The Perfectionist Personality Disorder


Micromanagers exist in all professions. In law enforcement, a micromanaging supervisor is in some ways ideal considering the elements of the job. He or she will make sure you have done everything by the book, and will be there to cover you in many ways. However, the excessive control freak can cause undue stress for subordinates and may actually hinder their and everyone else's productivity, efficiency, and safety. Many micromanagers suffer from an obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). A better name for this order would be the perfectionist personality disorder. Almost 8%, or 16 million adult Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for obsessive compulsive personality disorder. OCPD occurs twice as often in men as in women

It is easy for anyone to spot a person who has OCPD, except for the person who has it. This individual relentlessly spends excessive time and energy micromanaging, compiling lists, makes rules, agendas, schematic plans, and checking for errors. They are rigidly ordered, organized, and desperately need to be in control. They demand perfection not only from themselves but also from anyone associated with them. Right and wrong is their operational motto, specifically, they are right, others are wrong. If they deem another person wrong, they often become angry, hostile, and frequently hold a grudge. They scrutinize anything and everything, paying an inordinate attention to the most minute detail. Schedules and rules become more important than the task or project. There simply is no gray in the world to someone with OCPD, only black and white. They are convinced that they are the only one to get the job done correctly, and want sole credit for the same. However, individuals with OCPD are fundamentally unable to see the trees through the forest. If you work with or for this type of perfectionist, you are probably not happy about it.

Obsessive Compulsive (Perfectionist Personality) Disorder

Getting things done correctly is paramount to people with OCPD. The driving force behind the disorder is to avoid being wrong. Perfectionists have a hard time making decisions; any bad choice could jeopardize their final project. Maintaining control is essential. They have a hard time delegating responsibilities to others, because no one can do the job as perfectly as they can. They are very demanding and controlling of insubordinates. They insist there is only one way to write a report, clean your patrol car, dry clean your uniform, mow a lawn, shop for discounts, etc. They will not allow exceptions, no matter how legitimate they may be. The term "anal retentive," as Freud first coined for people with OCPD, fits them to a T. They become very anxious in situations without clearly defined rules; these situations intensify their fears of making a mistake and consequently being punished for it. Unfortunately, people with OCPD frequently climb the supervisory ladder. They are polite to their authorities. Their supreme devotion to their career and compliance with rules is noticed by their supervisors. The chain of command either reinforces or ignores the perfectionist's style, as it appears that the individual is just being vigilant as well as reinforcing the department's or organization's commitment to excellence.

People with OCPD see the world and others as at best erratic and at worst threatening. Their view of others frequently leads to isolation, as few friends can withstand the perfectionist scrutiny. Conversations are strained because the person with OCPD clings to their own fixed beliefs related to morals, values and ethics. They are simply intolerant of beliefs that are different than their own. They see others as being incompetent, too casual, irresponsible, self-indulgent, and impulsive. They consider emotionally driven behavior immature, irresponsible, and frivolous.

OCPD should not be confused with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is an anxiety disorder that leads to preoccupations and repetitive behaviors. Obsessive compulsive personality disorder does not involve specific obsessions or compulsions. People with OCPD may engage in obsessive behaviors, but this is due to the individual's need for perfectionism and an inability to be flexible. People with OCD realize that their behaviors and thoughts are not normal. However, people with obsessive compulsive personality disorder are sure that their way of life is the correct and only way.

Symptoms and Characteristics of OCPD

A person with this personality disorder has symptoms of perfectionism that usually begin in early adulthood or late adolescence. Some of the common signs of OCPD include:

  • Perfectionism that often interferes with task completion
  • Excessive self discipline
  • High achievers
  • Inflexibility
  • Behavioral rigidity
  • Preoccupation with details, rules, orderliness, lists, and minor details
  • Excessive devotion to work to the to the detriment of social and family activities
  • Unwillingness to let others perform tasks, fearing the loss of responsibility
  • Procrastination
  • Indecisiveness
  • Aggressive, competitive or inpatient
  • Chronic sense of time pressures
  • Inability to relax
  • Controlling of others and situations
  • Rigid and inflexible attitude towards morals or ethical code
  • Difficulty incorporating new or changing information
  • Self-righteous
  • Stubborn and inflexible in relationships
  • Lack spontaneity or imagination
  • Few friends
  • Harshly critical
  • Fault finding
  • Contemptuous of others who don't share beliefs
  • Holds grudges indefinitely
  • Restricted expressions of affection
  • Hoards money and property
  • Miserly (like Scrooge)
  • Inability to throw things away, even when the objects have no value

They come off as judgmental, cool and distant. Those around them feel like they constantly walking on eggshells or in a field of land mines. The price for crossing an OCPD's inflexible standards can be inordinately high. Apologies are rare or forced. After all, they didn't do anything wrong, their actions are always explainable and rational.

In the workplace, subordinates are frequently intimidated and berated. Employees feel inhibited to discuss topics without being 100% certain that they are correct. This type of environment can be extremely stifling. Creativity is at best discouraged. Insistence on compliance with the most insignificant regulations becomes more important than the bigger picture of any project or service. The perfectionist supervisor will micromanage every action, every word, every detail. This frequently results in the employee failing to finish projects or meet deadlines. In the end, the person with OCPD is alienated from those he works with or supervises.

OCPD spouses and parents are domineering and rude. Loved ones are subjected to daily scrutiny. Households are to be run like a tight ship, changes or alterations to the rules are simply not tolerated. If the perfectionist believes that he or she has been wronged physical violence and/or humiliation are justified consequences. Expressions of true affection are rarely displayed. People with OCPD are also extremely tightfisted, hoarding money for some future catastrophe. There are frequently marital disputes about money.


As much as others are often victimized by, the OCPD's oppressive and demanding style, he/she sets the same high standards for themselves. OCPD can lead to clinical depression. At the core, the perfectionist focuses on his or her failures, which often leads to a self loathing and hatred. Strict black and white beliefs about right and wrong, all good or all bad, can also fuel their depression.

Individuals with OCPD rarely seek treatment unless forced to by threats of termination, demotion, divorce, etc. The individual is convinced that their way is not only the right way, but also the only way. They just do not understand why others cannot comprehend that. Treatment for the disorder is complex and lengthy. Cognitive behavior treatment (CBT) is generally the therapy of choice. CBT helps an individual understand that it is their own thoughts, rather than external factors (people or situations), that cause feelings and behaviors. Individuals learn calm and constructive ways to accept a problem in order to be in better position to resolve issues. Medications are not usually indicated for people with OCPD unless they meet the diagnostic criteria for mood or anxiety disorders. Self help groups have been beneficial to many suffers of OCPD. These groups allow the person to share experiences and feelings with others who have similar symptoms.

If after reading this article, you believe that you may have OCPD there is a self-test to help you rate your symptoms. If you live or work with someone who has OCPD, know that there is no way that you can change him or her. OCPD represents an enduring set of beliefs and behaviors that are an essential core of the individual's personality. Whatever you do, don't break the rules. Depending on your situation you have limited options. Put up, shut up, walk away, or run.


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