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Difference Between OCD and Perfectionism


Each one of us aspires to be perfect. We want to be the best at whatever we do. In fact since young age parents inadvertently teach their wards to win. Children are rewarded for good performance and punished for bad performance. The urge to be the best and emerge a winner though good can sometimes go overboard leading to perfectionism or even obsessive compulsive disorder. Perfectionism and OCD are very much interlinked. OCD can be termed as an extreme form of perfectionism. Let us understand the subtle differences between the two.

Obsessive compulsive disorder

It is organic behavioural disorder that affects about 1-2% of the population. People with OCD show traits of this disorder right from childhood. The disorder has two parts – Obsession and Compulsive.

Obsession is repeated occurrence of irrational unwanted thoughts. They instil a feeling of fear, anxiety and disgust in the patient’s mind. Many people know that these feeling are unreal yet they cannot shrug it off. There is a flaw in the neuronal circuitry that sends of warning signals constantly even in the absence of stimuli.

There are many parents who complain their child takes hours to bathe or get dressed or clean their room. These children fuss that they are not clean enough and so continue to wash their hands or feet for hours. Many children keep on arranging and rearranging their toys till they feel the room looks perfect. Girls redo their hair about million times before leaving home because they feel they are not set perfectly. These are called as compulsive behaviour in which the person feels only this is the right way to do things and will keep on working at it. Even in adults, such constantly repetitive illogical behaviour is seen. For example checking the stove or geyser constantly.

People with OCD also want the best. If they do not get what they want, they go into depression. They exhibit sadness and frustration if things don’t happen as per their standards. They present with the similar all or nothing style of thinking that is seen in people with maladaptive perfectionism. This habit of doing the same task repetitively robs them of their precious time in which they can actually do a lot more productive and constructive things with their family.


In the field of psychology, perfectionism is defined as a trait of a person because of which he strains himself and others to achieve an obtainable goal. Failure to achieve goals, results in frustration and disappointment. Such individuals are severely critical of themselves and people around them. This personality trait is characteristic of people suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder too.

People with such traits can be difficult to please at home and office as they set very high standards of performance which can be difficult for them as well as others. Such people are very critical and constantly strive to do a particular task flawlessly. A perfectionist employee is constantly worried of what his boss will think about his work and hence keeps working at the same task till he feels he is perfect. It is for this reason that perfectionism is seen as a double edged sword.

Types of perfectionism

All high achievers are perfectionists. They work hard to master their art and be the best at what they are. In such cases the quality of perfectionism in an individual is good as it motivates him to push his barriers and perform his best. Psychologists call this Adaptive perfectionism.

There is a flip side to this. The desire to achieve perfection can sometimes go to the other extreme. Such individuals unknowingly delay tasks as they feel they will not be able to perform them well. They find excuses for not doing the job. Under the garb of achieving perfectionism, such individuals are actually poor performers and sympathy seekers. Psychologists call this form of perfectionism as maladaptive perfectionism. Such individuals either do a job perfectly or do not do it at all. For them the world is black or white.

Complications of Perfectionism and OCD

People suffering from perfectionism or OCD have suicidal tendencies as they are unable to accept any mistakes in their work. A slight fault is considered as a personal defect which puts them into depression. These people are highly critical of others work and this characteristic is a type of defence mechanism. Individuals with this trait are unwilling to take risks as they are afraid of failure. Such an attitude is hampers their creativity and innovation skills. These people also suffer from other emotional and medical complications as they are forever stressed. They are always burdened with the pressure of impressing others.


OCD and perfectionism are treatable disorders when diagnosed at an early stage. Counselling, cognitive therapy can work wonders for such patients. Such patients are advised to keep room for a minimum number of mistakes while doing a task. They are set a time limit to complete a task so that they do not waste time. Positive counselling is important to keep away negative thoughts. Patients are advised not to worry about failure but to refocus on other important things in life.

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