Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often confused with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). While they are very similar on the surface, a bit of research will show you there are major differences between OCPD vs OCD.
For this reason, we’re going to take a deeper look into OCPD, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment methods. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a mental health condition in which a person struggles with severe perfectionism, orderliness, rules, and control. Due to this nature, OCPD causes individuals to desire being in charge of every little detail of their life, even if it comes at the expense of openness. ¹
OCPD is a personality disorder which is the first major difference from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a type of anxiety. Personality disorders leave a person with personality traits that are: ²
Out of this, someone with OCPD will likely have difficulty developing connections with others. Furthermore, they may find themselves having problems in school, work, or other daily activities due to their rigid nature.
If you struggle with OCPD, you’re likely to experience the following symptoms: ³
- Abnormal dedication to your work
- Developing order and lists for tasks
- Difficulties with self-identity and/or self-direction
- Difficulty in giving up control of a task
- Feeling restrained or restricted due to your emotions
- Loyalty to rules in an inflexible manner
- Need to control relationship with others
- Perfectionism down to the smallest detail
- Problems empathizing with others (maintaining a relationship)
- Trouble giving something to someone else
Since these symptoms are similar to other mental health conditions, a medical professional may not immediately come to the conclusion that you have OCPD.
What Causes OCPD?
Similar to other mental disorders, researchers still aren’t 100% sure what causes OCPD. One theory suggests that children struggling with the following can develop OCPD later in life:
- Empathy and other emotions
- Inability to relate or attach to their parents
- Overprotective parents
However, OCPD may be caused by aspects seen in the causes of other personality disorders:
- Childhood Trauma – One study found there was a direct connection between childhood trauma and the development of various personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder (BPD). ⁴
- Genetics – Some research has found there’s a link between genetics and personality disorders. ⁵ For example, one study discovered a malfunctioning gene in those with OCD. ⁶
- Verbal Abuse – One study observed 793 mothers and children where verbal abuse played a role in their relationship (i.e. screaming, threats, saying they didn’t love them). The study concluded that children who experienced the verbal abuse were three times as likely to develop borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, or paranoid personality disorders. ⁷
Furthermore, there are a number of other health conditions that can lead to OCPD, including: ⁸
- Eating disorders
- Illness anxiety disorder (previously known as hypochondriasis)
- Parkinson’s disease
In order for a doctor to diagnose you with OCPD, you must have “a persistent pattern of preoccupation with order; perfectionism; and control of self, others, and situations.” Furthermore, you must meet at least four of the following personality traits:
- Excessive devotion to work and productivity (sacrificing leisure activities, friends, and family)
- Excessive conscientiousness, fastidiousness, and intractability in concerns with ethic or moral issues
- Inability to get rid of worn-out or worthless objects, even if they hold no sentiment
- Inability to work with others unless the work is exactly as you desire
- Perfectionism: the need to do something so perfect that it interferes with the task
- Preoccupation with rules, schedules, organization, details, and lists
- Rigidity and stubbornness
- Unwillingness to spend money on yourself and others
A doctor will look to other areas of your life to ensure you’re struggling with OCPD. This includes whether or not you avoid intimacy, get stuck on ideas, or decrease emotional expression.
OCPD vs OCD: What’s the Difference?
Since some OCPD vs OCD symptoms overlap, it can be difficult to tell them apart. However, there are a few key questions to ask yourself to determine the differences between OCD and OCPD:
How Do You React to Obsessive Thoughts and Behaviors?
If you have either OCD or OCPD, you’re going to struggle with obsessive thoughts. But your reaction to these thoughts will differ.
For those struggling with OCD, you’re likely to feel a torture (or anxiety) over your obsessions. So much so that you relieve this distress through compulsions (i.e. cleaning, checking to make sure door is locked, etc.). ⁹
On the other hand, those with OCPD believe their actions have a purpose or goal. In fact, people with OCPD may so convinced their symptoms bring them success that they avoid treatment. This is especially true for individuals who are extremely dedicated to their jobs. ¹⁰
How Often Do You Experience Symptoms?
