OCD / OCPD: What’s the Difference?

OCD is defined primarily in terms of specific behaviors. OCPD is better understood as an expression of an individual’s entire personality, philosophy, and worldview. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is a condition of the brain often characterized by intrusive, anxiety-producing thoughts. Sometimes, these thoughts can become so disturbing, unrelenting, and paralyzing that a person with OCD will attempt suicide just to stop the intrusive thoughts. People with OCD develop repetitive or ritualistic behaviors in an effort to get rid of these thoughts and reduce their distress. Obsessions are the thoughts and urges associated with OCD, such as recurrent, anxious thoughts about germs or personal safety. Excessive handwashing or door-checking are common examples of compulsions (the behaviors associated with OCD). Adding a level of complication to the disorder is the fact that a person with OCD can have obsessions without compulsions, and vice versa.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

OCPD characterizes a person’s overall orientation toward life. In general, this perspective can be described as rigid, inflexible, and/or perfectionistic. A person with OCPD demands that everything be organized according to a particular system or method. He relies on rules and regulations, and order and control are matters of the utmost importance to him.

As a result, he often has difficulty with people who can’t or won’t abide by his standards. This in turn can sometimes make him stingy, miserly, judgmental, and withdrawn. It’s also common for an individual with OCPD to undertake projects with a great deal of initial energy and zeal only to leave them unfinished when obstacles and imperfections arise. The disorder is more common among men than women, and most psychologists agree that it cannot be accurately diagnosed until about eighteen years of age.

A person with OCD or OCPD sees things differently than the rest of us do. The filters through which her brain perceives the world are askew. In an important sense, she experiences another reality. As a result, it can be difficult to live with an individual who suffers from either of these disorders. In both situations parents can be tempted to either deny that the condition exists or cater to the obsession. Neither of these extremes is beneficial.

In families with a child who suffers from OCD, all aspects of life can be affected. Mom, Dad, siblings, and anyone else living in the household are impacted by anxiety, stress, disruptions to their routines, and difficulties at school and work. This is particularly true if one or both of the parents have ever struggled with OCD/OCPD. It’s difficult if not impossible for an anxious parent to help an anxious child. In such situations, the problem tends to worsen.

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