Learn the signs, symptoms and causes of OCPD and how getting help can reduce the negative impacts of this personality disorder.
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a mental health condition that influences a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and disrupts the lives of those around them. Although the condition may not be as well-known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), OCPD is much more common. It is one most common disorders, affecting nearly 8 percent of the US population.
Because it is not well-known, many people do not realize they or their loved one has the disorder. Since people may not be as familiar with OCPD as other conditions, it is necessary to recognize the symptoms and signs of the condition to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?
OCPD is a personality disorder, meaning it produces a long-term effect on an individual’s experiences and behaviors. Personality disorders also:
- Affect many aspects of a person’s life
- Are inflexible and challenging to treat
- Usually begin during adolescence or early adulthood
- Are consistent over time
- Create distress and significant life impairment
For context, there are dozens of mental health diagnoses and only ten personality disorders. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) groups OCDP with a cluster of personality disorders like avoidant personality and dependent personality because they share common features.
Related Topic: Avoidant personality disorder treatment
Someone with OCPD focuses intensely on orderliness and control. They may talk about following rules and making sure everything is fair. Many people might view someone with OCPD as a perfectionist or describe them as particular or anal.
People with OCPD typically believe that the way they act is the right way, and anyone who disagrees is wrong and foolish. They are often unwilling to let others take responsibility for a task because no one could ever complete it as well as they could.
On the other hand, if the right answer is not apparent in any situation, someone with OCPD will overthink and overanalyze the situation before making a decision. In some cases, they will not even attempt a task that is unclear and move on to something else.
Signs and Symptoms of OCPD
The APA sets forth eight symptoms and signs of OCPD for mental health professionals to use in diagnosis and treatment. The signs of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder include:
- A focus on details, organization or schedules above everything else
- A degree of perfectionism that interferes with everything from major projects to normal, daily tasks
- Being overly focused on work and productivity so that leisure time, hobbies and friends are ignored
- A sense of being overly rigid and inflexible about matters of right and wrong linked to morals, ethics and values
- Struggling to throw away old, worn-out or worthless items even when there is no sentimental attachment
- An inability to assign or delegate assignments to others
- Hoarding money and being stingy with spending to prepare for future disasters
- Being stubborn and stuck in their actions and thinking
Some of these symptoms overlap with OCD. However, someone with OCD will be more locked into a pattern of obsessional thinking followed by compulsive behaviors that serve to reduce worries and fears.
OCPD and Relationships
Maintaining a lasting, happy relationship with someone who has OCPD can be difficult. Aspects of the disorder that make relationships difficult include:
- A focus on completing activities rather than forming relationships
- Viewing others as inferior or unable to live up to their expectations
- Fun activities being treated as serious matters
- A lack of affection
People with OCPD may have appropriate relationships with their employees or subordinates but will struggle with peers or romantic interests. They may hold back affection and come off as cold and formal.
When dating someone with OCPD, a person may rarely receive a compliment or any heartfelt communications. People with OCPD are more concerned with logic and rationality instead of emotions and feelings.
Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
The precise origins of OCPD are still not well-understood. Like other mental health conditions, the influence of various risk and support factors determine if and when the condition occurs.
Genetics and biological factors seem to contribute to the presence of OCPD since the condition tends to run in families. So, if a person has a close family member with OCPD, there is a better chance that the person will have the disorder as well.
In addition to the possible biological nature of OCPD, environmental influencers may contribute to the diagnosis, especially parenting styles. Someone may be at high risk for OCPD if the parents or guardians:
- Were not physically or emotionally available
- Were overprotective
- Were overly controlling
- Doled out harsh punishments
The theories state that, in these situations, the OCPD perfectionism becomes a coping skill to get attention or avoid punishment. Once people respond favorably to the perfectionism, the trait grows.
OCPD Risk Factors
This condition may co-occur with other mental health disorders. People with higher stress or anxiety disorders have an increased risk of OCPD. Possible disorders linked to OCPD include:
- Social phobia: fear of social situations
- Specific phobia: fear of a particular place, item, animal, situation or another stressor
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
A person with this condition might have a strong relationship with alcohol and other drugs. On the one hand, they could avoid all substances due to the view that drugs and alcohol diminish their abilities and make them less perfect. On the other hand, the person may resort to substances as a negative coping skill to manage the intense pressures and disappointments that come with OCPD.
