Do I Have OCD or Am I a Perfectionist?


Publish date

Mar 24, 2021

Post Author

Healthy U Behavioral Health


The symptoms of many mental disorders can be thought of as extensions of common issues or traits that exist in most people to varying degrees. Experiencing heightened symptoms of common traits doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a disorder. Being a meticulous person or considering yourself to be almost too organized doesn’t mean that you have OCD. While obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the most common disorders to be casually misdiagnosed or thrown around in friendly conversation, the condition is nothing to joke about. OCD can seriously impair your daily functions. 

While its symptoms may appear similar to perfectionism, OCD is not simply a personality trait. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder that entails repetitive, unwanted thoughts or anxiety-inducing urges. A person suffering from OCD may feel the need to perform compulsive actions to reduce their anxiety, even if the actions appear completely unrelated to the anxieties that caused them. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience episodes of having little to no control over their actions, including ones that they know are problematic or unhelpful. 

The Traits of a Perfectionist

The personality trait of perfectionism has nothing to do with obsessive-compulsive disorder. While a person with perfectionist tendencies may exhibit habits similar to symptoms of OCD, they do so to satisfy the heightened expectations they hold for themselves, other people, or the world around them. Following a strict morning routine or keeping an overly-organized closet may be considered perfectionist qualities. Although not everyone acts this way, perfectionism isn’t necessarily a problem or source of concern.

Of course, no one will ever be completely perfect by the definition; still, those who strive for perfection may reap benefits. Holding yourself to a higher standard makes you less likely to procrastinate or take the easy way out of challenging situations. People who are perfectionists tend to succeed in their respective fields. Being a perfectionist may cause a person to be too hard on themselves and others, but that usually falls within the scope of normal human behavior. If perfectionism causes you to hold yourself to unreasonable standards and treat yourself unkindly, you may benefit from addressing those personality traits with a therapist.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Everyday Life

Upon first glance, someone with OCD may appear simply as an effort to be precise; over time, you may realize that it comes from a deeper place. You may accept that spending a prolonged period on a seemingly-trivial task is the sign of a problem.  Depending on their unique disorder, people who suffer from OCD may repeat certain behaviors or need to do or see things in a specific way to feel at peace. You may find that you need to check that you locked the front door, turned off the oven, or completed any other household task multiple times, or sometimes a specific number of times. These are likely to be repeated incidents that occur in the same situation. As they are happening, you may feel you are warding off or solving anxious thoughts of possible negative outcomes or negative consequences that you wish to avoid.

One significant difference between perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder is that someone who is a perfectionist might acknowledge it with pride. A perfectionist may tell you that the very reason they are successful is that they like to make everything perfect. A person with OCD is less likely to own their condition with such confidence. They may be in denial about their symptoms or wish to fight their compulsions instead of accepting them.

Perfectionism vs. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

While they may give rise to similar behaviors, perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder are motivated by different rationales. Many people who consider themselves perfectionists developed those traits during childhood. If you were rewarded for completing your chores or doing well in school, your brain might carry that conception of reward into adulthood, where you begin to treat yourself well in exchange for meeting certain standards. This mindset has the potential to be a healthy system that pushes you towards success.

By contrast, obsessive-compulsive disorder can lead to lasting anxiety, fear, and distress. Striving for perfection is not the same as being unable to control your behavior. Although the differences may sound subtle, it’s important to understand how OCD can impact your life if not managed properly. Claiming to have OCD because you like things a certain way can come off as insensitive, and writing off OCD as perfectionist tendencies can prevent you from getting the help you need. Finally, don’t use “OCD” as an adjective. It’s not a descriptor; it’s a medical disorder and it should be respected as such.


The cause and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder run deeper than common perfectionist tendencies and may be far more difficult to manage. No matter how your inner standards affect you, it’s always in your best interest to honestly assess your behavior to determine whether you’re being held back by patterns you wouldn’t choose to keep. If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of OCD like compulsive behavior, difficulty achieving a stable state of mind without engaging in specific activities, or simply need guidance in making your lifestyle more manageable, don’t hesitate to reach out for effective professional help. Don’t take it lightly, even if symptoms don’t appear severe at first; OCD can seriously impair your life if not managed properly. HealthyU offers comprehensive treatment and therapeutic services designed to help you overcome the challenges posed by mental health issues and live your best possible life. Contact us at (619) 542-9542 to learn more.