One of the most frustrating things about having extremely high standards is feeling like nothing is ever done as well as it could be. It is exactly this frustration that I experienced when I first looked for information on OCPD after I was diagnosed with it. No matter how much I researched, I found nothing that could fully satisfy my longing to understand and better myself. I decided to take matters into my own hands.
For an entire year now, I have been filling in the missing pieces of this highly misunderstood and overpathologized personality type. In a year’s time, my unconventional way of looking at this condition has attracted many loyal readers, encouraged people to give their marriage another chance, and saved people from committing suicide. This blog is now the #1 online self-help resource for OCPD and it appears as one of the first search results for “OCPD” on Google.
As a lover of psychology who studies this subject for fun, I also happen to come across other “disorders” and “illnesses.” Like the information out there on OCPD, I cannot help but think that so much is missing. My mind then begins to question and wrestle with conflicting theories until I find the one that makes the most sense. After much questioning and wrestling, I now feel ready to share my own personal (and very different) theory about the real difference between OCD and OCPD.
People with OCD are gifted with a huge imagination. People with OCPD are gifted with a huge heart.
Most of the information out there will emphasize that OCD is an anxiety disorder while OCPD is a personality disorder. I do not think such distinction really matters. I believe it is quite simple: both OCD and OCPD are caused by the anxiety that comes with being highly sensitive.
Both OCD and OCPD come from being extremely “left-brained.” This “auditory-sequential” linear thinking/learning style draws many people with OCD and OCPD toward facts, details, rules, routines, efficiency, order, cleanliness, organization, linear processing, logic, etc.
Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas of “overexcitabilities:” psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. OCD happens as a result of a dominant imaginational overexcitability while OCPD happens as a result of a dominant emotional overexcitability. In other words, people with OCD have a HUGE imagination and people with OCPD have a HUGE heart.
GIFT VS CURSE
Possessing extreme sensitivity in one area can be both a gift and a curse. When a person with OCD is not overwhelmed, his or her imagination can greatly enrich his or her own life, the lives of others, and assist in problem-solving. The same goes for people with OCPD and their emotions. Unfortunately, it is exactly these areas of extreme sensitivity that also betray them the most. People with OCD can imagine extremely disturbing events and consequences that most people cannot imagine with the same intensity. People with OCPD can feel extremely disturbing emotions that most people cannot feel with the same intensity. I am in no way suggesting that OCDers and OCPDers “make up” what they imagine and feel. They do not conveniently choose the thoughts/emotions that enter their imagination/heart.
WRONG LESSON LEARNED
The very first thought that enters the mind of people with OCD and OCPD upon feeling overwhelmed by their dominant overexcitability is “I feel very uncomfortable. This thought/feeling cannot be right. How do I get rid of this immediately?” Without the right kind of parenting and counselling from childhood, people with OCD and OCPD teach themselves from a very early age the wrong lesson that they must get rid of their imagination/emotions altogether. After seeing the positive results of their self-taught strategies, they repeat those strategies over and over again until those strategies become compulsions and addictions.
OCD COPING STRATEGIES
Fear of the unknown can come with having such a huge imagination. One way people with OCD attempt to eliminate this fear is by turning the unknown into the known through checking. Another way people with OCD attempt to eliminate this fear is by working hard at doing everything possible to prevent the unknown from ever happening. Lastly, many people with OCD distract themselves from their fear of the unknown through hyper-focusing on an activity (quite often one that requires extreme attention to detail) that takes their mind off of their imagination.
OCPD COPING STRATEGIES
Fear of emotions can come with being so emotionally sensitive. Most of the coping strategies of people with OCPD are aimed at removing emotions altogether. Whenever negative emotions are present, people with OCPD do whatever they can to avoid feeling them. They often think their way out of their emotions and exercise all kinds of psychological strategies in their head to comfort themselves. A great deal of energy is also invested into the prevention of future negative emotions. Lastly, many people with OCPD participate in distracting activities that drown their difficult emotions.
WHEN THE CURSE WINS…
When the curse wins, both groups live with a high level of anxiety for the majority of their existence. Both groups never experience a minute of peace in their respective areas of sensitivity. When their anxiety gets really bad, neither group can get through the day, no matter how much time and energy they spend on their coping strategies. Even if both groups find a way to get through the day, most of them are left with their dominant overexcitability so dulled that they never reach their potential in creativity or empathy. The inability to imagine also affects relationships differently than the inability to feel. While relationships can get by without imagination, not many relationships can function without emotions. Consequently, many people with OCPD still have extreme difficulty in their interpersonal relationships.
WHEN THE GIFT WINS…
You most definitely can turn both OCD and OCPD into gifts! When you do, life becomes so exciting. You no longer are pushed to do things out of fear, but you are pulled to do things out of joy. Your sensitivity adds to your life. Your dreams, imagination, and emotions inspire you. People with OCPD who have their gift for empathy restored can experience intimacy in relationships like no one else can. People with OCPD can experience compassion for entire nations of the world and be selfless enough to give up their life for the benefit of others.
You are going to be just fine! Now go ahead and experience your imagination and emotions. :)