Since OCPD is a personality disorder, symptoms tend to be more consistent – showing little change over time without treatment. While they may fluctuate (i.e. be worse some days than others), this fluctuation usually isn’t too severe.
If you struggle with OCD, an anxiety disorder, it’s likely your symptoms aren’t consistent. More often than not, symptoms are determined by how much anxiety you’re experiencing. And while it’s not always the case, anxiety symptoms are less predictable and can leave your control much easier. ¹¹
Are Your Symptoms Obsessions/Compulsions or Personality Based?
When it comes to OCD, you’re like to experience repeated obsessions (irrational thoughts and ideas) alongside compulsions (abnormal behavior). While many experience both symptom sets together, it’s possible to also experience each on their own. Regardless, OCD will have detrimental effects to your quality of life and how you manage through day-to-day activities. ¹²
The key difference with OCPD is symptoms tend to be part of a personality trait rather than ungovernable thoughts and behaviors. As mentioned, your symptoms are likely to be more consistent and you may even find they’re directly correlated with your success.
OCPD Treatment: What to Look For?
Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment plan for OCPD itself. However, there are a number of treatment options for those struggling with a personality disorder. These often begin with a type of psychotherapy followed by medication. ¹³
The two most common types of psychotherapy for OCPD are:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Allows you to identify negative thought patterns and, through doing so, make healthy changes to promote positive patterns. ¹⁴
- Psychodynamic Therapy – Allows you to comprehend conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions in order to develop healthier lifestyle choices. ¹⁵
Depending on your circumstances, a psychiatrist may also suggest interpersonal therapy (IPT) or family-focused therapy.
Currently, there are no medications specific to OCPD and, with that, it’s unlikely to be initially recommended. However, if you continue to struggle even after psychotherapy, your doctor may recommend an antidepressant. ¹⁶
If you’re struggling with another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, a doctor is likely to prescribe you medication for that disorder rather than OCPD.
Other Ways to Cope with OCPD
Beyond traditional treatment routes, there are some other ways to help manage OCPD symptoms. These include:
- Find Holistic Alternatives – From meditation to all-natural herbs, there are a number of holistic remedies that can help ease symptoms of OCPD.
- Research – By getting to better know OCPD and how it’s affecting you, you’ll start to be more aware of symptoms. This will allow you to take the steps to overcome them.
- Stress Management – When it comes to any mental health condition, stress is one of the biggest triggers for symptoms. For this reason, it may prove essential to develop stress management techniques.
If you believe you’re struggling with OCPD, it’s important to seek out professional treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you identify and target symptoms, the better chance you have at overcoming them.
As you can see, there are a number of important differences between OCPD and OCD. With that in mind, it’s vital to ensure you understand which condition you struggle with and how to properly treat it.
Still have questions about OCPD vs OCD?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Journal of Personality Assessment: Interpersonal Functioning in Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
² MedlinePlus: Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
³ Topical Collection on Personality Disorders: Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: a Current Review
⁴ The Journal of nervous and mental disease: Traumatic exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder in borderline, schizotypal, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders
⁵ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: The genetic epidemiology of personality disorders
⁶ Molecular Psychiatry: Serotonin transporter missense mutation associated with a complex neuropsychiatric phenotype
⁷ Comprehensive Psychiatry: Childhood verbal abuse and risk for personality disorders during adolescence and early adulthood
⁸ Current Opinion in Psychiatry: New diagnostic perspectives on obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and its links with other conditions
⁹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over
¹⁰ BJPsych Bulletin: Living with obsessional personality
¹¹ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: Symptom dimensions and subtypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder
¹² Psychiatry Research: The familiality of specific symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder
¹³ The Lancet: Treatment of personality disorder
¹⁴ HHS Public Access: The Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Personality Disorders
¹⁵ World Psychiatry: The effectiveness of psychodynamic psychotherapies
¹⁶ Europe PMC Funders Group: Pharmacological interventions for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder