OCPD sufferers may struggle with self-esteem issues or feelings of shame, embarrassment, and insecurity, which may result in a lack of interest in being around other people. This may leave friends and family grappling with their own feelings of isolation and sadness. Follow this article to learn more about what is OCPD and how OCPD affects relationships?
Imagine if you had a soundtrack of terrible thoughts and urges playing in your head on repeat or an ever-present fear of germs or hurting others. Doing things in a certain order or checking the stove 15 times before leaving the house would be the norm. Now, imagine the effect these constant thoughts, urges, and compulsions – also known as Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) – would have on relationships with a romantic partner, family, friend or work colleague?
The challenges on both sides are real, but with the proper tools and information, those with OCPD can engage in positive and healthy relationships personally and professionally. OCPD impacts nearly 2.2 millions American adults each year and is defined by The National Institute of Mental Health as “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”
OCPD is so disabling and distressing (it’s ranked as one of the 10 most handicapping conditions in terms of lost income and decreased quality of life according to The World Health Organization), and can add tremendous emotional strain on both sides of the relationship. If you want to explore more about OCPD and how OCPD affects relationships, then follow this article.
Table of Contents
What is OCPD?
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder that’s characterized by extreme perfectionism, order, and neatness. People with OCPD will also feel a severe need to impose their own standards on their outside environment. People with OCPD have the following characteristics:
- They find it hard to express their feelings.
- They have difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships with others.
- They’re hardworking, but their obsession with perfection can make them inefficient.
- They often feel righteous, indignant, and angry.
- They often face social isolation.
- They can experience anxiety that occurs with depression.
OCPD is often confused with an anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, they aren’t the same. People with OCPD have no idea that there’s anything wrong with the way they think or behave. They believe that their way of thinking and doing things is the only correct way and that everyone else is wrong.
What are the causes of OCPD?
While personality disorders such as OCPD do not have any one specific cause, some risk factors that may make one more susceptible to developing OCPD include:
- A family history of personality disorders, anxiety or depression.
- Childhood trauma, including child abuse that leaves one feeling like being “perfect” is the only way to survive.
- Having a preexisting mental health condition, especially an anxiety disorder.
- Having a genetic mutation that affects your serotonin levels.
Familial traits of compulsivity, restricted range of emotion, and perfectionism are thought to contribute to this disorder. Hummelen et al. proposed that OCPD develops out of one’s inborn tendency toward systemizing, as this leads to heightened rigidity, stubbornness, and perfectionism. These thoughts, based on the systemizing mechanism, offer one possible explanation for the link between OCPD and interpersonal hostility which was noted in previous research.
Additionally, a difficulty of understanding interpersonal functioning in OCPD is due to its high comorbidity with OCD. Gordon et al (2013) and Starcevic et al. (2012) note prevalence data supporting a relationship between these disorders, with elevated rates of OCPD (45-47.3%) in persons diagnosed with OCD. Further, research by Przeworski & Cain (2012) on OCD using the interpersonal circumplex suggests that OCD exhibits interpersonal heterogeneity, with OCD individuals reporting “exploitable, nonassertive, and intrusive interpersonal problems.”
What are the symptoms of OCPD?
Symptoms of OCPD vary from person to person. To be diagnosed with OCPD, you must have at least four of the following six symptoms:
- Emotional rigidity
- Depressed mood
For those with OCPD, nearly all decisions can seem to take on utmost importance, while being correct is imperative; therefore, making even simple choices can become a nightmare. The inability to establish with certainty which choice is the correct one can cause a person great suffering. For example, it is not uncommon for someone to spend ten minutes on relatively trivial decisions such as which route to drive somewhere or which pair of shoes would be correct for an outfit.
Placing a great deal of pressure on themselves and on others to not make mistakes, the driving force behind OCPD is to avoid being wrong in any accounts. Since it is nearly impossible to continuously make correct choices in life, those with OCPD regularly feel discontent. The impacts of indecisiveness can have devastating effects on academic, professional and interpersonal relationships.
Due to their quest for perfectionism, those with OCPD tend to be rigid and stubborn in their activities, insisting that everything be done in specific ways. The need to be in control often leads to persons with OCPD acting solitary in their endeavors as they tend to mistrust the help of others. Planning ahead in great detail without considering any changes, this relentless rigidity may frustrate co-workers and friends.
The compelling need to do things in a particular way is often based on little evidence or logic. Objections to both banal and significant decisions may lead to long arguments; although one with OCPD may be unable to fully justify their position, they vehemently maintain their beliefs. Within interpersonal relationships, the rigidity of OCPD can become problematic.
