We all have our own individual style of relating to ourselves and others. However, our lives constantly challenge us to be flexible and to adapt our style to ever-changing circumstances.

If we see our personality styles as existing on a spectrum, with biological and environmental influences, we can start to understand more deeply just how beautifully complex we all are. Our personality style becomes problematic when it is rigid, so we’d keep interacting in the same way with others despite it being inappropriate to the situation or causing distress. In this blog, I will explore obsessive compulsive styles of relating to one’s environment and to one’s self.

Obsessive Compulsive Style

This style of relating includes the following traits:

  • A value for and preoccupation with details, order, and organization.
  • Perfectionism: Trying to achieve flawlessness.
  • Devotion to work and productivity which can take time from activities and relationships outside of work.
  • Strong rigid values and principles when it comes to morality, manners and ethics.
  • Reluctance to let go of items which are no longer needed.
  • Difficulty working with others if they don’t work the same way.

(American Psychiatric Association, 2013):

I would like to note that moderate degrees of these traits are helpful when it comes to productivity. However, when these traits are beyond moderate, they become ironically inefficient.

What’s worrying is that intense versions of this style of relating are often rewarded in working environments even when it is unhealthy for the person to be so devoted to work (Delisle, 1999).

An interesting component of this style is that the person would be constantly trying to maintain a certain level of control over what is happening. Taking time off to relax may be considered as ‘time-wasting’ since there is no apparent productivity in leisure activities. Excessive cleaning and a reluctance to spend money may also be present as different ways of being in control.

Some individuals experience the obsessive parts of this style more so than the compulsive part. This means that the person is more likely to ruminate or overthink. If, on the other hand, one experiences more of the compulsive part of this style, that individual is more likely to be energized into action which is often repetitive.

In therapy, the individual with an obsessive-compulsive style of relating may explore certain fixed ideas or rules of how things ‘should’ be. These ‘core beliefs’ can be reevaluated from the person’s present context to see what is working and what beliefs needs to be more flexible.

There can also be therapeutic work on unfinished business from the person’s childhood which could help a deeper understanding of how these ways of relating came to be. Why is it essential to have things done perfectly? How does it feel to constantly try to achieve a perfect state which is technically impossible? Exploration of our need to control ourselves and our environment is also interesting here. The person’s emotional experience is also particularly important to give attention to since individuals with several traits from this style find it difficult to express their feelings. The goal in therapy can be to find what works better for you.

Amber Tabone practices Gestalt Psychotherapy with individuals and couples at Willingness. While currently reading for a Master’s in Psychotherapy, she has developed an interest in working with relationships, gender, and sexuality thanks to her experience with families and domestic violence issues.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.

Delisle, G. (1999). Personality Disorders. Ottowa: CIG Press. Retrieved 9 17, 2020