How to Tell If Your Character Has Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Don’t let the name fool you. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is NOT the same thing as OCD and it’s not just obsessive behaviour. What are the features of OCPD? Read on to find out, my friend.

This was the fifth time Mark had re-written the report and still it wasn’t good enough. Not right. Not perfect.

His co-workers kept going on and on at him to let someone else go over it so that they could move on with the project, but he just couldn’t do that. They wouldn’t be able to do it right. He had to rewrite it again, even if that meant skipping his breaks to do it, even if that meant missing their deadline, even if it meant his job was at risk. It had to be perfect.

But it never would be. Mark didn’t realise how incredibly strict his standards were, or recognise the strain and frustration he was causing his co-workers, or believe that he had a problem. In his mind, his actions and thought process were completely normal, totally acceptable, and not at all a pattern of thinking indicative of something called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

To Keep in Mind:

The information in this post comes from the DSM-5 (see ‘Further Reading’). Please do not use it to diagnose yourself or others. It isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional advice so do consult a qualified clinical professional if you have any questions about the diagnosis criteria. Feel free to use this information to diagnose your characters, however.

Mark, our guest character for the next two posts, has obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, a Cluster C personality disorder distinguished by a preoccupation with perfectionism, orderliness and rigid control.

It’s important here to note the difference between obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are not the same thing. In fact, most people with OCD don’t meet the criteria for OCPD and exactly why that is will be covered in-depth a little later, as well as in the upcoming articles on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How Is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with OCPD, your character must display four or more of the following characteristics:

  • Is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organisation or schedules, so much so that the major point of the activity is lost.
  • Shows perfectionism that interferes with completing a task (e.g., is unable to finish a project because his or her own overly strict standards aren’t met).
  • Is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships. (Note: This behaviour isn’t accounted for by obvious economic necessity.)
  • Is overconscientious, scrupulous and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics or values. (Note: This behaviour isn’t accounted for by cultural or religious identification.)
  • Is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value.
  • Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they conform exactly with his or her ways of doing things.
  • Adopts a miserly spending style toward both him- or herself and others, with money being viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes.
  • Shows rigidity and stubbornness.

The characteristic features of all personality disorders are inflexible, pervasive and enduring, an integral part of a person’s personality and not caused by another medical condition or substance use disorder. What does that mean? The characteristics listed above can’t just be one-offs or occasional thoughts, feelings or actions, and they can’t be caused by other medical conditions or persistent substance use. These are characteristics that are present across a variety of situations, across much of the individual’s adult life. If you’re unsure how to get that across in your writing, hop on over to How to Write (Realistically) About Personality Disorders.

OCPD and Other Disorders

It can be tricky differentiating the features of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder from those of other disorders as they have several similar or shared characteristics, so let’s take a moment to highlight the key differences that mark OCPD out from the others.

OCPD and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It’s easy to get these two confused—they have very similar names, after all—but the clinical manifestations of these disorders are really very different. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterised by its maladaptive pattern of excessive perfectionism and rigid control, as highlighted in the criteria above. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), however, is characterised by intrusive thoughts, images or urges (called “obsessions”), or by repetitive behaviours the individual performs in response to these intrusions (the “compulsions”).

The source of anxiety and fear that people with OCPD and OCD feel differs too. For those with OCD, the anxiety stems from their specific obsessions, whereas in OCPD, anxiety stems from their maladaptive and dysfunctional pattern of thinking.

Want to learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorder? I’ll be dedicating two posts to it in a couple of weeks. Be sure to check back then.

OCPD and Hoarding Disorder

Remember the fifth criterion from the list above—“the individual is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects, even when they have no sentimental value”? When this hoarding behaviour is in the extreme—as in, these piles of worthless objects present a fire hazard or make it difficult for others to walk through the house—then hoarding disorder could be diagnosed alongside OCPD. If your character experiences Criterion 5 to this extent, you should make sure you know what’s what with the diagnostic criteria for hoarding disorder as well.

OCPD, Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorders

Key characteristics of obsessive-compulsive and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are a commitment to perfectionism and a belief that others can’t do things as well as they can. However, people with NPD are likely to believe they’ve achieved perfection, while people with OCPD are more self-critical in nature.

Another distinguishing feature of OCPD concerns generosity. Though individuals with narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder (APD) lack generosity, there’s a tendency to indulge themselves. In contrast, people who experience Criterion 7 (listed above) see no such distinction, adopting a miserly spending style toward both themselves and others.

OCPD and Schizoid Personality Disorder

Both obsessive-compulsive and schizoid personality disorder (a Cluster A personality disorder) are characterised by an apparent formality and social detachment, but the difference lies in where this emotional distance comes from. For individuals with OCPD, it stems from the discomfort emotions cause and an excessive devotion to work; for individuals with schizoid personality disorder, it stems from a fundamental lack of capacity for intimacy.

Remember: If your character meets the criteria for one or more personality disorders, they can be diagnosed with all of them. Just make sure the characteristic features fit together and have a basis in reality before you decide which disorders will co-occur.