Mindful to downplay and hide any emotions, the frequent inner turmoil of depression those with OCPD suffer is rarely observed by others. The expectations of high standards one applies to themselves can become debilitating. Feeling deeply entrenched that they are a “Good Person” can paradoxically lead to feelings of depression and disappointment.
Unable to live up to their high standards, self-hatred along with tremendous disappointment can easily lead to depression. Understanding and acceptance that one is human and with occasional flaws is paramount to overcoming said depression.
In those with OCPD, a need for perfectionism leads to preoccupation with order, and control of themselves and situations. This drive leads to an interference with flexibility, effectiveness, and openness. In an attempt to maintain a sense of control, one focuses on rules, minute details, procedures, schedules, and lists.
The main point of a project or activity often becomes lost as people repeatedly check for mistakes and pay extraordinary attention to detail. Making poor use of time, the most important tasks are often left until the end; further, preoccupation with details and attempting to perfect all aspects of the project can endlessly delay completion.
Hoarding presents as the excessive saving or collecting of items (which are typically regarded as worthless), to the point that it intrudes on the quality of life for the hoarder or those living with them. In the majority of these cases, people lack the insight that they are behaving in an unhealthy manner. When persons are not cognizant of the irrational nature of this condition it is referred to as overvalued ideation (ego-syntonic OCD).
Typically, this form of OCD involves a poorer prognosis since the individual is rarely willing to confront the challenges offered by treatment. The lack of willingness to see their culpability has a very adverse impact on the quality of life for those around them. However, many hoarders are well aware of the adverse impact of this condition and suffer tremendously as a consequence of seeing their living environment filled with possessions.
Excessive ordering is another prominent sign of OCPD. Someone with this condition tends to place items in exactly their proper spot and align how they “should be” (i.e. the “correct” way.) Cabinets, closets and drawers are often meticulously arranged, as persons with OCPD tend to ritualize ordering, often with a focus on patterns, symmetry, use of equivalent spacing and parallel formations; if an item were misaligned or shifted slightly from its proper space, a person with OCPD can typically note this discrepancy immediately and readjust it.
What are the types of OCPD?
Each of these four types emphasize a particular dimension of the compulsive personality. They’re all linked by a strong internal drive to accomplish, and to accomplish as close to perfectly as possible. But each chooses to respond differently to this urge, each chooses a different way of adapting to their world within the limits of a driven and perfectionistic personality.
- Leader – informing others how to live
- Worker – focuses on achieving
- Friend – focuses on helping others
- Thinker – focuses on planning
Leader – informing others how to live:
They can be informative guides and mentors, authoritative in the best sense. They are motivated by the power of change. They can be controlling bosses and even ruthless bullies, using rules to control everyone else. They can be rigid and authoritarian, insisting that their way is the only way. They can destroy relationships and communities. They may get caught in a Prophet complex, believing they are communicating God’s message to the world.
Worker – focuses on achieving:
They’re very productive and contribute a great deal to the world around them. They’re motivated by accomplishment and mastery. They become compulsively manic workaholics who neglect their well-being and their relationships. They may get caught in a Hero complex, destructively overextending themselves.
Friend – focuses on helping others:
They are good team players, they work well with others, creating harmony and finding satisfaction in doing so. They are motivated by alliance and affiliation. They compulsively try to meet expectations. People-pleasers in the worst sense, they may be so attentive to the thoughts and needs of others that they lose their authentic voice and what they have to offer. Competing demands drive them crazy because they can’t please everyone. They may become caught in a Sacrificial complex, giving themselves away constantly.
Thinker – focuses on planning:
They have very high standards and reflect cautiously before taking action. They are motivated by security and quality. They tend to be so perfectionistic that they obsess and procrastinate and can’t get anything done. Their strategy is to avoid failing or losing favor by not taking risky chances. They don’t allow themselves to take chances and so never achieve what’s meaningful to them.
What is the difference between OCPD and OCD?
