Perfectionism is a trait used for an individual who desires order in life, is goal-oriented, and has high personal standards. This trait is found excessively in OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Perfectionism OCD is one of the 4 types of OCD which projects itself as perfectionism and excessive devotion to work that gets to the point where a person starts avoiding friendships and hobbies, in the effort and the passionate need (better say, compulsion) for things to be done “just right.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1 in 100 adults (between 2 to 3 million adults) in the United States have OCD in 2020.
But how does this diagnosable mental health condition come into being? Perfection found as a typical trait in a person takes two forms, adaptive and non-adaptive. The healthy adaptive form makes a person have goal-oriented behavior, good organization skills, conscientiousness, high standards for themselves and others, and persistence in the face of adversity. Sounds incredible, right? Just what a complete person should be like. But when the non-adaptive unhealthy perfectionism comes into play, it’s not so perfect. Better to say it’s anything but perfect. Distress and low self-esteem in an individual are what make its roots. Let’s see what grows from the roots and how this perfectionism manifests itself:
- Being heavily invested in high expectations of others like your parents or your employer.
- Doubts about whether you are doing something correctly.
- Excessive preoccupation with control (even the things you can’t control!)
- Excessive preoccupation with past mistakes.
- Fears about making new mistakes.
These are the exact traits (and more) that finally take the form of the OCD type- perfectionism OCD. The individuals who become prey to this disorder are so obsessive with orderliness, rules, organization, lists, and schedule that they spend so much time making the rules and list that the actual task often lags. The person might look like “goals” because he appears to be a perfect individual having his life in order, unlike most of us here that can only dream of such life. But the frustration that co-exists with compulsion and goes on around in the individual’s mind with OCD is something you should be thankful for not having. The root cause is not inner strength but a core weakness and fearfulness.
A ubiquitous example in people with perfectionism OCD reflects their urge to do things “just right,” as seen in the following scenarios where a person’s observing, checking, correction behavior increases. Specifically for day-to-day things like locking the door, turning off the stove flame, and switching off the iron, you might return to check these items repeatedly! Checking once and seeing the task done “just right” isn’t enough validation. You might just want to turn around twice or thrice at least. Sounds annoying, right? That’s what satisfaction for such individuals looks like and the only thing that can get them to sleep peacefully. Because tied to this is an excessive fear of making a catastrophic mistake, for example, burning the house while leaving the stove open.
Thankfully, the good news is that this disorder can be fixed or at least put under control by various therapy methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which includes practicing giving up control by asking individuals to participate in exercises designed to build distress tolerance. Also, other stances, like practicing mindfulness and meditation, accepting criticism, decreasing over-achievement, practicing letting go, learning to evaluate critical thinking, and practicing self-care, can help big time!
So, if the next time you come across this seemingly perfect (but not so perfect) individual functioned by anxiety-driven obsession, compulsion, concerns over mistakes, and doubts about their own actions, you should know what to expect from them.