Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder - Part 1

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Definition – Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is a pervasive characterological disturbance involving one’s generalized style and beliefs in the way one relates to themselves and the world. Persons with OCPD are typically deeply entrenched in their dysfunctional philosophy and genuinely see their way of functioning as the “correct” way. Their overall style of relating to the world around them is processed through their own strict standards. While generally their daily experience is such that “all is not well,” they tend to be deeply committed to their own beliefs and patterns. The depth of ones belief that “my way is the correct way” makes them resistant to accepting the premise that it is in their best interest to let go of “truth owning.” Yet letting go of truth is paramount in their recovery.

Submitted: August 13, 2010

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Submitted: August 13, 2010

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Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

Comments from readers:

Amy – This article was very helpful. I recently met a person described with these classic symptoms who expressed that she wanted to be my friend. She talks excessively and hoards junk. Now that I have read this article, I think that I will end the friendship immediately.

Anonymous – In comparison to the other sites and articles about OCPD, yours was completely thorough and well done. I was able to get a good grasp of the condition, and can relate to what was written.

Anon from the UK – I have to say I am truly indebted to Robert Braswell for this phenomenally accurate and comprehensive insight into OCPD. The Wikipedia article is not a patch on this.

Anonymous – I've been in an alternately glorious and painful on-again, off-again relationship for more than two years with a man I love dearly. I never understood what went so wrong with us until I first read an August 2007 "Time Magazine" article on OCD and relationship substantiation...and just finished your article on OCPD. Everything is very clear. I no longer blame myself! It's sad and so tragic, though, for a man with such potential to put hideously rigid restraints on himself and others.

Anonymous – I hate how people who write articles about OCPD make us sound like we are some kind of antagonist. Maybe for once someone should mention how being "controlling of friends" means we care about them, not that we want to manipulate them into something that benefits us like a sociopath.

Not to mention that even though I am very anal about the work I do, I have never had anything but compliments from employers. Yes I know that I assign myself ridiculously detailed tasks to complete. No, I don't see how it makes me an inefficient worker when the final product is better than anyone else's.

Rigid rule-following and close mindedness is stereotypical. How about the opposite? Someone who is rigid about making sure both sides of the coin are properly respected and understood?

I'm not saying your article is not a valuable resource for those wishing to learn about OCPD, but I will say that this article relays the message that anyone who is OCPD or associated with someone who is OCPD is unhappy. OCPD doesn't make me jump with joy, but it doesn't mean my life is any less happy than someone who is "normal".

Anonymous – I pity you. I married a man with OCPD and now must watch my son descend into madness as the personality disorder takes its toll on him. I must now simply let go, with despair of course. But I must let go.

Dana from San Francisco – This is a very detailed and insightful article. As a person with an Obsessive Compulsive Personality Type (NOT a disorder) I have done quite a lot of research on personality and disorders in general and have found it disturbing the number of times people with certain personalities are given diagnosis and drugs for disorders they don't have.

This article explains the excess of the disorder, which will help some of those I counsel distinguish between one and the other.

Obsessive Compulsive Types make great detectives, writers, scientists and live normal lives but can over shop, become addictive among other things. I myself find whenever I am researching a subject I must have EVERYTHING on it, all the books, all the articles. I end up with too much information, but my compulsion is always there and I must force myself to STOP.

Although I am well aware that my personality type can easily descend into disorder, I understand it and can therefore address it everyday. I am grateful I have the ability to do that, as other members of my family do not. Drugs may be the only answer for some but for others understanding oneself can be even better. It doesn't mean the compulsions are gone, but it helps me to fight them. Thanks again.

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This article is written for the purpose of reaching better understanding of this disorder, thus hoping for better acceptance of those who suffer from it. I am not someone who is technically qualified to give such a diagnostic evaluation to anyone, but because much of this information strikes close to home with someone I know, I was compelled to write ‘something’ in an effort to reach out to this individual on a higher emotional level.

Most of the information gathered for this article is not of my own. I am only but a vehicle to be used to help spread knowledge of this stifling illness.

Definition – Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is a pervasive characterological disturbance involving one’s generalized style and beliefs in the way one relates to themselves and the world. Persons with OCPD are typically deeply entrenched in their dysfunctional philosophy and genuinely see their way of functioning as the “correct” way. Their overall style of relating to the world around them is processed through their own strict standards. While generally their daily experience is such that “all is not well,” they tend to be deeply committed to their own beliefs and patterns. The depth of ones belief that “my way is the correct way” makes them resistant to accepting the premise that it is in their best interest to let go of “truth owning.” Yet letting go of truth is paramount in their recovery.

It has devastating effects on a person’s interpersonal relationships. It tends to occur in families and thus may have a genetic component. They tend to be high achievers and feel a sense of urgency about their actions. They may become extremely upset if others disturb their rigid ordered routines.

