OCD Versus OCPD: Understanding the Difference

Alexis Dent
July 27, 2020

At first glance, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder) may seem to be the same disorder. However, there are very real and important nuances that make these two psychiatric disorders distinct from one another.

ocd ocpd

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is undoubtedly the more well-known of the two disorders, which is why the names of these disorders often get conflated. According to the International OCD Foundation, “Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.”

Common obsessions and fears seen within people living with obsessive compulsive disorder typically present themselves within one or multiple of the following categories:

  • Contamination: by way of urine, feces, dirt, disease, or environmental contaminants.
  • Losing control: by way of committing atrocities like violence, stealing, or otherwise harming someone.
  • Harm: by way of making a mistake that would hurt someone else.
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts: by way of forbidden or perverse thoughts, as well as by way of obsession over one’s sexuality.
  • Religion: by obsessing over God and/or morality.
  • Perfection: by way of pursuing evenness or exactness, fear of losing things, overwhelming concern to know or remember things, and/or inability deciding whether to keep or discard items.
  • Miscellaneous: by way of obsessions in the form of superstitions and other random beliefs.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. However, those are some of the most common ways in which OCD presents itself.

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder?

While obsessive compulsive disorder largely revolves around the aforementioned symptoms, obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a more all-encompassing personality disorder. The International OCD Foundation describes the characteristics of OCPD as “a rigid adherence to rules and regulations, an overwhelming need for order, unwillingness to yield or give responsibilities to others, [and] a sense of righteousness about the way things ‘should be done.’”

People living with OCPD often suffer from one or multiple of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive devotion to work (that inhibits daily life and interpersonal relationships).
  • Fixation with rules, lists, and minor details.
  • Perfectionism to the point of inhibiting work efficiency.
  • Rigid adherence to moral and ethical codes.
  • Unwillingness to delegate work unless the provided guidelines are performed exactly as asked.
  • Extreme frugality and lack of generosity.
  • Hoarding.

Someone doesn’t need to have all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with OCPD, however the symptoms they do have must be clinically significant and impair daily functioning in order to receive a diagnosis.

What Are the Differences Between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder have one key difference that cannot be overlooked when determining a diagnosis. While people with OCD are aware that their thoughts are unreasonable, “people with OCPD think their way is the ‘right and best way’ and usually feel comfortable with such self-imposed systems of rules.” Thus, while those living with OCD see that they’re being irrational — even when they can’t fully manage their symptoms — those with OCPD feel entitled to their behavior because they see it as correct.

This difference translates into everyday life. Although the symptoms of OCD typically present themselves daily in people with the disorder, the corresponding behaviors and fears are “typically not relevant to real-life concerns.” Meanwhile, people with OCPD are fixated on the management of real-life concerns and daily tasks — and said tasks must go exactly as they’ve planned.

While the obsession with things going as planned can be an asset in the workplace for people who have OCPD, such a fixation takes a toll on interpersonal relationships. A person with OCD won’t just feel challenges with interpersonal relationships but also with work and day-to-day tasks.

It may seem that a person with OCPD has an easier time functioning, but the inevitable strain on interpersonal relationships may end up causing even more stress, and reducing workplace productivity if relationships with coworkers and/or employers become contentious. Thus, both disorders can have far-reaching effects on one’s overall quality of life, although OCD symptoms often display this reality more transparently.

You can have some of the symptoms of OCPD without the full personality disorder, just like some people may have obsessive or compulsive habits without the full spectrum of symptoms required for an OCD diagnosis. There are clearly many pivotal differences between obsessive compulsive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder, but the one similarity that OCD and OCPD both share is that it can be difficult to live and/or interact with someone who has one of these conditions. Luckily, however, treatment can help improve the quality of life of someone with OCD or OCPD, and therefore improve the lives of those around them in the process.

How Common Are OCD And OCPD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder affects about 2.3% of the adult population, whereas obsessive compulsive personality disorder is less common and affects about 1% of adults. Interestingly, studies show that both obsessive compulsive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder tend to be more common in men than in women.

How Do You Treat OCD? How Do You Treat OCPD? Are the Treatment Options Similar?

As previously mentioned, there are quite a few differences between OCD and OCPD. However, the treatment methods for the disorders are similar. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medicine in the form of SSRIs, and relaxation techniques can all benefit someone living with either (or both) disorder(s).

Since people with OCPD tend to think that they are always 100% right, it is often hard to get them to seek treatment. It is common that the person may not be motivated to pursue therapy until their symptoms result in them losing a job or relationship. Conversely, people with OCD are often tortured by their thoughts, guilty about their symptoms, and more apt to seek counseling and treatment than their OCPD counterparts. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though. Whether living with OCD or OCPD — and whether resistant to treatment or eager to pursue it — there are ways to effectively manage symptoms of these disorders and increase the quality of life for you or someone you know.

Alexis Dent

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.

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