Is Perfectionism Related to OCD?


Obsessive-compulsive Disorder has a reputation for being linked to perfectionism. Some people may even view perfectionism and OCD as one in the same. People will often casually state that they have OCD. When in reality, these individuals may be perfectionists. 

The similarities between these disorders may reveal a connection between perfectionism and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Through this post, we will examine the differences and similarities between OCD and perfectionism. 

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the desire to have everything be spot on. This disorder can be self-oriented, other-oriented, or both. A third variant is socially-prescribed perfectionism, which is the conviction that others want perfection from you.

Healthy perfectionism can help individuals find success in life. Wanting to be good at something drives you towards success, helps you survive adversity and avoid failure. This is called adaptive perfectionism.

People with adaptive perfectionism are highly focused on achievement. For example, elite athletes and professional musicians are likely to be adaptive perfectionists. This is because it’s a personality trait that supports their need for endless practice.

However, maladaptive or unhealthy perfectionism leads to problems, which include:

  • Procrastination. Either not starting a project out of fear of failure or never finishing a project because it’s never good enough. The latter is a common issue for creative people such as artists and writers.
  • Being overly critical of mistakes made by themselves or others. A perfectionist may beat themselves up for an extended period of time over a minor mistake. Or they may harshly punish a subordinate or a child for mistakes.
  • Forgetting to celebrate their actual successes, ignoring compliments. This mindset can lead to imposter syndrome.
  • Looking to specific people for approval or validation.
  • Avoiding challenges.
  • Making toxic comparisons.
  • Preoccupation with control over yourself and others.
  • Preoccupation with past mistakes, dwelling on them.
  • Low self esteem and high levels of doubt.

Maladaptive perfectionism is often associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, yes, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and can lead to suicidal ideation.

The Connection Between Maladaptive Perfectionism and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Not everyone with maladaptive perfectionism has OCD. Maladaptive perfectionism may be associated with childhood issues. For example, parents who obsess over their children’s grades can end up passing this obsession on to their children. In these cases children show signs of maladaptive perfectionism later in life.  

However, perfectionism is a personality trait and OCD is a condition. Perfectionism is not considered a psychological disorder until it starts to interfere with social, work, or family functioning. For example, if you get fired for having unrealistic explanations, or lose relationships as a result of your disorder. 

OCD, on the other hand, is a separate psychological disorder. Perfectionism is not a symptom of OCD. OCD is characterized by ritualistic behaviors. An example would be, feeling compelled to go back into the kitchen three times before leaving to make sure that the oven is off. 

When somebody with OCD is interrupted, they experience extreme levels of anxiety. OCD compulsions might also be mental, such as obsessive praying or dwelling on past life events. The stereotypical need to clean everything is not as common as stereotypes suggest, but absolutely is a symptom.

However, there does seem to be a link between the two conditions. People with OCD symptoms tend to have more perfectionist qualities than those without it. The reasons are simple, and that is that both OCD and perfectionism are tied to a need for certainty. 

Perfectionism can also be increased by OCD behaviors called “checking.” For instance, people may check if they locked the front door repeatedly because their mind is signaling that it might be unlocked. These people often have an excessive fear of the mistake. For instance, they might have irrational or illogical fears, which can be debilitating. Perfectionism can also aggravate obsessions in individuals with OCD. 

Should Perfectionists Worry About Having OCD?

First of all, many perfectionists are of the adaptive type. A certain amount of perfectionism is not a bad thing. It helps people succeed and build resilience. 

If  a person’s perfectionism is not interfering with their ability to get things done, then they should appreciate it. In these cases it is probably adaptive perfectionism and it’s helping them do well in life.

If your perfectionism is getting in the way then you should absolutely consider seeking help. Therapy can help by increasing mindfulness and helping you develop compassionate thoughts instead of negative ones. A therapist can help you redirect your thoughts into better directions. This practice can help you break free from the cycle of perfectionism where you never get anything done.

You may have OCD if you catch yourself doing the same things over again or feel compelled to do certain rituals. If this is the case then you should seek professional help, which might involve therapy and/or medication. Typically, OCD medication is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI), which is also used for depression. Tricyclic antidepressants are rarely used, and antipsychotics are sometimes used alongside SRIs. 

Therapy tends to include methods that are geared toward helping with mindfulness and improving flexibility of thought.

Again, being a bit of a perfectionist is not a problem and can even be helpful at times. Especially in professions that require things to be done correctly and with special attention to detail.

However, those who are concerned about their compulsive behaviors or rituals should seek the guidance of a medical professional. Trained professionals can connect suffering individuals with the necessary treatment and support. 

If you are worried that you might have obsessive-compulsive disorder, then you should contact Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center. We offer comprehensive treatment for OCD that can give you your life back.

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