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What Is Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)?

Affecting 3-8% of the population, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is the most common of all the personality disorders. This week, the Savvy Psychologist explains the 8 traits of OCPD.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #061
long to-do list

OCPD Trait #3: Workaholism

Leisure time and friendships are often considered a waste of time or unproductive.  Folks with OCPD never have time: for you, for friends, for relaxing.  Down time is usually spent either cleaning or doing something structured and rule-driven, like sports.  Somehow, play always turns into a lesson and leisure always becomes structured.

OCPD Trait #4: Moralizing

An individual with OCPD is often overly scrupulous.  For example, they may not spot you for your latte because it’s “bad” for you to be in debt (yes, even for a latte). Rules are never bent.  White lies are never told.  Proverbs are literal.  Righteous indignation is common.  Sex, affection, tenderness, and even compliments are difficult and stilted.  But their standards are just as high for themselves and they feel guilty and self-critical if they step out of line.

OCPD Trait #5: Inability to Delegate

There is only one correct way to do the laundry, drive, make waffles, or fill a tank with gas.  No one else can do it right, and if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself (even if you’re way behind schedule).

OCPD Trait #6: Rigidity

It’s really hard to compromise, try someone else’s idea, or see another perspective.  Folks with OCPD dig in their heels and cause conflict with spouses, children, coworkers, and friends.

OCPD Trait #7: Pack-Rat Living

It’s not exactly hoarding, but there’s an inability to let go of stuff, even when it’s useless, because you never know when you might need it.  

OCPD Trait #8: Saving for a Rainy Day (to the Extreme)

People with OCPD worry that a financial catastrophe is always around the corner.

So what’s the unifying theme of OCPD?  Well, there’s a theory that OCPD is an extreme expression of the personality trait of conscientiousness.  

OCPD as Extreme Conscientiousness?

Let me back up and give some background.  A theory called the "Five-Factor Model" is a well-accepted way to describe personality across cultures. These “Big Five” personality traits are:

  • neuroticism
  • extraversion
  • openness
  • agreeableness
  • conscientiousness

I’ll cover the other 4 in future podcasts, but for our purposes today, conscientiousness is the tendency to be competent, orderly, dutiful, achievement-oriented, self-disciplined, and deliberate.  Now, especially in this culture, these are usually good things: who doesn’t want to be be capable and organized?  Better than inept and flaky!  

But in OCPD, all these good traits are pushed to the extreme, to the point where they damage relationships and cost the individual with OCPD a great deal. Think of conscientiousness as a continuum. At the low end is impulsivity.  As we move along the continuum, it morphs into spontaneity, flexibility, and finally rigidity.  You want to be in the spontaneous to flexible range, but in OCPD, it bleeds over into rigidity.

Research on the disorder is scant and often contradictory, and studies regarding treatment of the disorder are almost all preliminary.  That said, we do know OCPD runs in families, suggesting a strong genetic component, and therapy can be effective, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and what’s called interpersonal therapy, which helps individuals examine and change how they interact with others.  

The only problem is that, as with the other personality disorders, folks with OCPD don’t necessarily see it as a problem, and instead believe that things would be better if others would just listen to them and do things the “right” way!  

If you recognized yourself in the podcast, or know someone with OCPD who wants to change, half the battle is already won.  Insight is the hardest part.  And while you or your loved one may never feel comfortable kicking back with a deck chair and a margarita, they can learn to appreciate the process rather than always focusing on the end result.

References

Cain, N.M., Ansell, E.B., Simpson, H.B. & Pinto, A. (2015).  Interpersonal functioning in obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.  Journal of Personality Assessment, 97, 90-99.

Crego, C., Samuel, D.B. & Widiger, T.A. (2014).  The FFOCI and other measures and models of OCPD.  Assessment, 22, 135-51.

Diedrich, A. & Voderholzer, U.  (2015).  Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: A current review.  Current Psychiatry Reports, 17, 547-547.

http://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/OCPD-Fact-Sheet.pdf;

Don't dwell and other images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
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