Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a mental health disorder that falls under the umbrella of personality disorders. It is characterized by persistent preoccupation with rule-following, perfectionism, and control. OCPD affects about 3% to 8% of the general population.
Read on to learn about how OCPD presents, what causes it, and how it’s treated.
Symptoms of OCPD
OCPD is characterized by the presence of traits such as:
- Excessive devotion to work
- Excessive conscientiousness
- Inability to delegate
- Miserliness (reluctance to spend money)
- Perfectionism (setting excessively high standards for yourself and/or others)
- Preoccupation with details
- Unwillingness to get rid of old or useless objects
A person with OCPD may display these traits in the following ways.
They can be preoccupied with rules, details, and lists. They can be rigid and inflexible in their views, and unable to change, often to the detriment of their relationships or personal development. Their thinking patterns may be all-or-nothing, viewing things as either up to their standards or worthy of dismissal, with nothing in-between.
A person with OCPD may have high standards that are difficult to achieve and maintain, by which they judge others as well as themselves. This can result in difficulty completing tasks because of excessive doubt, caution, and conscientiousness. They can zero in and focus on flaws, including in other people.
They may insist things must be or be done a certain way, and that the only right way is theirs. They can want to do everything themselves rather than let others help. They are overly sensitive to criticism and can withdraw emotionally when they cannot control a situation.
They can have difficulty showing affection and generosity. They may hang onto objects instead of throwing them away, even if they don’t hold value.
A 2014 study found that participants with OCPD reported less empathic perspective-taking than participants without OCPD (this may mean it is harder for people with OCPD to see things from another person’s perspective and recognize others’ thoughts and feelings).
The symptoms of perfectionism associated with OCPD usually begin by early adulthood. The rigidity imposed on the loved ones of people with OCPD can strain their relationships.
Causes of OCPD
The exact cause of OCPD is not known, but some theories supported by evidence include:
- Genetics: OCPD may be hereditary.
- The presence of other mental health disorders: Individuals with anxiety disorders appear to be at an increased risk for OCPD.
- Childhood environment: Growing up in an overly strict, rigid, controlling, over-protective environment and/or having been severely punished as a child may increase the risk for OCPD.
How Is OCPD Diagnosed?
One of the obstacles to getting an OCPD diagnosis is that people with OCPD don’t always recognize that their behaviors and thought processes are problematic. People with OCPD are often high achieving and can appear to function well, especially in a clinical setting. This can make it difficult for the person with OCPD to seek help and for the healthcare provider or mental health professional to make an accurate assessment.
Family members, partners, and other people within the lives of the person with OCPD can help with this. They are able to see the patterns from the outside and relay to the care provider both the symptoms and the dysfunction they cause.
A diagnosis of OCPD is made based on a psychological examination. The severity of the person’s symptoms and how long they have persisted are also considered. A healthcare provider will take a personal and family medical history and may also do a physical exam and/or run other tests to rule out possible physical causes for the symptoms.
It is possible to have some OCPD traits without having the fully diagnosed personality disorder.
Who Gets OCPD?
OCPD is under-researched, and studies conflict on some aspects of the condition. Some studies indicate that OCPD is more common in males than females, but larger studies haven’t found a difference in prevalence based on gender.
Treatment For OCPD
Treatment for OCPD usually involves psychotherapy (talk therapy). Medication may be used, too, but typically as a complementary treatment to psychotherapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form of psychotherapy used to treat OCPD. CBT first involves helping the person identify, recognize, and label problematic or dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. Gradually and with help, the person changes these thoughts and behaviors into ones that are healthy and productive.
Psychodynamic therapy may be an option for some people with OCPD. This approach helps a person gain greater insight into their emotional and mental processes. This deeper understanding can help them make better choices and improve their relationships with others.
Medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed if the healthcare provider or mental health professional feels it would be useful in managing symptoms, or if there are other comorbid conditions (such as OCD) to address.
What Is The Prognosis For OCPD?
People with OCPD often fare better than those with some other personality disorders. Complications such as substance abuse (which are common in other personality disorders) are less common with OCPD. This may be because the rigidness and control of OCPD prevent these complications.
Some complications that can occur if OCPD is left untreated include:
- Anxiety and/or depression (possibly due to social isolation and difficulty handling anger)
- Missed career opportunities (their rigidity, focusing on flaws of others, etc. can hamper promotion or success in group work situations)
- Relationship difficulties
Treatment can help people with OCPD recognize how their symptoms affect others, which may improve their relationships. The success of treatment depends on how committed the person is to getting help.
Coping With OCPD
OCPD is best treated through mental health professionals, but there are some ways a person with OCPD can help themselves beyond seeking professional treatment:
- Relax: Learning and practicing breathing and relaxation techniques may help you reduce the sense of urgency and stress that can accompany OCPD.
- Learn: Educating yourself about OCPD can help you and those around you understand what to expect.
- Record yourself: Keeping a diary or voice recordings to note things that make you feel anxious, upset, angry, or other unpleasant emotions can give you and your care provider greater insight as to what issues to address.
- Develop good lifestyle habits: A healthy diet, exercise, quality sleep, and other positive habits can help you perform at your best, both in general and in treatment.
- Reach out: Join support groups and online communities where you can speak with other people who understand what you’re going through.
OCPD is a personality disorder characterized by a preoccupation with order, rigidity, and control. People with OCPD have high, strict standards to which they hold themselves and others. OCPD is treated primarily with cognitive behavioral therapy, but other psychotherapies and medication may also be suggested by healthcare professionals.
A Word From Verywell
The biggest step to improving life with OCPD is recognizing that you need help. If you or those in your inner circle notice signs of OCPD in you, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to explore the possibility further.
It can be hard for people with OCPD to evaluate their own symptoms. So it may be helpful for you to bring a loved one or someone else you trust to your appointment.