Is it OCD or OCPD – What's the difference?

Many people confuse OCD and OCPD because the names are so similar, however that is where the similarities stop. OCPD is a distinct disorder from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is an anxiety, rather than a personality disorder. In this blog we cover the key differences of these two disorders.

Let’s start from the beginning – what is OCD?

Most of us have probably heard of the commonly used abbreviation “OCD” before, but what exactly is it? Just so that we are on the same page, it may help to define what OCD actually is. Firstly, OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The disorder manifests in individuals who begin to experience incessant and intrusive thoughts (otherwise known as obsessions), that are often associated with highly unrealistic worries and catastrophic outcomes. These thoughts cause high levels of anxiety, and act as mental blockages interrupting normal functioning in everyday life. In an effort to decrease their ongoing distress, they often (but not always) carry out various acts (otherwise known as compulsions) that typically reflect rigid routines, and extensive ritualistic behaviours – often deemed by others as excessive and unnecessary. Often individuals with the disorder avoid seeking help, or deny they need it – for they may feel too ashamed or embarrassed to talk openly about it, or their fear of having to challenge their unrealistic thoughts and behaviours may be too overwhelming. Troublingly, the longer treatment is avoided, the more fixed and engrained their thoughts and behaviours become. The repetitive rigidity and excessive nature of OCD can be very exhausting and debilitating not only the lives of individuals experiencing it, but also for the lives of their loved ones who are affected most.

What are the symptoms?

Some of the most common thoughts and behaviours that can occur with OCD include:cutting the grass with sisors - ocd or ocpd

Thoughts associated with:

  • Contamination / cleanliness
  • Losing control
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts
  • Religious obsessions
  • Superstitions
  • Fear of being responsible for harming others
  • Perfectionism

Behaviours associated with:

  • Excessive washing, cleaning, or checking
  • Repeating activities a certain amount of times or counting
  • Mental compulsions such as repeatedly reviewing a past or future event
  • Keeping things that are no longer of use

Learn more about OCD here

Cleaning table - ocd or ocpd

So what is OCPD?

OCPD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, and is characterised by perfectionistic like behaviours that are carried out by individuals, caused by their underlying desire for the need to control their environment and complete things to an unreasonably high, (self-determined) “standard”. Often the behaviour of individuals with OCPD is driven by their fear of being perceived by others as imperfect, incompetent, or unsuccessful – leading them to engage in compulsive behaviours, such as adhering to a stringent set of rules, routines, or ideals about the way things “should be done”. Individuals with OCPD similarly experience high levels of anxiety if they cannot do things “their way” and may find situations out of their control to be extremely uncomfortable and distressing.

What are the symptoms?

  • Feeling tasks must be done in a certain way
  • Experiencing distress and high levels of discomfort when they are unable to control a situation or complete tasks to their liking or satisfaction
  • Holding unrealistic, unreasonable beliefs regarding the standards themselves and others must meet
  • Becoming frustrated and reactive when they cannot control a situation – often blaming others for the outcome
  • Experiencing trouble with their relationships as a result of their controlling behaviour
  • Are often perceived by others as “perfectionists”, “over-achievers”, or “workaholics”, possessing extreme dedication to most, if not all areas of achievement based aspects of their life
  • Demonstrating inflexibility to consider others’ points of view or beliefs regarding morals, values, or religions
  • Having to live to a tightly organised and rigid daily schedule, controlled by excessively planned details, checklists, or rules
  • Their obsessive behaviour is driven by the fear of being negatively evaluated by others, and perceived as incompetent, or imperfectCalendar with pushpins

How common is OCPD?

  • About 1 in 100 people in the United States is estimated to have OCPD
  • OCPD is diagnosed in twice as many men as women
  • Many people have OCPD traits without having the fully diagnosed personality disorder

What can cause OCPD?

  • There is no single, specific “cause” identified
  • Several theories suggest that people with OCPD may have been raised by parents who were unavailable and either overly controlling or overly protective. Also, as children they may have been harshly punished. The OCPD traits may have developed as a sort of coping mechanism to avoid punishment, in an effort to be “perfect” and obedient
  • Genetics may play a role, but this has not been well-studied
  • Cultural factors may play a role. Societies or religions that are very authoritarian and bound by strict rules may impact early childhood development that affects personality expression. A word of caution: not all rule-bound societies are dysfunctional and OCPD traits may in fact be rewarded within that specific cultural or religious context

What are the main differences between OCD and OCPD?

  • The compulsive behaviours that are associated with individuals experiencing OCD, are driven by their strong desire to alleviate the anxiety that their intrusive thoughts are causing – they are not driven by the fear of being negatively evaluated by others as “imperfect” or “incompetent” like the behaviours demonstrated by individuals with OCPD
  • The behaviours of individuals with OCPD are typically viewed from their perspective as productive, beneficial, and improvement driven – as opposed to individuals with OCD whose compulsive behaviours are carried out to alleviate their intense anxiety
  • Individuals with OCD can usually identify that their thoughts and behaviours are irrational, whereas people with OCPD typically believe there is nothing wrong with wanting to do things their way
  • Behaviours associated with OCPD are usually not as time consuming and severe as those with OCD

So what can we conclude?

Both disorders can significantly impede an individuals’ daily life functioning – often taking on a ripple effect to all areas of their life, including work, relationships and activities that they once found enjoyable. If any of the symptoms of OCD or OCPD previously mentioned, sounds familiar in either yourself or a loved one, it is strongly advised to seek a professional assessment from a specialising psychologist so that the appropriate advice can be given and the necessary treatment can be commenced. If you are not sure about treatment try our FREE 30 minute telephone consult and talk about whether treatment is right for you


Who are our recommended specialists?

Daphne BryanDr Daphne Bryan


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