Skip to main content Skip to bottom nav

What is the difference between Perfectionism and OCD?

89 Answers
Last Updated: 01/27/2022 at 1:30pm
What is the difference between Perfectionism and OCD?
1 Tip to Feel Better
United States
Moderated by

Stacey Kiger, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

My belief is that therapy is not about giving advice, but joining you on your journey

Top Rated Answers
- Expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
October 13th, 2016 3:45pm
Perfectionism is if you want everything to be perfect, OCD can come in many different types but being clean and perfect in OCD is for a reason. Not just because you want to be perfect but because you feel like something terrible will happen if you don't do it: 'if I don't organise my desk, this house will burn or I'll lose my job.'
- Expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
June 21st, 2020 3:11am
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DMS-5) as the experience of unwanted and recurrent thoughts (obsessions) which the individual attempts to suppress through ritualistic and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). In other words, a person with OCD will have an irrational and recurring fear which causes them significant anxiety. They seek to alleviate that anxiety through behaviors that are not connected in a realistic way with the fear that they are designed to neutralize. This causes a cycle known as the OCD trap. An obsessive thought will lead to anxiety so the individual will perform a compulsion to relieve it. The relief is only short term, so when the obsessive thought returns, the individual will repeat their compulsions continuing the cycle. These compulsions are usually very time consuming and impair an individual's ability to function well. This impairment might be observable by family members, although they might take much time to be evident. Some examples of common compulsions or OCD symptoms are:
1. Checking things over and over.
2. Arranging things so that they are ""just right""
3. Counting.
4. Tapping, touching, or rubbing things.
5. Excessive and repetitive washing and cleaning.
6. Hoarding
7. Constantly re-doing things to try to make it perfect.

Perfectionism, on the other hand, is normally caused by a person having very high personal standards. Failing to meet those standards can cause the person significant distress. Perfectionists strive for perfection in every area in their life, and failure in an area will cause them to feel like a failure in life.

Here are a few key differences between perfectionism and OCD:
1. While a perfectionist may experience distressing thoughts, they are able to identify the fear as irrational and dismiss is, whereas a person with OCD cannot control the thoughts and instead feels as if they can only relieve the fear by performing one of their obsessions.
2. A perfectionist may perform rituals because they like there to order; however, an individual with OCD will experience significant distress if they do not perform their rituals and they become life hindering.
3. A perfectionist will intentionally perform their rituals. An individual with OCD, on the other hand, is not able to control the behavior and the ritual itself normally has very little to do with the actual fear. For example, the fear of leaving the door unlocked might cause a person to straighten and re-organize everything on their desk.

So, while perfectionism can cause distress to the individual, and it is a risk factor for OCD, there are significant differences between the two.

I would be remiss if I did not make a note about the difference between OCD and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) here.

OCPD is a personality disorder characterized by a need for total orderliness and control over one's environment. This can come in the form of the need to have control over one's interpersonal relationships, a preoccupation with details and rules, dedicating excessive time to work, and inflexible morals. OCPD differs from OCD in the following ways:

