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OCD vs Perfectionism: Are They The Same?

As someone with bipolar, I’m hugely aware of how misunderstood it is.  OCD vs Perfectionism are also conditions that are mistaken for each other. I’ve heard people claim that he/she is so OCD because they ‘like to keep everything neat and organised’ or ‘because they are pro-handwashing and disinfecting.’ It seems that OCD has become synonymous with perfectionism when it really shouldn’t be.  The thing is, OCD is something you have, not something you are. Bipolar is the same; you are not bipolar. You have bipolar. 

I know how frustrated and disappointed I feel when someone calls a person ‘bipolar’ because they are moody and a bit on the crazy side.  Like bipolar, people can treat OCD like some behavioural quirk.  When people treat a mental illness like OCD or Bipolar like it’s no big deal, it minimises the condition for those who have it and know how destructive the mental illness can be.

Many people concerned about their mental health status often question the exact relationship between obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and perfectionism. Here is a guide I’ve put together to help you differentiate these two terms and better understand them.

perfectionism at work

What is OCD?

OCD is a condition that manifests itself in the form of obsessions and compulsions. An obsession is when a person experiences recurrent thoughts or unwanted impulses followed by the tendency to respond to these strange thoughts with actions. Compulsions are repetitive acts taken (either mental or physical) in response to obsessions. 

Mental behaviours are adjusted to reduce the impact of anxiety or to prevent a dreadful situation from happening. For instance, constantly thinking that your loved one may get hurt if you don’t put your things in order constitutes obsessive mental behaviour. In response to this thought, one may attempt to rearrange their closets several times to ensure that their clothes kept neatly.

Although people living with OCD may not necessarily feel like doing these things, they can’t just resist the urge to act accordingly. Symptoms of this condition usually set in gradually and progress through one’s lifetime. In some cases, OCD may hinder your mental function and create difficulties in your personal and professional life.

These behaviours may not relate realistically with intentions. That said, people with OCD issues can quickly acknowledge and resolve their thoughts as they sail through each day. Based on their personal nature and the gravity of the thoughts, someone experiencing OCD may spend minutes or hours experiencing turbulent compulsions.

woman with OCD cleaning

The meaning of perfectionism

In simple terms, perfectionism is when you refuse to accept anything less than what is perfect. This personality trait fuels you to strive for flawlessness and set yourself high standards. In addition, a perfectionist has an unmatched determination to critically self-evaluate and raise concerns about third-party opinions. A perfectionist never settles for mediocrity as they view imperfect things to be unacceptable.

Therefore, perfectionism also essentially means giving no room for minor mistakes and being strict. It is easy for a perfectionist to stay preoccupied with their past mistakes, fear wrongdoings, and cast doubts about something they are doing. Unfortunately, the zero tolerance for errors can push a perfectionist to become depressed if they do not achieve their goals to the highest level.

Is perfectionism keeping you stuck? Listen to my mate Mim’s podcast on how to push past perfectionism HERE.

OCD vs perfectionism: Is perfectionism OCD?

We have to tread lightly and with awareness when it comes to OCD vs perfectionism. Obsessive compulsive disorder is a serious mental health issue that shouldn’t be poked fun of. It can make it very challenging for the sufferer to go about their daily activities effectively.

Perfectionism can play a role in OCD, but that does not mean they are equal. According to Joseph Baskin (a seasoned psychiatrist), the OCD vs. perfection debate is this simple to demystify if you look at “who the behaviour is serving, and who the behaviour is bothering.”

“OCD people are fully aware that their behaviour is problematic, but they are powerless to stop it. On the other hand, perfectionists don’t care at all because perfectionism makes their lives better”, Dr Baskin said.

woman perfectionist

So, how do OCD and perfectionism relate to each other?

Perfectionists usually have habits that they strictly observe, such as their morning routines or way of organising things at the workplace. However, they don’t do this out of anxiety.

“People with perfectionism are happy doing things their way because it works for them – it doesn’t matter if others are driven crazy,” Dr Baskin explained. Healthy perfectionism can influence other people to try to achieve bigger goals. Perfectionists don’t only have great expectations for themselves; they also expect other people to get better. However, extreme cases of perfectionism can make people criticise themselves and others.

Treatment for OCD and perfectionism

People can manage OCD with psychotherapy and medication, says Baskin. The therapy treatment is designed to help a person stop fighting reality and forget about things beyond their control.

Behavioural therapy alone may be a good cure for patients with mild symptoms. Doctors may also recommend the combination of therapy together with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These effective medications are generally prescribed for mental health patients.

People with severe cases of perfectionism can also find a cure through psychotherapy. Unfortunately, perfectionists rarely seek medical help because they believe that nothing is wrong with them at all.

If you are an individual who experiences anxiety or obsessive behaviours that negatively affect your way of life, please see your GP and search themultitaskingwoman.com for valuable mental health resources


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OCD vs Perfectionism: Are they the same?

OCD vs Perfectionism: Are they the same?


Eva Lewis