Anyone who lives or works with someone who has an obsessive-compulsive personality knows how maddening and frustrating such a person can be. The chronic, exaggerated patterns of preoccupation they have with, for example, cleanliness or perfection, along with their rigid attitudes, tend to drive others to the brink of insanity. While some mild symptoms, others are at the extreme end of the continuum. They are perpetually anxious, and their preoccupations are an attempt to exert control over their discomforting emotions.
- In everyday social situations, OCPs tend to stand out because of their formal, stilted and serious attitudes.
- It’s important for them to plan every detail of every action to the last minute.
- Their restlessness makes it hard for them to relax and take up leisure activities; instead, OCPs show an unnerving dedication to work.
- They seek perfection in everything they do, and they tend to expect the same from others.
- In their world, everything, including people, is polarised into ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – this reflects the unflinching rigidly in their actions, beliefs, expectations, and attitudes.
- The slightest glimpse of excellence anywhere excites the OCP; this is why they strive for it all the time.
- Their attention to detail is admirable, which is one of the reasons employers use them to edit other people’s work or check that it has been done properly.
- Due to their work ethic, employers love OCPs; they are workaholics by default.
- The overly strict perfectionism standards of OCPs can prevent them from ever completing tasks at work. Perfection – even though an elusive quality – has to be attained.
- Perceiving and relating to people as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, with no appreciation of middle ground, often causes friction in relationships with others.
- OCPs dread exploring new ways of accomplishing tasks – they want to stick to old ways that have worked for them in the past. Consecutively, they often leave colleagues exasperated and frustrated.
- Their fear that no one will do a job properly, or even half perfect, drives them to exhaustion from overwork.
How do I deal with one?
- They are often anxious and tense, so criticism from you would likely aggravate their anxiety.
- Criticism directed at them won’t have the desired effect either since an OCP would shrug it off as the result of being misunderstood.
- Giving objective feedback in a friendly, matter-of-fact tone can be useful; for instance, you could point out that although a certain task was not done perfectly, everyone is delighted with the outcomes anyway, and that a little flexibility in attitude does not spell disaster.
Am I one?
- You know you are one when you:
- Loathe working with others or delegating tasks, unless people follow your orders to the letter.
- See people as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
- Feel there is only a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing things – your way is, of course, the ‘right’ way.
- Hardly have time for friends or leisure – it’s all about work.
How can I stop?
- Understand that your obsessions and those compulsive acts are ways in which you try and manage intense fears and anxiety; counseling is one of the safest ways in which you can learn to experience, and deal with, anxieties.
- Try to rationalize with yourself. The superhuman work ethic you embrace is admirable but is likely to exhaust and destroy you emotionally.
- Learn to listen to your emotions – once you embrace your fears, you will be relieved to discover they aren’t so frightening after all.