Living with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is often confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

OCD is more about rituals, mental or physical, aimed at preventing specific catastrophic outcomes, such as burning your home down because you accidentally leave the stove on before locking your door. This disorder is charactered by magical thinking, the belief that some structured mental or physical act creates an invisible barrier, in a non-obvious causal manner, to disaster. On the other hand, OCPD is more about having a general set of rules aimed at keeping yourself safe, essentially, from any unpredictable disaster. The thinking here can be characterized as more irrational than magical. Freud would’ve dubbed this the anal personality type.

I’m sure you know that one individual who’s super neat, obsessed with details, comes to meetings over-prepared, and gets upset with others for slacking off; well, that’s me. We always admire those with a high-degree of self-discipline but fail to ask what the divider between discipline and obsession is. How does anyone truly know? In the HBO documentary, Kareem: Minority of One, the spotlight is placed on basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose clean lifestyle is often met with laughter and derision. While his teammates partied and consumed drugs, Kareem spent nights at home with his family. And while they amused each other before games in their locker room, Kareem quietly read books in a corner. He was, initially, labelled a freak due to his impressive height and, later, found it difficult to connect with others because they couldn’t understand his choices. His teammate, Magic Johnson, noted that Kareem taught him discipline while he reciprocated by “loosening him up.”

Unfortunately, because of their difficulty with empathizing with and accepting others, many with OCPD aren’t as lucky as Kareem was. (It helps being forced to deal with people who aren’t like you when you’re on the same team.) When I was younger, I tried to control people who I thought could hurt me, which, honestly, meant all of them. I’d become upset by small slights and perceived rejections. Fundamentally, life was black and white; I either controlled you or avoided you. I was neat and kept my room immaculately ordered, and I couldn’t tolerate others looking through my stuff; I’m still unsure of what I actually feared each time they did.

And I’m still obsessed with perfection. I want to write the perfect article, create the perfect podcast, and have perfect therapy sessions with my clients. The euphoria that absorbs me when I’m drawn closer to perfection’s heavenly gate is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced; it’s as though I’m just a passive observer on a captivating roller coaster ride. But knowing that its attainment is impossible sends me into frequent bouts of deep despair. I become sad about the mistakes discovered in my writing and, most of all, by how little other people focus on morality. My rules aren’t just for me (self-oriented perfectionism), they’re also meant for others (other-oriented perfectionism). And they often ruin my relationships. Sometimes, people discontinue speaking with me because they don’t believe that they can live up to my standards; and, at others, I end relationships with those whom I consider to be unethical.

OCPD takes its toll both psychically and interpersonally; one can even argue that if the latter were somehow fixed, then the former would follow suit. If we need others to see ourselves, the worst thing you can do is cut each of them out. Complicating everything is the insight that an objective divider doesn’t exist. Some people, other idealists, tell me that my standards are completely warranted, while others tell me they’re impossible. But if I know that I meet the diagnostic criteria for OCPD, how the hell can I be right?

OCPD is often confused with narcissism, but the distinction is significant. Whereas the narcissist believes that he’s achieved perfection, both morally and intellectually, the obsessive is driven by the hyper-awareness of all of her flaws and the irrational belief that she can overcome them. However, there is one major overlap: the sense of certainty of what’s best. These days, I’m mostly accused of being stubborn, a criticism which I now gladly accept. I’m frequently overly certain about ethical issues, even minor ones like whether or not one should be able to cancel plans if a better option presents itself. And my stubbornness envelops my predictions, often contributing to a great sense of disappointment, as when I consider the potential fruits of being published or having a certain guest on our podcast. Nothing is ever as good as it appears to my mind to be.

I wish that I could provide more answers, but I’m still searching for the right questions. And, after many failed relationships, I still can’t figure out what they are.

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