Obsessions and compulsions are about control of self (mental) and others (interpersonal). People with the OCPD are concerned (worried and anxious) about maintaining control and about being seen maintaining it.

They tend to see the world and others as at best whimsical and arbitrary and at worst menacing and hostile. They are constantly worried that something is or may go wrong. In this respect, they share some traits with the paranoid and the schizophrenic.

Socially, persons with this condition are sometimes resented and rejected. This is because some of them are self-righteous to the point of bigotry.

They are so excessively conscientious and scrupulous and so un-empathically and inflexibly tyrannical that it is difficult to maintain a long-term relationship with them. They regard their impossibly high moral, work, and ethical standards as universal and binding, hence their inability to delegate tasks to others, unless they can micromanage the situation and control it minutely to fit their expectations. Consequently, they trust no one and are difficult to deal with and stubborn. When events stray from what a person’s sense of how things “should be,” bouts of intense anger and emotional discord are characteristic.

Generally two hallmark thinking styles are pervasive for persons who suffer this condition. The primary manifestations of OCPD entail either a bent toward perfectionistic standards or righteous indignation. Along with perfectionism comes relentless anxiety about not getting things perfect. Getting things correct and avoiding at all costs the possibilities of making an error is of paramount importance. This perspective produces procrastination and indecisiveness.

The second factor entails the rigid ownership of truth. This feature produces anger and conflict.

Persons with OCPD generally lean toward one of these perspectives or another. In some cases both perspectives are of equal magnitude. Rituals, on the other hand, often play a relatively small part in this complex syndrome of perfectionistic mannerisms, intense anger and strict standards. Their way is the correct way and all other options are “WRONG”. Anger and contempt are rarely held at bay for those who disagree.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III-R, the bible for persons in the mental health profession) suggests that persons with OCPD display a pervasive pattern of orderliness, perfectionism, and/or mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency. It is further suggested that persons with this condition tend to resist the authority of others while simultaneously demanding that others conform to their way of doing things. The DSM III-R’s pervasive focus relates to the person’s inability to attain completion of tasks due to the inordinately high standards, which are placed on almost all aspects of living.

The following is a list of their compulsive beliefs:

·I am fully responsible for myself as well as others.

·I have to depend on myself to see that things get done.

·Others tend to be too casual, often irresponsible, self-indulgent, or incompetent.

·It is important to do a perfect job on everything.

·I need order, systems, and rules in order to get the job done properly.

·If I don’t have systems, everything will fall apart.

·Any flaw or defect of performance may lead to a catastrophe.

·It is necessary to stick to the highest standards at all times, or things will fall apart.

·I need to be in complete control of my emotions.

·People should do things my way.

·If I don’t perform at the highest level, I will fail.

·Flaws, defects, or mistakes are intolerable.

·Details are extremely important.

·My way of doing things is generally the best way.

OCPD is a pervasive condition involving ones life philosophy where the characteristics are vast and complicated. To qualify for a diagnosis of OCPD one need not possess all of the following manifestations nor is one or two similarities sufficient. A combination of the following dispositions in an extreme form is generally grounds for a diagnosis.

·Marked preoccupation with details,lists,order,organization,rules, or schedules.

·Marked perfectionism that interferes with the completion of the task.

·Excessive devotion to work.

·Excessive devotion and inflexible when it comes to ethics, morals,or values.

·Cannot throw out worn-out,useless,or worthless objects,with no sentimental value.

·Insist others work or do task exactly as they would.

·View money as something to hoard.

·Stubborn and rigid.

Associated Features:

Indecisiveness - When almost all decisions seem to take on the same paramount importance and being correct is imperative, making even simple choices can become a nightmare. Persons with OCPD can become stymied in life due to an inability to establish with certainty which choice is the correct one. They tend to place a great deal of pressure on themselves and on others to not make mistakes. Within OCPD the driving force is to avoid being wrong. This indecisiveness can have devastating effects on academic, professional and interpersonal relationships. An extremely difficult time making decisions (always looking for the correct choice) contributes to procrastination. Frequently even starting a task seems impossible, due to a need to sort out the priorities correctly.

Emotional Rigidity - In a world where being in control is of paramount importance, dealing effectively with the volatility of emotions is extremely difficult. Since emotionality is associated with spontaneity and upheaval (i.e. loss of control), responding to emotions effectively and appropriately places an abundance of pressure on the OCPD to keep them constricted. Exerting effort to contain “out-bursts” of emotion is an everyday phenomenon. It seems however that there is one emotion, which exists in abundance. The expression of anger tends to come out naturally and in excess. Anger, as an emotion, is one of the most basic and easily triggered of human reactions. Anger is only seconded by anxiety in its primitive nature. Vulnerability, (one of the most advanced of human emotions), as seen through the eyes of the OCPD sufferer, compels people to act in silly ways and expose themselves to the possibility of rejection. Emotional constraint is exerted to prevent the possibility that one may act in a regrettable way. The result of this emotional constraint is that all displays of emotion sometimes become compressed into an expression of flat affect. Anxiety and happiness can be perceived as the same on the receiving end. It is not uncommon for persons with OCPD to have their humor often mistaken for seriousness. Jokes or sarcasm (seen by the deliverer as obvious) are mistaken for insults and political incorrectness.

