Obsessive-compulsive disorder is something I have heard quite recently but have never much delved into the subject. As I started learning about OCD, I felt I probably had a few traits of OCD and hence made some detailed readings about the subject. Keeping aside the technicalities of the subject as usually perceived about OCD, mostly in a negative way, let’s see how it’s negatively popularised against being perfect.
Let’s start with COVID-19. The medical community has advised everyone in the world to wash their hands multiple times per day in a specific way and for a specific minimum amount of time, correct? Now, one of the very common examples of OCD is washing hands frequently, as people are obsessed with cleaning. So, did the whole world have OCD during COVID-19? And I find still many people around the world continuing the habits picked up during COVID of washing hands, sanitising hands, and wearing masks while sitting alone in cars. OCD?
Take another example: obsession with symmetry is an OCD symptom. How about when you wish to see your hotel room well decked up with all the things that are nicely pilled and decked up? or similar expectations in any shopping mall or hypermarket where we wish to see things symmetrically stored for both easy and aesthetic viewing. Or, for that matter, we all wish our home was always clean and decked up like a hotel room. But if our spouse is obsessed with such symmetry at home, we categorise it under OCD.
Obsession with certain things brings perfection. If great players are not obsessed with perfection, if great musicians and vocalists are obsessed with perfection, and if students are not obsessed with perfection, we will never have the Pele, Ronaldo, Messi, Elvis Presley, and MJ of the world. Unless the obsession for perfection is not harming anyone or intruding on someone’s personal space, an obsession for perfection is always positive.
So, anyone with OCD, even superficially, and it’s not harming yourself or others around you, be happy that you are a perfectionist, even in the smallest things in life.
What Exactly Is Perfectionism?
Before we discuss perfectionism and OCD, it is necessary to define perfectionism. To some extent, perfectionism can be useful. When compared to the opposite end of the spectrum, perfectionistic tendencies are usually preferred over “slob” tendencies.
So how can you know what’s good (not just nice, but ideal) and what isn’t? According to research on perfectionism, there are two types of perfectionism: adaptive/healthy perfectionism and maladaptive/unhealthy perfectionism.
Perfectionism that is adaptive and healthy
Adaptive or healthy perfectionism is related to psychological well-being and strong achievement in school and at work. These characteristics set this type of perfectionism apart:
- Behaviour with a specific goal in mind
- Excellent organisational abilities
- High expectations of yourself and others
- tenacity in the face of adversity
In contrast, maladaptive or unhealthy perfectionism has been linked to discomfort, low self-esteem, and symptoms of mental illness. These characteristics set this type of perfectionism apart:
- Being heavily invested in other people’s high expectations, such as parents or employers
- Concerns regarding whether or not you are doing something right
- Excessive concern with control Excessive concern with previous mistakes
- Fear of committing new errors
ADHD perfectionism is a symptom that should be highlighted.
Perfectionism and OCD
Perfectionism, in its harmful form, has been closely connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Perfectionism appears to be more powerful if you have a high demand for things to be done “just right” or if you require assurance.
Linked to a Desire for Certainty
For example, if you believe that your compulsions must be carried out perfectly, you may suffer from maladaptive perfectionism. It is not commonplace in these situations for people to feel that if the compulsion is followed out flawlessly, a dreaded consequence, such as the death of a loved one, will be avoided.
Checking behaviours may increase.
If your OCD symptoms revolve around checking, you are likely to have unhealthy perfectionism. If you are not completely convinced that you have secured the door or switched off the cooker, you may return to check these items several times.
This is linked to an overwhelming dread of making a disastrous error. You may be concerned about leaving the door open all day or burning down the house by keeping the stove on.
Checking repeatedly promotes the notion that you are not flawless and may even be “losing your mind.” This can make you feel even worse and less confident, which can exacerbate your checking behaviours.
Can it heighten obsessions?
Unhealthy OCD perfectionism may feed obsessions. For example, if you have OCD, you may assume that you must have perfect control over your thoughts.
When a strange or distressing notion enters your mind, you categorise it as dangerous since it is outside of your control. This drives you to pay even closer attention to the notion, which can contribute to the development of an obsession.
Managing OCD Perfectionism
How can you deal with OCD perfectionism? The first step is to recognise your own OCD and perfectionistic tendencies. There are a few things that can help you cope very well.
Adopt a mindful attitude.
Mindfulness emphasises the importance of becoming less “invested” in our thoughts. Accepting that we have less control over our thoughts than we think can be quite beneficial in lessening the distress that often accompanies intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation activities can aid in the development of a more objective awareness of our daily thoughts and emotions.
Cognitive behavioural methods
Techniques similar to those used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be beneficial. Cognitive restructuring and behavioural experiments, for example, can be useful in learning to objectively assess the risk and/or consequences of making catastrophic or even minor mistakes.
Cognitive therapy can also be used to critically examine our assumptions about ourselves and others. You can learn to identify and alter these unhealthy ideas and behaviours by working with a therapist.
Experiment with giving up control.
You may be requested to participate in distress tolerance exercises as part of cognitive behavioural therapy and/or exposure and response prevention therapy. This is your tolerance for loss of control.
Examples include being barred from double-checking or changing something until it is “just right.” Although this can be quite distressing at first, you will gradually build confidence in your capacity to handle a loss of control.
Talking with a therapist is a terrific way to obtain a better understanding of your disease and get the input you need while you seek to decrease its impact on your life.
Managing OCD Perfectionism
There are some things you can do to alleviate both OCD symptoms and perfectionism. Some suggestions:
- Try self-help techniques. Many of the self-help behaviours that aid in the treatment of OCD may also aid in the treatment of perfectionism.
- Change your unhealthy perfectionism. Addressing perfectionism in relation to the condition, in particular, is likely to help with many facets of the disorder.
- Work on your overachieving habits. Techniques that help overachievers deal with perfectionism may also help with OCD.
The most crucial aspect of recognising the function of perfectionism in OCD is to recognise how OCD is different for everyone. Whatever personality features a person possesses can play a role in the condition.