1. OCPD is not directed by uncontrollable thoughts like OCD is.
2. A person suffering from OCPD will believe that their actions are purposeful, whereas a person with OCD is typically distressed by these thoughts and actions.
3. A person with OCD will seek professional help because they find the thoughts distressing, while a person with OCPD will not because they do not see their actions as irrational.
4. OCPD is associated with inflexibility and rigidity so their behaviors do not frequently change over time, however, someone with OCD has their behaviors triggered by anxiety, so their rituals and compulsive behavior will fluctuate as their anxiety increases and decreases.
- Expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
August 7th, 2016 8:27pm
perfectionism can manifest itself through ambition, prowess, a strong drive to make sure all is well. obsessive compulsive disorder can manifest itself through obsession over unimportant details.
- Expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
November 4th, 2016 12:25am
In my experience, perfectionism is a need for everything around you and everything you do to be up to your personal standards of perfect, whereas OCD is a disorder with which you need for things to be a certain way or happen a certain way, otherwise you are convinced that something terrible will happen. OCD presents its self differently in different people but It is a need and almost always leaves the person with no other options but to follow what they feel needs to happen, whereas with Perfectionism it is a personality type or facet of ones self and can be put aside with no perceived negative consequences
July 14th, 2016 6:56pm
Perfectionism is a drive to make things perfect that can (and will) turn into obsessions. OCD is an obsession that drives you to try and make things perfect.
- Expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
November 20th, 2016 10:21pm
OCD is a disorder in the brain which causes impulses that you have to do. Perfectionism can be a part of OCD, but it isn't always. OCD can manifest into many things. Examples of OCD impulses include : Need to wash your hands very frequently, making sure the light is off in the house 3 times, having a specific ritual put in place for night time, vacuuming every day, always needing an even number of things, or constant counting. Doing these things lets the patient feel a sense of relief, but at the same time anxiety when a ritual is interrupted or not completed With perfectionism, if things don't go your way, you are able to let it go without much of a problem. But with OCD, it can manifest into severe anxiety and obsessive thinking until it is done. This disorder is often times disabling because of such strong impulses.
November 19th, 2016 10:52am
OCD is a mental disorder that has an immense effect on your daily life and something that you have no control over while perfectionism can be controlled and does not get in the way of daily living.
September 25th, 2016 10:01am
Perfectionism is productive and conductive to promoting success and getting work done, OCD is overwhelming and incapacitating anxiety that paralyses so you do nothing at all.
April 1st, 2017 5:29am
It is very common for people to look at OCD as just being a "perfectionist" but these are two drastically different things. Perfectionism is wanting everything to be as you want it to be, and working especially hard in some cases to achieve that. OCD is a real mental disorder characterizied by obsessions and compulsive thoughts. People suffering from OCD experience severe discomfort and anxiety when they cannot satisfy these thoughts. It's important to treat people with OCD respectfully and be supportive. Do not dismiss their struggles and say it is just "perfectionism". It's a hard issue to face. For more info you can refer to I hope I've helped. :)
February 10th, 2017 4:58pm
Perfectionism is where you want everything to be perfect. Like, I want to have all A's in school, or making that essay perfect. A perfectionist needs to have everything perfect. But, perfectionism is not a mental illness. OCD, stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.
August 13th, 2016 4:40pm
There are various symptoms of OCD , perhaps trying over and over till something is perfect is one of the symptoms. Personally , i think OCD is more broad than perfectionism.
March 4th, 2017 8:06pm
In simple terms, the difference is you control perfectionism and ocd controls you, if that makes any sense. However, it is much more grey that that, I can admit such. Perfectionism is wanting to perfect and ocd is having no choice. But, a person with ocd can say they are just a perfectionist and visa versa. Either way, it can be destructive to the person. I dunno if that helped, very interesting question.
January 10th, 2018 9:47pm
Perfectionism is the attribute of seeking ultimate satisfaction with a task being done or the outcome of anything from looks to jobs. OCD is the irresistible urge to satisfy one's compulsions and that causes anxiety and distress.
September 30th, 2016 10:13pm
OCD is a disorder where you have to perform certain rituals on a regular basis to keep anxious feelings at bay. Perfectionism is merely part of a personality in which you like things to be a certain way, but it won't make you feel anxious if these things aren't a certain way. For instance I have OCD and I have to keep my lamp facing down. This isn't because it looks perfect that way, but because I need it to look that way or I will feel anxious.
October 4th, 2016 10:25pm
Perfectionism should be helpful to you, like motivation. OCD will affect your ability to function in daily life.
March 12th, 2017 5:31am
Perfectionism is an urge to make everything perfect. OCD is an disorder that causes obssesive thoughts. This thoughts causes compulsive behaviour. A person who are perfectionist wants to do their job perfect and flawless. A person who suffers from OCD will have obsessive thoughts like "If you don't make this perfect, something will happen." and that thoughts leads to Compulsive behaviour such as checking the job progress like four times a day, urge to make everything flawless etc.