Depressed Mood - Although rarely observed by others, the experience of inner turmoil within this syndrome is immense. As much as others are often victimized by OCPD’s oppressive and demanding style, the high standards often apply two fold within the OCPD sufferers’ expectations directed toward themselves. It is not uncommon for a person with OCPD to feel deeply entrenched in the belief that they are a “Good Person.” This belief can paradoxically often lead to feelings of depression and disappointment. The high standards which a “Good Person” is expected to live up to are often far beyond the capacity for any human being to consistently fulfill. A belief such as “I know that I’m a good person, but I hate myself for doing so many wrong things” is not uncommon. This self-hatred along with tremendous disappointment can easily lead to feeling of depression. Since ones humanness prevents an OCPD sufferer from living according his own high standards, a tremendous amount of self-hatred is imposed. Recent research has documented that as much as seventy percent of depression can be attributed to feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy.

Another contributor to depression within the OCPD population is a cognitive style characterized by dichotomous thinking. Dichotomous thinking is the tendency to categorize all aspects of life into one of two perspectives—“All good” or “All bad.” The world is viewed predominantly through clearly defined black and white realms. All that is pure and wholesome is valued. It can take only one stain or blemish to have the person completely find justification in discarding anything, which evidences a flaw. Within their own being these rigid standards can be devastating to one’s self image. Fault finding in one’s own world produces a regular source of conflict in maintaining the high standards of life.

Perfectionism - Perfectionism as expressed by the OCPD is not the admirable quality often sought by the world at large. As a ritualistic aspect of this condition the OCPD perfectionism entails checking and rechecking “completed” tasks to be absolutely sure that there are no imperfections. It is as if, to make a mistake which might be noticed would ruin ones reputation for life. Perfectionism could also take the form of a need for over completeness.

The forest is missed while examining each leaf, of each branch, of each tree. This disposition can also have an adverse impact on one’s conversational style. In the course of a conversation sometimes information is sought which involves such minutiae that the questioned person becomes lost and frustrated. Slight inconsistencies or mistakes, within another’s conversation, are often perceived by the OCPD sufferer. These details, no matter how peripheral to the conversation, must be brought out into the open and clarity must be achieved.

Occasionally the OCPD sufferer may acknowledge that other ideas are also functionally correct, but then go off and spend a great deal of time and effort at coming up with an even more correct idea. This effort may produce a modicum of improvement at the expense of efficiency and productivity.

Hoarding - Hoarding involves the excessive saving or collecting of items (typically thought of as junk), such that it intrudes on the quality of life for the hoarder or those living with such a person. In a significant percentage of cases, people lack the insight that they are behaving in an unhealthy manner. This lack of willingness to see one’s own culpability has a very adverse impact on the quality of life for those around him or her.

Ordering - A telltale sign of OCPD is ordering gone haywire. It would not be unusual for a person’s cabinets or refrigerator to have the items placed in exactly their proper spot. The closet or drawers would tend to be aligned exactly as they “should be” while shirts and shoes pointed in the same direction. A client who had this manifestation of OCDP once mentioned that his wife often played the following game. She would go in the bedroom alone and move his shoelace an inch or adjust the angle of the phone an eighth of an inch. When she would finally call him in, it would literally take him only 10 seconds to locate every item she had slightly adjusted.

Owning Truth - We all periodically have such confidence in what we are saying that statements such as “I’m sure of it” or “The fact of the matter is...” play a natural part of our everyday vocabulary. For persons with OCPD, facts and confidence are all too often turned into “I’m RIGHT and your WRONG.” “The way I see it represents the way it is, end of story”. For others, refusing to yield to the “correct perspective” often entails encountering tension and discord. This manifestation of OCPD entails one’s adamantly guarding his dogmatic beliefs to such a degree that casual conversation often converts minor disagreements into heated debates. The relative importance of any topic (i.e. comparing the effects of regular gas vs. high test on a particular car’s performance) rarely is of consequence in determining the degree of the intensity expressed in the midst of the debate.

For the person who experiences OCPD, abstract ideals and moral standards become rigidly held truths.

It would not be unusual for an OCPD sufferer to literally take delight in being wronged, since it affords them, what they perceive, as the justified opportunity to deliver a steep punishment. The term “righteous indignation” was probably conceived with this perspective in mind. Crossing a person with OCPD provides her the license to hold a grudge and forever hold your mistake over your head.


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