OCD is a condition in which a person deals with thoughts and behaviors that they cannot control but feel the urge to repeat continually. Examples include fears relating to germs or the need to arrange items in the “perfect” order. A person with OCD may also engage in repetitive behaviors, such as frequent handwashing or repeatedly reorganizing items. Some examples of the ways in which OCD and OCPD differ include:
|People with OCD cannot control their thoughts. They often wish that they could stop thinking a certain way but find that they cannot.||A person with OCPD does not have a problem with their thoughts. Instead, they find comfort in their thoughts and believe that they are acting correctly.|
|A person with OCPD often does not see a problem with their thoughts. They do not usually think that they need treatment.||In contrast, a person with OCD is more willing to accept the idea that they may need treatment. Their thoughts might make them feel upset and guilty about how their condition could affect others.|
|A person with OCPD can often appear extremely critical and unyielding. This personality trait usually causes problems with friends and family, who often think that the person is behaving unreasonably. This feeling can lead to conflict.||Meanwhile, OCD may affect relationships for different reasons. Often, for example, a person’s thoughts and behaviors interfere with their ability to work with and talk to others.|
|In OCPD the personality traits are not directed by uncontrollable thoughts or irrational, repeated behaviors.||OCD is defined by the presence of true obsessions (an irrational thought or idea that continually repeats) and/or compulsions (an irrational behavior performed repeatedly).|
|People with OCPD typically believe that their actions have an aim and purpose.||People with OCD often feel distressed by the nature of their behaviors or thoughts, even if they are unable to control them.|
What are the personality traits of someone who has OCPD?
Following are the personality traits that you will find in an individual who has OCPD:
- Preoccupation with detail
- Perfectionism interfering with task completion
- Neglect other areas of life for work
- Fixated on minor rules
- Unable to discard worthless objects
- Reluctance to delegate tasks
Preoccupation with detail:
The first one is that these are people who are preoccupied with lists and order and organization to such a degree that actually the original point of the activity is lost. So, these are the people who will create color-coded alphabetized filing systems and spend months on it, and then they’re not even clear why they did this.
And they’ll put up some incredible bulletin board with all these color codes on it, and then the time will have passed for this thing to happen. So, there’s a tremendous inefficiency, but they actually do literally get preoccupied. They will spend hours. They’ll stay up late. And again, it can look virtuous to the world, but they’re working hard on something that often, as I often view it, they lose the plot.
Perfectionism interfering with task completion:
The second criteria is really perfectionism, and their perfectionism gets in the way of getting a task done. This is an interesting criterion in OCPD because perfectionism is just that. In some ways, it’s almost like a form of self-sabotage. It can happen in a lot of ways. So, perfectionism becomes an obsession, and then they don’t get the task done because they’re so focused on getting it perfect, whatever it may be. It may be a creative project. It may be a work project. It may be a school project. But again, it’s that perfectionism getting in the way of task completion.
Neglect other areas of life for work:
The third is that they’re excessively devoted to work and productivity to the neglect of other activities in life, such as social relationships and other things that matter in life. And it’s time. They’ll work weekends. They’ll work late. They’ll work at home. They work all the time. And not necessarily because they have to.
Fixated on minor rules:
The fourth is that they’re overly conscientious about matters of morality. They’re scrupulous about what they think is the right way. So, for example, there may be cultures in the world where there are very rigid rules of order around how a certain gender can behave or whatever other rules of order they may have. That’s not what we’re talking about here. These are people who are really over conscientious about a certain viewpoint or pattern or rule that has to be followed without exception.
Unable to discard worthless objects:
Number five’s an interesting one because it almost feels a little bit like what we see in hoarding disorder, which is they’re unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects. And it has nothing to do with sentimental value.
Reluctance to delegate tasks:
Number six gets at this idea of their unwillingness to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other people. They’re reluctant to delegate tasks because they don’t feel like anyone else can do it right. So they’ll try to do everything themselves. And if you do do it, they’ll fix what you did. So they might as well have done it themselves in the first place.
Number seven gets back to that miserly style we’re talking about. They’re miserly not only in spending on others, even about themselves. So they’ll be wearing the same shoes from 1984. They’ll be wearing clothes from a long time ago. They’ll still have a pot or a pan with a loose handle that was 30 years old.
And it’s not just frugality because sometimes we admire that. Right? We live in a very throwaway society. But the thing doesn’t work very well. So they don’t spend on themselves. They don’t spend on others, which can feel sort of uncomfortable and icky for people near them at a time when someone expects even a token gift like a birthday or Christmas.
The last one is actually probably one of the crowning qualities, which is rigidity and stubbornness. They’re rigid. They’re rigid in everything. They’re rigid in matters of morality. Once they get a point of view, they stick to that point of view no matter what. Sometimes people admire their conviction.
What are the risk factors of OCPD?
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.
How does OCPD affect relationships?
