Helping Your Life Work
September 2010
Volume 6, Issue 9

'Need to Succeed'

Most of us are familiar with the term Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It describes a person who is haunted by intrusive, obsessive and recurrent thoughts. In an effort to reduce the anxiety that accompanies the thoughts, those who suffer from OCD often develop repetitive, ritualized and compulsive behaviours, believing that they might magically help them regain control over their lives. Some classic examples include repeatedly washing hands, checking locked doors, or avoiding direct contact with others for fear of contamination.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, on the other hand, is not as well known. And despite its similarity to the term Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, it is different from its namesake, although they share certain characteristics, such as a desire for order. An OCPD individual is preoccupied with following rules, maintaining order and exerting control. When rules are broken, routines interrupted, or order and control lost, the individual becomes angry, anxious or withdrawn. Unlike the OCD individual who recognizes his/her obsessive thoughts as abnormal, the OCPD individual sees his/her adherence to order and rules as not only acceptable, but also highly appropriate.

The person with OCPD is seen as inflexible, perfectionist, and obsessed with even the smallest detail. The perfectionism causes the person to spend an inordinate amount of time on completing tasks. Any deviation from the ideal is viewed as failure. Described as a high achieving workaholic, with an unquenchable need to succeed, the person with OCPD compromises relationships both in and out of the workplace, ignoring the needs of family and colleagues and demanding too much of self and others. Viewed as stingy, the OCPD individual has a tendency to hold on to things even when they are no longer of any value. Striving for perfection in an imperfect world, the individual with OCPD is often left feeling isolated, depressed and anxious.

You and I may feel we know people like this. We may work for a rigid, controlling, micromanager or have had a teacher that placed great demands on us. We may have had relatives who needed to have their way all the time. We may even recognize certain traits in ourselves. But as any student of psychology will tell you, it is quite normal to identify symptoms of a psychological illness that you are learning about in ourselves and others. This may be because many of the problems described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of psychiatric disorders), represent an extreme example on a continuum of which many of us may find ourselves. It is important to recognize that only 1% of the general population falls into this particular diagnosis, with the prevalence in males being twice that of females. Nonetheless, many of us may see aspects of others or ourselves in it that are less extreme, but still troublesome and that require some assistance.

It appears that both nature and nurture play a role in how one comes to develop these symptoms. OCPD can be inherited from a parent or developed as a reaction to how one was raised. In an effort to please overly critical parents or teachers, a child may develop a need to rigidly follow rules hoping that eventually it will be praised for doing so. Subconsciously, however, the child may feel angry and rebellious. This can result in a struggle between conforming on the outside while rebelling on the inside, leading to a heightened need for even greater conformity.

One form of therapy is based on a cognitive behavioural model, where clients learn to recognize and challenge their distorted thinking. In so doing, they begin to accept their imperfections, the uncertainty of life and their lack of control over what happens in it.

As we or our children head back to school this fall, let's watch for signs of overly rigid thinking, need for order and control. If we, as parents, have been overly critical of our children, we may want to focus more on the positive. If completing even simple tasks is overly involved and onerous, we may want to challenge ourselves to limit our time and energy in completing the task. And if we are often angry when people don't follow what we ask them to do, then we may benefit from talking to someone about this.

If you would like some help with this, please call.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

The contents of this newsletter are the property of Barbara Fish and further reproduction is given through written permission only.
Copyright © barbarafish.com. 1995 - .