Even though OCPD and OCD share similar names, diagnosing the conditions and telling one from the other is often simple. Typically, OCD will present with clear obsessions and compulsions which are not shown in OCPD. Someone may have both conditions co-occur in rare situations.
A mental health professional will review the person’s experience and compare it to the eight OCPD symptoms described early. To be diagnosed with OCPD, a person must have four or more of the specified symptoms.
One of the barriers to successful OCPD diagnosis is the person’s insight. Frequently, people with OCPD do not realize that their behaviors, thoughts or feelings are problematic. They will see issues with the other people in their life and label them as fools, lazy or unmotivated. In reality, it is the OCPD that creates unwanted issues.
With this lack of awareness, a person may resist the OCPD diagnosis or never even allow themselves to be evaluated. Subsequently, it is important to practice patience, understanding and honesty if you or a loved one have symptoms of OCPD.
Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
As mentioned, the first obstacle to successful treatment for OCPD is getting the individual to acknowledge the issue and seek treatment. People may only submit to treatment when the condition threatens their job, relationship or social status. Perhaps, their spouse will threaten divorce if nothing changes.
Once a person agrees to treatment, psychotherapy will typically be the main form of treatment. There are two psychotherapy options, long-term or short-term. Long-term obsessive compulsive personality disorder treatment is the best way to make significant, lasting changes to the person’s overall well-being, but there are some drawbacks:
- Therapists may not have the skills to create change
- The person may not have the finances or insurance coverage to pay for sessions
- The person may stay resistant and unwilling to change
Short-term psychotherapy will be an appropriate option in many situations. Short-term therapy can:
- Reduce stress
- Build new coping skills
- Encourage new relationships and reinforce healthy ones
- Teach assertive communication skills
The goal of any therapy for OCPD will be for the individual to tap into their feelings rather than staying focused on their thoughts.
A psychiatrist may offer medications to address low mood or symptoms related to OCD, but these drugs are usually for short-term use only. Similarly, group therapy sessions may not be helpful as the person may grow irritated by the group members.
How to Help a Loved One With OCPD
There are various steps you can take to help your loved one with OCPD.
- Learn as much as you can about OCPD from trusted sources
- Listen to your loved one to better understand their perspective
- Offer love, encouragement and support
- Suggest online support services such as teletherapy
- Practice clear, direct communication to express your needs and wants
- Avoid expressions of anger or hostility
- Set specific conditions and consequences on the relationship
Most importantly, realize that your ability to provide effective treatment to your loved one is limited. Encourage your friend or family member to participate in professional treatments for OCPD.
OCPD Support Groups
Support groups and online counseling for OCPD are sometimes overlooked but remain helpful options for those who need additional services or struggle with professional treatments. OCPD support groups may not be plentiful, but you can find in-person support groups here.
If no groups are available in your area, consider online counseling services which can offer a variety of information and group possibilities. Whether online or in-person, these resources are usually open to people with OCPD as well as their family members.
There are many hardships a person with OCPD faces on the path to recovery. The condition becomes so ingrained into every aspect of the individual and creates poor insight and self-awareness. Professionals usually view personality disorders as long-term conditions, but there is always hope of recovery.
A person with a high level of insight will likely have a better prognosis. With more insight, a person can see how the condition affects their life and the lives of other people around them, which sparks motivation for change.
With a social support system, open-mindedness and consistent treatment, anyone with OCPD can progress, so the condition has a smaller effect on their life. Setting small, practical goals along the way is a great way to acknowledge progress towards a favorable prognosis.
If you or a loved one is experiencing the signs and symptoms of OCPD paired with a substance use disorder, seeking professional help from a dual-diagnosis treatment center can help. Contact The Recovery Village to be put in touch with knowledgeable people who can offer guidance and treatment options to match your situation.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013. Accessed February 2019.
International OCD Foundation. “Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).” 2010. Accessed on February 26, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedLine Plus. “Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.” November 18, 2016. Accessed on February 26, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.