10 November 2014

Add 'P' for Personality

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Many people get annoyed when they hear someone claim 'I'm a little bit OCD' just because, for example, they store their coffee mugs with all the handles at the same angle. The main gripe is that the term is bandied about without any real understanding of the condition. 

As I've written previously, for me, this proclamation provides an opening to talk about my own experience, improve awareness and explore whether the person making it might, in fact, be a sufferer themselves. 

I confess, the grammatical inaccuracy of the sentence bothers me more than the sentiment behind it - you can no more be 'a little bit obsessive-compulsive disorder' than you can be 'a little bit depression'. 

To compound the layman's confusion, another condition exists, called Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), which appears to have similar traits to OCD, but actually has quite different foundations.

OCPD - which I can't help feeling sounds like an American crime drama series - is also known as Anankastic Personality Disorder or, perhaps more commonly, as being 'anal retentive' (thank you, Freud, for that one). 

David Veale and Rob Willson outline some of the accompanying behaviours in their book, Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These include:

  • Constantly making lists
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Being excessively tidy
  • Being excessively concerned with rules

Sufferers may also be 'somewhat inflexible, unemotional, and overly devoted to work' and may have OCPD on its own or as well as OCD. 

There are key differences between the two conditions. Those with OCPD are not troubled by how they behave and believe their way is the right way, while OCD sufferers are distressed by their intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours and are generally aware that these make no sense. 

I certainly recognise some of the above characteristics, and others detailed in this book, in myself. As well as being a perfectionist, tidy and 'somewhat inflexible', I love a good list. I'm the kind of person who, after completing a task that wasn't actually on my 'to do' list, will add it, just to have the satisfaction of immediately crossing it off. And I always follow rules, however petty, sometimes to my disadvantage... 

On the other hand, although I have a good work ethic, I'm by no means a workaholic, and I'm definitely a very emotional person: I cry at the proverbial drop of a hat and am far too sensitive for my own good.

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According to Veale and Willson, OCPD traits can be hard to change, though if the condition exists alongside OCD, overcoming the latter may bring about some improvement. 

You don't need to exhibit all of these traits to have OCPD and the key factor in making this diagnosis is whether these have a significant and detrimental effect on lifestyle and functioning. 

So, just because you're obsessed with lists, it doesn't mean you suffer from this disorder - oh yes, and 'a little bit OCPD' is still a grammar crime, even with the addition of 'P' for Personality! 

* * *

You can find out more about OCPD, including causes and treatments, in this brief factsheet from the US-based organisation, The International OCD Foundation.

2 comments:

ocdtalk said...

Great post, Helen. I'm wondering how many of those with OCPD actually seek help, because as I understand it, in their minds there is nothing wrong them. It will likely be obvious to those around them though!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk. I think you are right - most with OCPD won't even realise they have a problem.