What is the Difference Between Being Thorough and Having OCD?


Many people mistakenly assume that perfectionism and OCD are opposite sides of the same coin. While OCD is oftentimes driven by a desire for perfectionism and meticulousness, those qualities are not tantamount to OCD. At this juncture it’s worth providing definitions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and perfectionism.

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious, and debilitating mental health disorder. OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. The obsessions are the fears and invasive thoughts that make it virtually impossible to lead a normal day-to-day life. The compulsions are the behaviors (actions) that individuals with OCD take to try and satisfy the obsessive thoughts. OCD can affect people across the racial, ethnic, and demographic spectrum. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is treated in a variety of ways. These usually include medication (SNRIs and SSRIs), and psychotherapy. In severe cases, OCD can be treated with surgical and non-surgical options. Invasive medical procedures include ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), and Vagus Nerve Stimulation. Both of these procedures are highly effective with treatment-resistant patients. 

An efficacious, non-surgical procedure approved by the FDA is Deep TMS. This is an advanced form of standard TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). This non-invasive treatment uses a magnetic field to regulate neural functionality. TMS targets areas deep within the brain that are thought to be responsible for causing symptoms of depression. Deep TMS has limited side effects, with mild headaches being the most typically reported. 

Deep TMS can also be used in conjunction with medications such as SNRIs and SSRIs. These serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, and other mental health disorders. Deep TMS involves 18 minute sessions of treatment, 5 days a week. The treatments can last up to 6 weeks. At the end of the treatment, there are high rates of recovery from depression, or significant improvements in mood and general disposition. 

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait. It is characterized by having extremely high standards and lofty expectations of oneself and of others. The pursuit of perfection ultimately leads to disappointment, since true perfection is unattainable. This is often associated with an overly critical assessment of oneself, with the imposition of rigid standards towards achieving predefined objectives. 

In its extreme form, perfectionism is debilitating. The fear of failure is so overwhelming that the person does everything possible to try and achieve the desired result. Perfectionists are reluctant to bask in their successes, because they always feel that they can do better. Perfectionists are continually seeking validation from their mentors.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to perform according to the highest possible standards of excellence. Where this becomes a problem is when it is maladaptive perfectionism. Failure-driven perfectionism is destructive to individuals, while positive perfectionism tends to encourage hard work and is oftentimes met with success.

What are the Links Between Perfectionism and OCD

Our cultural zeitgeist tends to make light of OCD, with expressions such as ‘I am totally OCD about this or that’, or ‘You’re such a perfectionist, you must have OCD,’ etc. Truth be told, OCD is a serious mental health disorder, and it’s certainly nothing to joke about. While it is possible for perfectionism to drive certain OCD behaviors, the mental health condition that is OCD is out of the person’s control. Perfectionism is essentially a choice. People choose perfection, even though they know that it is detrimental to their personal relationships.

People with OCD tend to repeat behavior that they know is not going to help whatever it is that is bothering them. A person with OCD may have an irrational fear of germs, being late, safety, or any other phobia. If that person doesn’t perform all the rituals (hand washing, cleaning, locking and unlocking etc.), they cannot have peace of mind. Even though they understand fully that the obsessive thoughts and the compulsive behaviors are not really going to help them achieve any goals.

With OCD, it’s often all about trying to alleviate the extreme anxiety that the person is feeling about whatever it is that is troubling them. It gets interesting when perfectionism is included in the equation. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder may also have a personality trait of perfectionism. It fits with the mental health condition because perfectionism warrants an orderly and structured approach to achieving excellence.

Most people attribute perfectionism to goal-directed behaviors. This is regarded by many as a positive personality trait. Unfortunately, perfectionists are often hopelessly lost in the dark recesses of their minds, trying to achieve perfect results. In the interim, they often sacrifice many personal relationships.

In Summary

Meticulous individuals are often associated with obsessive-compulsive behavior. This has raised the issue of linkages between OCD and perfectionism. However, it should be remembered that OCD is a psychiatric disorder, while meticulous behavior is simply a trait. The pervasive nature of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions makes it impossible for people with OCD to function in a normal way.  

As an anxiety disorder, OCD negatively affects a person’s daily life, making it impossible to function with any degree of normalcy. Perfectionists strive for neat and orderly lives. While perfectionists direct their behaviors towards what they want using rational thought processes, people with OCD realize that their behavior is irrational but they simply can’t help themselves.