Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: They’re Not the Same

IMAGE What comes to mind when you hear the term obsessive-compulsive? Perhaps you think about a person who is driven or extremely preoccupied with order, or someone who engages in repetitive, senseless behaviors. It is true that these behaviors are often characterized as obsessive and compulsive, but did you know that the term “obsessive-compulsive” is used to describe two very different emotional conditions?

OCD and OCPD: Counting the Ways They Differ

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are often mistaken for the same condition, but they are really quite different. They differ not only in symptoms, but also in severity and psychiatric category. OCD is an anxiety disorder (an unrealistic, irrational fear or anxiety of disabling intensity), whereas OCPD is a personality disorder (a chronic pattern of inflexible and distorted personality and behavioral patterns). Let’s take a closer look at these disorders.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience repetitive thoughts and behaviors that make no sense. Their obsessive thoughts may include:
  • Persistent fears of harm coming to themselves or a loved one
  • Unreasonable concern with being contaminated
  • Intrusive and unacceptable religious, violent, or sexual thoughts
  • Excessive need to do things correctly or perfectly
Their compulsive behaviors may include:
  • Excessive checking of door locks, stoves, water faucets, light switches, etc.
  • Repeatedly making lists, counting, arranging, or aligning things
  • Collecting and hoarding useless objects
  • Repeating routine actions a certain number of times until it feels just right
  • Unnecessary rereading and rewriting
  • Mentally repeating phrases
  • Excessive washing, sometimes for hours every day
These obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are extremely difficult for the person to overcome. If severe and untreated, OCD may seriously impact a person’s ability to function at work, at school, or at home. OCD may also increase the risk of having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide.

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