Thursday, April 8, 2010

Behavioral Contagion: Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Some individuals show an extreme preoccupation with rules, order, organization, schedules, and doing things the correct way. In fact, they often become so wrapped up in the details of their perfectionism that they lose sight of the main goal or purpose and fail to complete their tasks. They may become excessively dedicated to their work, they often do not have time for friends and leisure. Other personality features include being overly conscientious and inflexible in their views of morality, ethics and values. Individuals with this disorder often rather formal and cool in their relationships with others and so they frequently are not comfortable in social situations. They also tend to be humorless and critical of other’s and they tend to think that no one else can do a job as well as they can. Therefore, they have trouble delegating work. When they take on a demanding task they frequently retreat into the details of the project to such a degree that they may be unable to make timely progress. Other personality characteristics include hoarding useless possessions, miserliness with money, and rigidity and stubbornness.

A representative example

A couple sought marriage counseling because the wife complained about her husband’s need to always be in control. The therapist found him to be a very serious and reserved individual who was uncomfortable talking about his feelings. The wife complained that even small changes in plans upset him, he was angered over the normal messiness and disarray caused by the play of their three young children. The wife praised him for the way he kept the lawn, bushes, patio, garage, cars, and all things that he was “in charge of”, but was frustrated and angered that he was constantly critical of her and “nagging” about the ways she managed her part of the partnership. He complained that the meals not always on time, the bathrooms were unsanitary, the kid’s hair was not right, there were spots on the dishes, there was dust, and much more. Friends and relatives also saw her husband as being way too critical and worried about details. It was clear that the wife was not a poor housekeeper or mother.

There was constant tension between she and her husband over such details and she correctly surmised that she could never please him no matter how she tried. She reported that they were growing less loving to each other and worried that the children were being affected by there deteriorating relationship.

In therapy, the husband launched one complaint after another and was irritated at the therapist whenever he attempted to portray his home life as being common to families deep into child rearing. He stubbornly refused to consider that any of his criticisms were unjustified.

The prognosis for any significant change in this troubled relationship was poor.

Possible Causes

It has long been thought that the excessive concerns for neatness and orderliness must have been caused by overly ridged and punishing methods of toilet training children, who then adopted these demanding standards for the rest of their lives. Frankly, many psychologists consider this to be a gross oversimplification of the problem. I share this view.

While exact causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder are unknown, it seems most likely that they reside in an interaction of modeling and imitation, rewards (reinforcement) and punishment, and perhaps there are even biological determinants which will someday be identified.

I have often observed that Obsessive compulsive individuals have also come from homes in which there has been intense fear and anxiety related to abuse, nasty divorces, or other tragedies. From this perspective, the great control that these individuals attempt to impose upon their world would appear to be a defense against the anxiety produced by things beyond their control.

Neither the husband or the wife wanted a divorce. But, regrettably, with the passing years of continued conflict the likelihood of a divorce would increase for this family.

This example further illustrates that the mechanisms and effects of bad behavioral contagion can be subtle and far reaching.

Dr. Tom, 4/8/10

1 comment:

  1. The obsessive compulsive personality disorder is a pervasive characterological disturbance involving one's generalized style and beliefs in the way one relates to the themselves and the world.