPD-Marriage-Breaks-Down
Hasin, D., & Kilcoyne, B. (2012). Comorbidity of psychiatric and substance use disorders in the United States: current issues and findings from the NESARC. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 25(3), 165–171. http://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283523dcc
Steenkamp, M. M., Suvak, M. K., Dickstein, B. D., Shea, M. T., & Litz, B. T. (2015). Emotional functioning in obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Comparison to borderline personality disorder and healthy controls. Journal Of Personality Disorders, 29(6), 794-808. doi:10.1521/pedi_2014_28_174