Perfectionism in OCD


What is the role of perfectionism in OCD?

Perfectionism involves an individual’s expectation for flawlessness. It can be a healthy and desirable trait that can contribute to an individual’s success in certain areas. People without OCD who are perfectionists embrace the thoughts and expectations of perfectionism and think about and engage in them voluntarily, potentially with pleasure. People with OCD tend to become consumed with obsessing over their thoughts, begin to feel anxiety, distress, doubt, confusion, or another difficult emotion because of these obsessions, and may develop some compulsive behaviours (physical or mental) to find short-term relief from these difficult emotions. These compulsions can be in the form of perfectionistic tendencies, where completing something perfectly must occur for the individual to feel relief from their anxiety and distress.

What are the OCD symptoms?

Perfectionism in OCD revolves around an individual’s need for flawlessness. This can involve a fear of something bad happening or what others will think if perfection is not achieved, or a mistake is made. Some examples of the intrusive thoughts associated with perfectionism in OCD include: “I need clean the kitchen in this way or our food might become contaminated.”, “I must re-write this email until it is perfect so that my boss thinks I know what I’m doing and won’t fire me.”, and “I can’t start cleaning the house because I don’t have time to finish it right now.”. The thoughts can take an infinite number of forms and are only limited by the brains capacity to imagine.

To manage the anxiety and distress associated with their obsessions, people with OCD seek to reduce the amount of anxiety and distress caused by these thoughts by behaving in repetitive ways that provide short-term relief. Perfectionism in compulsions may look like rigid rule-following, repeating behaviours until their “feel right”, procrastinating, seeking reassurance, repeatedly checking their work, ordering, and arranging things in specific ways, and/or mentally reviewing past actions.

Why does it occur?

People with OCD have trouble accepting the uncertainty that comes with their intrusive thoughts. Perfectionism in OCD can create a sense of certainty in that the task was completed to perfection so there is limited room for doubt. These individuals may find themselves stuck in a cycle of obsessing, feeling anxious or distressed, and engaging in a compulsion perfectly to relieve the anxiety or distress for the short period until the obsession returns.