What it means to be a perfectionist or OCD

What it means to be a perfectionist or OCD

“I’m such a perfectionist.” “I’m so OCD.”

These phrases are often thrown around lightly and used interchangeably. People claim themselves to be perfectionists or accuse others of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder merely because someone takes an extra 5 minutes to double-check an assignment they have completed or rechecks the lock on their door.

Often times, perfectionism and OCD, also known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, are confused.

What is OCD?

“A person suffering from symptoms of OCD feels compelled to engage in repetitive behaviors based on the assumption that by engaging in the behavior, the thoughts or images will go away,” Dr. Victoria Priola, a psychologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, Ill., says. “For example, if I believe my hands are dirty, I will wash them. If I do not think I cleaned off all of the germs from my hands, I will wash them again, and again and again, until my skin is raw from the scrubbing. The obsessions and compulsions can cause so much distress and consume so much time that the person’s everyday life is negatively impacted.”

A recent study in Psychological Bulletin found that perfectionism is increasing over time, especially in millennials.

“OCD is slightly more common in people 18-35,” Dr. Priola says. “Perhaps this has to do with environmental factors for this age group related to developmental stressors, education, jobs, family, financial stress, etc. that are different than the stressors of individuals outside of this age range.”

There are two types of perfectionism: adaptive, which is healthy perfectionism, and maladaptive, which is harmful perfectionism that leads to anxiety.

What is perfectionism?

“Perfectionists focus on details and insist on making things ‘just right’ by practicing more than necessary or redoing work until it is perfect in their eyes,” Dr. Priola says. “Dynamically, perfectionists are often driven by fears of disapproval from others, being rejected, or criticized. As a result, perfectionism is a learned behavior used, in an unconscious way, to seek acceptance and validation from others.”

For treatment options, Dr. Priola stresses the importance of being assessed by a licensed clinical psychologist or other licensed mental health professional.

“Treatment is crucial for managing OCD, and a combination of psychotherapy with medication is most effective,” she says. “Though perfectionism is not a diagnosable psychological condition requiring psychotherapy and medication, individuals with such tendencies could benefit from psychotherapy alone to identify the source of their perfectionistic beliefs, learn alternative strategies for being effective, and develop more balanced expectations of themselves and others.”

Perfectionism and OCD are two very distinct conditions, both of which can benefit from diagnosis and treatment by licensed mental health professionals, she says.

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About the Author

Shvetali Thatte
Shvetali Thatte

Shvetali Thatte, a junior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, is a remote Public Affairs and Marketing intern for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She spends her time by engaging in clubs and sports at school as well as volunteering at the hospital and nearby tutoring programs. She enjoys spending time with her friends, traveling, and reading. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in medicine with a focus on public health.