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Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder


Mark Zimmerman

, MD, Rhode Island Hospital

Full review/revision May 2021 | Modified Sep 2022

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control (with no room for flexibility or efficiency) that ultimately interferes with completing a task.

  • People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder need to be in control and do things in a specific way in their pursuit of perfectionism.

  • Doctors diagnose obsessive-compulsive personality disorder based on specific symptoms, including preoccupation with details, rules, schedules, organization, and lists and a focus on doing something perfectly that interferes with completing a task.

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy may help.

Because people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder need to be in control, they tend to do things alone and to mistrust the help of others.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is one of the most common personality disorders. Estimates of how common it is vary, but it probably occurs in between 2 to almost 8% of the general population in the United States. It is more common among men.

Certain traits that run in families—compulsivity, a limited range of emotion, and perfectionism—are thought to contribute to this disorder.

Other disorders are also often present. People often also have one or more of the following:

Unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions are recurring, persistent, unwanted, anxiety-provoking, intrusive ideas, images, or urges. Compulsions... read more (OCD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder does not involve true obsessions (recurring, unwanted, intrusive thoughts that cause great anxiety) and compulsions (rituals people feel driven to do to control their obsessions), such as excessive hand washing or repeated checking to make sure a door is locked. Also, people with OCD are often distressed by their lack of control over compulsions. In contrast, people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are comfortable with their obsessive-compulsive behavior because they believe it is needed to achieve their goals of order, perfectionism, and control.


Focus on order and perfectionism

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are preoccupied with order, perfectionism, and control of themselves and situations. To maintain a sense of control, people focus on rules, trivial details, procedures, schedules, and lists. This preoccupation interferes with their ability to be flexible, effective, and open to different ideas. Rigid and stubborn in their activities, these people insist that everything be done in a specific way.

Effects on work

Because people with this disorder focus on rules, details, and organizational issues, they lose the main point of a project or activity. These people repeatedly check for mistakes and pay attention to every detail. They do not make good use of their time, often leaving the most important tasks until the end. Their preoccupation with the details and making sure everything is perfect can endlessly delay completion of a task. They are unaware of how their behavior affects their coworkers. When focused on one task, these people may neglect all other aspects of their life.

Because people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder want everything done in a specific way, they have difficulty delegating tasks and working with others. When working with others, they may make detailed lists about how a task should be done and become upset if a coworker suggests an alternative way. They may reject help even when they are behind schedule.

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder tend to be very dedicated to work and productivity. Their motivation is not financial necessity.

Effects on other aspects of life

Because they are so dedicated to work, they neglect leisure activities and relationships. They may think they have no time to relax or go out with friends. They may postpone a vacation so long that it does not happen, or they may feel they must take work with them so that they do not waste time. Time spent with friends, when it occurs, tends to be in a formally organized activity (such as a sport). Hobbies and recreational activities are considered important tasks requiring organization and hard work to master. Their goal is perfection.

These people plan ahead in great detail and do not wish to consider changes. Their relentless rigidity may frustrate coworkers and friends.

Expression of affection is also tightly controlled. People with this disorder may relate to others in a formal, stiff, or serious way. Often, they speak only after they think of the perfect thing to say. They may focus on logic and intellect and be intolerant of emotional or expressive behavior.

Other symptoms

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be overzealous, picky, and rigid about issues of morality, ethics, and values. They apply rigid moral principles to themselves and to others and are harshly self-critical.

These people are rigidly deferential to authorities and insist on exact compliance to rules, with no exceptions for extenuating circumstances.

Discarding worn-out or worthless items (such as broken appliances), even those with no sentimental value, is very difficult for people with this disorder.

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be reluctant to spend money, which they think should be saved in case of future disasters.


  • A doctor's evaluation, based on specific criteria

Doctors usually diagnose personality disorders based on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5 Classification and Diagnosis of Mental Illness In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association published the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), marking the first attempt to approach the diagnosis... read more ), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

For doctors to diagnose obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, people must be persistently preoccupied with order, perfectionism, and control of self, others, and situations, as shown by at least four of the following:

  • They are preoccupied with details, rules, schedules, organization, and lists.

  • Their attempts to do something perfectly interferes with completion of tasks.

  • They are extremely devoted to work and productivity (not because of financial necessity), resulting in neglect of leisure activities and friends.

  • They are excessively conscientious, exacting, and inflexible regarding ethical and moral issues and values.

  • They resist throwing out worn-out or worthless objects, even those with no sentimental value.

  • They are reluctant to delegate or work with other people unless others agree to do things exactly as they want.

  • They are reluctant to spend money on themselves and others because they see it as something to be saved for future disasters.

  • They are rigid and stubborn.

Also, symptoms must have begun by early adulthood.


  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

  • Certain antidepressants

The person's rigidity, obstinacy, and need for control may interfere with treatment.

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