June 28th, 2017 1:44am
The difference between perfectionist urges and OCD compulsions is the feeling of panic when you imagine (or try) not doing the urge/compulsion. Perfectionists will be upset if they don't do something the way they feel they needed to while someone with OCD will feel that something bad will happen to them if they don't do it until it's right. Also, perfectionists are usually more able to explain where the motivation comes from where as people with OCD often can't explain the reasons behind their compulsions.
September 20th, 2017 1:17am
Perfectionism is where a person sets, often times, unattainable personal standards. People who deal with perfectionism will often be overly engaged in their work, especially related to school or academic pursuits; often times they strive to reach their personal goals, but inadvertently move their goals ('moving their own goalpost', so to speak), and never actually reach them. Perfectionism is related to depression, anxiety, and occupational burnout. OCD on the other hand is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions (repetitive/recurrent thoughts) and/or compulsions (repetitive behaviors that reduce anxiety). Societal portrayals of OCD can often be misleading as a person having a strong preference for order, liking things neat and clean, or being particular about certain things. In reality, OCD is a debilitating and (at times) crippling anxiety disorder that prevents people from enjoying their lives and engaging in regular activities. There is not really a 'treatment' for perfectionism as it it not a disorder; in extreme cases treatment can focus on occupational burnout and related conditions, self-care strategies, and depression. Treatment for OCD consists of therapy aimed at reducing anxieties and helping the person identify their anxieties and restructuring them (in a therapeutic sense).
November 11th, 2017 3:23pm
Perfectionism is a want for things to be perfect e.g. Being tidy or having things in colour order. OCD is a mental illness where people have a compulsion and have to complete an action in order to ease the anxiety. E.g. Someone might think "if I don't touch this 27 time, then something bad will happen to my mum" and this causes so much anxiety which is not relieved until the action is carried out. These thoughts are very real to the sufferer and have for the majority of a day.
November 28th, 2018 10:41am
Perfectionism is generally a trait. A perfectionist believes that everything must be of high standard in a sense and does not think that this is a faulty philosophy of living to base someones value on wether or not they excel at things. OCD is a little different. Its a disorder in which the person knows that the actions and thoughts are irrelevant and actually feeling bothered about them. So the person with OCD does feel there is something wrong with the situation but the perfectionist does not generally question the philosophy. They can also come along both at point in someones life but basically they are different.
August 6th, 2016 1:52am
Perfectionism is drive to work hard and make things perfect that doesn't always turn into obsession. Ocd is the opposite, it starts with obsession that makes you strive for perfection.
August 26th, 2016 4:10am
Perfectionism is when things the person does has to be perfect. OCD involves this as well as what goes on around the person and also the person may feel freaked out if they stray from their routine.
October 21st, 2016 8:54pm
In my opinion, OCD is when everything has to be perfect. Perfectionism is you wanting to have your stuff perfect, for example, a project. (in my opinion I'm not a doctor)
December 22nd, 2016 7:09am
OCD is basically an extreme case of perfectionism. In many cases, you don't just want things to be perfect in a certain order, but you feel like you absolutely must or something bad could happen. There are also many other symptoms of OCD that perfectionism doesn't include, like irrational fears and ritual making.
January 8th, 2017 1:41pm
Perfectionism is a personality trait. It may mean that you like things to be tidy and such. OCD is much more intense and involves more intrusive thoughts, obsessive behaviour and irrational routines
April 9th, 2017 3:46am
Perfectionism is where you want everything to be perfect. You want everything to be just right and you don't want anything to stick out or be different. OCD is where everything has to look and be the exact same. Nothing can be different or change. You have to have certain things in a certain or exact spot and if it's different then you have to change it. It's hard for anything to be out of order.
June 23rd, 2017 3:34am
Perfectionism is bound to ones free will, Obsessive-compulsive disorder is driven by a kind of inner compulsion.
June 30th, 2017 4:04pm
Perfectionism is generally more acossiated with OCPD, rather than OCD. OCD has the anxiety/repetitive though fuelling the compulsion, while perfectionsim usually has more of an aesthetic fuel or competition/ambition.
July 15th, 2017 5:58pm
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is often confused with OCD, but there are major differences that may be unknown to the general public. Nevertheless, OCPD is characterized by ego-syntonic thoughts and habits, meaning that the person is not bothered by these thoughts and actions.
February 8th, 2019 3:48pm
Perfectionism tends to focus more in having things perfected like test grades having to be over 95% , while OCD tends to focus more on specific compulsions and obsessions. Like having to wash your hands three times before leaving the bathroom or else the person can experience feelings of anxiety, worry, or panic. While perfectionism is like having to have everything situated a certain way or making sure clothes are in color coded order in your closet. The main difference is basically compulsions and obsessions vs having to have everything perfect(or sometimes just certain things need to be perfected).