Perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are two distinct concepts, despite some similarities. OCD is a psychological disorder that is associated with anxious thoughts, along with compulsive actions to reduce anxiety. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a personality trait that can cause individuals to be extremely organized and pay close attention to detail. OCD isn’t caused by perfectionism; however, it can co-occur with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder which shares certain traits with perfectionism. Treatment for OCD typically involves a combination of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy; meanwhile, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is treated through long-term psychotherapy. If either perfectionism or OCD negatively affects one’s relationships or professional life, it’s important to seek help.

Do you obsessively organize the clothes in your closet by color? Keep a color-coordinated calendar of all your upcoming tasks including daily habits such as eating and sleeping? Do you find that you are the primary organizer and planner among your co-workers, circle of friends and family members? Maybe you are detailed oriented and may even be a perfectionist but many individuals who have these characteristics often self-diagnose themselves with OCD. Perfectionism itself can be motivating and can push individuals to accomplish a lot however when an individual sets too high of expectations of themselves, it can create a sense of failure, and criticism resulting in low self-esteem and threatened relationships. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often thrown around lightheartedly in conversations and is even joked upon in regards to individuals who adopt perfectionistic quirks however OCD is a mental health disorder that differs drastically from an individual who is overly organized or demonstrates perfectionism in many aspects of his/her life. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is ego dystonic meaning that it is bothering the individual and does them a disservice whereas perfectionism is ego-syntonic meaning that it serves the individual and adds more order to his/her life. Individuals with OCD are well aware that their thoughts and actions are problematic whereas those who are perfectionists welcome their orderliness.

Does perfectionism cause obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Individuals who have OCD are pre-occupied with obsessive thoughts that are anxiety driven. These obsessive thoughts are carried out through compulsive actions to relieve anxiety. OCD is therefore tightly linked to anxiety but is no longer classified as an anxiety disorder in the DSM and is not directly linked to perfectionism. The specific cause for OCD is still being studied and is not clear however many experts believe abnormalities cause OCD in neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and hence why treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to treat this disorder.

Is perfectionism a personality disorder?

Perfectionism is considered a personality trait and is not considered a personality disorder of its own however perfectionism is a trait often seen in obsessive-compulsive personality disorder which is similar to OCD except that the individual is fully supportive of this behavior; identical to individuals who are perfectionists. Specifically, an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterized by orderliness, perfectionism and excessive devotion to work to the point that individuals exclude hobbies and friendships. The individual is often detail-oriented, and when things do not work out in their favor, they can quickly become angry. They may be so obsessed with orderliness, rules, organization, lists, and schedule that they often become so pre-occupied that cannot complete the task at hand. Additionally, they regularly practice hoarding behaviors, unable to spend money they earn or give away used items and clothing. The individual prefers this lifestyle and usually does not see this as a disorder but instead as a productive way to live.

Treatment for Perfectionism

An obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is treated with long-term psychotherapy however individuals with both perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder usually do not seek help because they are happy with their lifestyle, let alone believe anything is wrong. However, when perfectionism becomes problematic, the individual is usually the last one to know, and it is often their marriage or professional life that has suffered the most. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder are best treated with a combination of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and psychotherapy.