O.C.D. or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is the difference between OCD and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?


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There are two different mental disorders that share the OCD designation. It seems odd that we have two disorders that share the OCD part of their labels. The way I read the DSM they are rather different disorders.

The result of this dual use of the OCD label is that the two conditions may be getting confused and that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder may not be getting diagnosed or treated the way they should be.

People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have high levels of anxiety and they have rituals they feel compelled to perform that relieve the anxiety.

Think of obsession as not being able to stop thinking about something, in the case of OCD this thing they can’t stop thinking about is usually connected to some perceived danger. This is beyond just being over-anxious about a real danger. Like PTSD there are images that keep popping into the head. Having these thoughts upsets the person. The person with OCD knows these are their own thoughts and that the thoughts are excessive.

The compulsive part has to do with the inability to withstand the thought and the need to do something to relieve the tension. These obsessions are not things like avoiding the alligator, which might keep you safe. They involve things like washing of hands over and over, praying for a long period of time repeating phrases or counting.

The description of OCD reminds me of impulse control disorders like gambling or addiction and has some similarities to overeating disorders.

OCD is a more generalized condition than what you might see in someone who has difficulty controlling only one obsession or compulsion as in an alcoholic who keeps thinking about drinking until they give in and drink. In OCD the compulsions don’t have that direct a relationship.

That is a very over brief description of OCD from the DSM-4-TR.

For more on OCD and its treatment, I would refer you to another site here on WordPress called ocdtalk.

How is OCD different from Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?

This description of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is taken from the proposal for the DSM-5 since it will become final very soon and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is one of the personality disorders that the DSM-5 kept.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder involves a SIGNIFICANT impairment in self-functioning. Someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder does not just have a few symptoms about one thing but that is the way they are all the time.

Someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder gets their self-worth, their sense of purpose in life from their work or productivity. They are compelled to do something all the time. They have overly high rigid standards and are “inflexible” about meeting these standards. This sounds like that old “black and white thinking” to me.

Someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is overly moralistic or conscientious. As a result of these excessive standards, they may be unable to complete projects unless they can be done “correctly” or perfectly.

People with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder lack empathy for others and will put work or moral standards before relationships.

If you are not perfect the person with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder will not want you for a friend. If you think you are perfect then you may well have Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder or another mental illness.

Other traits of a person with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder include rigid-compulsive perfectionism and negative “affect.” Meaning they are negative about everything all the time.

A person with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is also likely to practice “perseveration” meaning they can’t let something go. They will keep trying to get something just right even after it no longer matters.

I get the picture here of someone who is very “puritanical.” I believe sitcoms call them “anal-retentive.”

People with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder do not end up in treatment very often, at least not for the personality disorder, but they do drive others around them to therapy.

Did that explain the difference? Feel free to leave a comment. I always feel compelled to reply.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

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8 thoughts on “O.C.D. or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder?

  1. Pingback: Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. | counselorssoapbox

    • Not sure I have an answer for you. I think this could be a very individual thing. It might be helpful to explore with a counselor or therapist what you were like before you began drinking. Some of these symptoms may be the result of an alcoholic lifestyle or of the challenges of getting and staying clean and sober. Best wishes on your continued sobriety.


  2. Pingback: Perfectionism – good thing or bad thing | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: Perfectionism – good thing or bad thing | counselorssoapbox

  4. I really enjoyed this article! It gives a very accurate and concise summary of the differences between the two disorders. Readers might also be interested in another article I just read on this topic called “Identifying & Treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” at http://www.psychalive.org/2012/12/identifying-and-treating-obsessive-compulsive-disorder/ which discusses how to identify Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and also provides valuable information on treatment options.


  5. Hi David. This was really interesting! I have OCD,Borderline Personality Disorder,Anxiety and Mood Disorder. (Bipolar 2). *laughing* Crazy isn’t it! Mostly I think I have these under control, although some things may trigger 1 or 2 of these things to raise their ugly head. I don’t let it define me as a person…meaning I force my way through society faking it! *smiling*…Paula x


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