A partner with OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder), can be really difficult to live with. They usually aren’t aware how extreme their rigidity has become and are often convinced that they’re right all the time. Their perfectionistic, controlling and workaholic tendencies can leave you feeling criticized, run-down, and abandoned. Following are some challenges that a person might face while being in a relationship with a person who has OCPD:
- Difficulty in showing empathy
- Rigid and stubborn traits
- Excessive focus on work
- Preoccupation with lists, schedules, and plans
- Lack of surprise in the relationship
Difficulty in showing empathy:
Empathy is a core component of connection. If a relationship lacks empathy on one or both sides, it can cause problems. People with OCPD tend to be critical, and they may have difficulty showing empathy or keeping a flexible perspective. This can lead to conflict in the relationship, and it can be tough for their partners to feel like they’re being heard or understood.
Rigid and stubborn traits:
People with OCPD might have rigid thinking patterns, such as all-or-nothing thinking. This type of thinking can make it hard to compromise. In an argument, you might feel frustrated that, despite your efforts, the only way to close the discussion is either to give in to their demands or walk away.
Excessive focus on work:
An excessive conscientiousness or focus on work can lead to neglecting interpersonal relationships. This common aspect of OCPD may lead to a partner feeling neglected and set aside in favor of work commitment, Antonino says. A major focus on work means, on average, having less time for leisure and other activities that are essential for the relationship.
Preoccupation with lists, schedules, and plans:
Being organized is generally a good trait, helping us reach goals and make meaningful changes. But too much organization can eliminate spontaneity, a fundamental ingredient in romantic relationships.
Lack of surprise in the relationship:
Aside from specific days and times, the element of surprise may be missing in relationships where one person has OCPD. This can be frustrating for couples. It can be challenging to plan for an impromptu weekend away, dinner or night out with someone with OCPD, making it hard for their partner and even their friends and family to maintain and cultivate a relationship. A relationship, however, can be had, but it may feel as though it is often only on their terms.
How can you improve your relationship?
In very severe cases of OCPD there may be little you can do to help them change other than urge them to get professional help. And you should not tolerate abuse of any sort. But in all cases you’ll need to focus on what you can do to improve not only your relationship, but also your own life, rather than waiting for your partner to change. As we’ll see below, this can actually help your partner change.
- Be specific in your communication
- Practice relaxation techniques
- Withhold criticism
- Work with them, not against them
- Seek therapy
Be specific in your communication:
The more direct you are, the more likely you will communicate effectively. Avoid using vague or ambiguous language, as this can be confusing or frustrating for someone with OCPD. It’s always better to express outwardly what you are feeling. They may be rigid, but they’re able to reason. Talk about the problem you’re having. Whether with someone with OCPD or otherwise, relationship issues often don’t get solved because we don’t talk about them.
Practice relaxation techniques:
Relaxation techniques can help you manage stress, stay calm and avoid starting a fight. Try to make sure your expectations are realistic and avoid pressuring your loved one to change overnight. Relaxation techniques might include:
- Breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
People with OCPD are hard enough on themselves, and it can help to do your best not to add to it. Much of OCPD is ruled by the need to have control. There was a time in your partner’s life when they lost control, and it changed their life. Be compassionate toward that while promoting emotional safety for letting go. Try to reassure your partner that while things may not go as planned or be structured, moments can still be enjoyable.
Work with them, not against them:
If you feel like the relationship has plateaued, or you’d like a little more intimate time, try to create a schedule that reflects that. Go on a date, a weekend away, visiting a museum, or even making love. You can almost surely count on them following through, and you’ll more likely satisfy your needs in a way that works for both of you.
Treatments can help reduce the impact of OCPD symptoms on the person and their loved ones. Therapies for OCPD can include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Mindfulness-based therapy
- Integrative psychotherapy
Although OCPD has a negative connotation in the context of relationships, there are pros and cons to this type of partnership. If you’re dating someone with this mental health condition, learning the best ways to communicate can give your relationship the best chance for success. Every person with OCPD is unique. To cultivate a meaningful bond or repair a damaged connection, there are helpful tips you can follow.
Having friends, a therapist, or a support group is particularly important if the compulsive person in your life is demanding. A support network can help you to keep track of what’s reasonable. Ask your friends for true reality checks. If you simply want to be validated, it won’t be much help. But asking trusted friends for honest feedback about what your partner can reasonably expect of you can help keep you grounded.
Being close to someone who is compulsive has its challenges and rewards. Appealing to their deeper, positive inclinations, and keeping the focus on what is within your control, may help you enjoy more of the rewards.