emotional wellbeing

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Dr. Justin Puder B.A, M.A, Ph.D.


OCD vs OCPD: What's the Difference?

PUBLISHED May 26th, 2021 & UPDATED ON Nov 17th, 2022

You know that friend who likes to keep their apartment neat and tidy, and EVERY time they clean up a little tiny speck of dust they say “I’m soooo OCD”? Yeah, the normalization of that phrase is suuuper invalidating to people who actually have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Wanting to keep your space clean and only turning your radio volume to multiples of 5 are not characteristics of OCD, and they don’t typically cause distress like real OCD symptoms do to people who experience them.

Luckily, we’re here to clear the air! Let’s dive thru what OCD is, how it feels, the different types and what treatment looks like. While we’re at it, we’re also going to break down what OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder) is. So, strap in and get ready to learn all the things about something 1% of the U.S. population (about 3 million people!) goes through.

What Is OCD?

OCD is a mental health disorder that causes people to get caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, urges, or images that are uncomfortable and often very disturbing. Meanwhile, compulsions are the behaviours or actions that someone performs to get rid of those uncomfy thoughts or urges.

Again, wanting to colour-code your closet does NOT fall under that realm. For something to be categorized as OCD, the obsession/compulsion cycle has become so severe that it takes up a ton of time and energy from the person experiencing it! There is absolutely no control over those impulses and, a lot of the time, the person with OCD is also very aware of how irrational those impulses are.

4 Types of OCD

There are 4 main subtypes of OCD that are grouped based on the symptoms that are present! Although symptoms tend to stay relatively stable over time, they can change in nature or someone with OCD may experience a few symptoms from another subtype. 

1. Contamination: being worried about dirt or germs, to the point of cleaning and washing hands obsessively. 

2. Harm: constant thoughts about hurting yourself or others, and persistent questioning whether they have previously harmed someone.

3. Symmetry: feeling the need to arrange, or rearrange things, until they are in the “perfect” position.

4. Intrusive Thoughts (Tics): harmful, embarrassing, sexual, or religious thoughts that cause distress. 

What Are the Signs of OCD?

You may be wondering, “What is OCD like?” And the answer is that it’s a bit different for everyone. So, we’re gonna run through all the different symptoms associated with the 5 types listed above that you might experience if you live with OCD. 

Contamination is allll about avoiding things that can cause contamination (and their sources): dirt, germs, blood, toxic substances, viruses, etc. There’s a LOT of fear about being contaminated! And because of that, there’s an urge to throw out anything that has been tainted, and to follow precise washing and cleaning rituals.

Harm shows up as intense fear that you have hurt yourself or, even worse, someone else! You’ll persistently fear harming someone and be bombarded with graphic images of hurting someone (or yourself). You also think that, just by thinking about something bad happening, it’s more likely to happen!

Symmetry comes out as exactly that: symmetry. For example, if you scratch one elbow then you HAVE to scratch the other! Everything has to be in its exact place, or you’ll feel incomplete. All objects need to be organized and aligned in a certain way, and there are often counting rituals involved! 

As for intrusive thoughts, you’ll experience sexual or even violent thoughts that cause you a lot of guilt and shame. You’re constantly worried that your actions will hurt someone and you’ll perform compulsions to hide anything that could be dangerous. You’re always seeking reassurance that you’re not a bad person and check your daily activities to make sure you didn’t actually do something bad!  

What Triggers OCD?

Fun fact, OCD doesn’t discriminate! It can come up for all genders, at any age, and in folks of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. However, there are two stages of life that tend to be more prevalent: between the ages of 8 and 12, or in the late teen and early adulthood years. 

Research has also found that these factors can sometimes play a part: 

  • Family History: genes are partly responsible for the development of tic-related OCD.
  • Biological Causes: problems with transmission of brain chemicals like serotonin.
  • Environmental Factors: trauma, abuse, illness, or other stressful events. 

What Is OCPD?

Okay, so The Big Bang Theory defs had some problematic undertones, but the TV show did get one thing right: Sheldon’s Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder! Throughout the whole show, he has a certain set of rules that he HAS to adhere to (like his spot on the couch), he has an overwhelming need for order, and he insists that his way is the only way things should be done. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. So, let’s take a deeper look at OCPD and how it shows up! 

OCPD Symptoms

There are quite a few symptoms that are very unique to folks with OCPD. We’ve already touched on some of Sheldon’s qualities but, once you read these, you’re gonna realize just how accurate that diagnosis is! 

  • Restrained emotions and wanting to control relationships with others
  • Devoted to work to a point that it hinders social and family activities 
  • Fixated on lists, rules and minor details
  • A high level of perfectionism that gets in the way of finishing tasks
  • Following strict moral and ethical codes 
  • Not wanting to assign tasks to someone else unless they’ll do it perfectly
  • Being extremely frugal and not very generous 
  • Exhibiting hoarding behaviours
  • Avoiding intimacy

What Triggers OCPD?

Much like OCD, the exact cause of OCPD is not exactly known. Research has proven a few theories, but it’s never rooted in one single cause! There are the 3 possible triggers:  

  • Family: having strict parents who punished you can cause you to adopt the “perfection” of OCPD as a coping mechanism. 
  • Genetics: like OCD, family history with the condition may play a role. 
  • Culture: some authoritarian societies with strict rules may impact early childhood development and personality expression.  

What’s the Difference Between OCD and OCPD?

As you can see, OCD and OCPD are very different. In fact, there are 5 main differences between the two. Sooo…get ready for some more long lists (sorry not sorry)!

1. Awareness

People with OCD are very much aware of what’s happening with them, and can recognize that their unwanted thoughts are unreasonable. Meanwhile, people with OCPD feel pretty comfortable with their self-imposed rules and rituals — their way is the best way!

2. Reality

The thoughts and behaviours related to OCD are not generally related to real-life situations. However, OCPD procedures make someone feel like that’s the ONLY way to manage daily tasks!

3. Work Life

OCD often causes problems at work, with family and in social life. OCPD also strains personal relationships, but can actually make work-life more efficient! Who woulda thought? Buuut, even though work performance isn’t hurt, there may be some problems interacting with coworkers and employers.

4. Perspective

Much like in point 1, people with OCD know there’s something funky going on. They genuinely hate the effect it has on those around them and they WANT to seek treatment. People with OCPD, on the other hand, don’t think they need treatment and want everyone else to get on their level instead! The only motivator would probably be the risk of losing a job or relationship.

5. Interpersonal Relationships

Family members, or roommates, of people with OCD can find the demands difficult and it can lead to conflict. But living with someone who has OCPD takes it one step further than that, to being criticized and controlled.

How to Treat OCD vs OCPD

One of the most effective treatments for OCD, once it’s been diagnosed, is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). Essentially, a mental health professional will expose their patient to the thing that is causing intrusive thoughts and help the patient limit their response. For example, if they’re having sexual thoughts about children, the therapist will have them watch videos of children, or even go sit at a playground, and make them choose not to engage in compulsive behaviour! 

Treatment for OCPD typically uses standard psychotherapy approaches. The International OCD Foundation says “the goal is to lessen rigid expectations and learn how to value close relationships, recreation, and fun with less emphasis on work and productivity.”

Lastly, medication like antidepressants is also a good option for both! 

If you’re dealing with symptoms of OCD or OCPD then daily life is a bit more complicated and requires a bit more thought. If you are seeking a diagnosis, we highly recommend that you find a mental health professional who can conduct the proper tests and analyses to determine your situation. We hope this article has helped you better understand where your symptoms are coming from. And, we hope you feel less alone! WE LOVE YOU!  


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