How to Overcome Perfectionism vs OCD


Perfectionism and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are two psychological conditions that often intertwine, causing individuals to strive for flawlessness and precision in all aspects of their lives. While a certain level of perfectionism can drive success, when left unchecked, it often leads to distress, self-criticism, and an inability to meet self-imposed high standards. Similarly, OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions), which can be debilitating. This blog post will explore the intersection of perfectionism vs OCD and provide practical strategies on how to overcome these challenges.

Understanding Perfectionism vs OCD

Perfectionism is a defensive strategy that pushes individuals to strive for flawlessness as a way of remedying pain of rejection, judgment, abandonment, and/or neglect. It involves setting excessively high performance standards accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations. On the other hand, OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by recurring, unwanted thoughts or sensations (obsessions) that drive individuals to perform certain actions repetitively (compulsions).

While both conditions share similarities such as an intense focus on orderliness and precision, they are distinct in nature. Perfectionists may not necessarily have OCD, but people with OCD often exhibit perfectionistic tendencies.

Strategies to Overcome Perfectionism

1. Set Realistic Goals: One of the first steps in overcoming perfectionism is setting achievable goals. Instead of aiming for perfection, strive for progress. Remember that making mistakes is part of the learning process.

2. Practice Self-Compassion: Contrary to belief that self-compassion causes complacency, self-compassion has been proven to be a way of connecting us to her inherent goodness and regulates our nervous system. Additionally, being kind to yourself when you make mistakes or fail can help reduce the anxiety associated with perfectionism. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness you would offer a friend in a similar situation.

3. Challenge the Guidelines of Your Perfectionism: Question your perfectionistic thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Are they realistic? Are they helpful?  How many times a day do you feel disappointed by your own expectations? Challenging these perfectionistic guidelines can help you develop a more balanced perspective.

4. Seek Professional Help: If perfectionism is causing significant distress, it may be helpful to seek professional help. Therapists and psychologists can provide strategies and techniques to manage perfectionistic tendencies.

Managing OCD Symptoms

1. Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This is an integrative therapy that is widely researched in its effectiveness backed by neuroscience in treating traumatic stress, anxiety, depression symptoms, as well as OCD symptoms. EMDR targets the first, worst, and most recent triggering OCD experiences, as it helps uncover the negative interpretation associated to one’s self that fuels the images, urges, sensations of OCD. Studies have shown that 80 percent of participants of EMDR that had moderate to severe cases of OCD saw reduction of symptoms that were either subclinical or mild. 

2. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): This is a specific type of CBT that involves exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, and situations that make you anxious and then preventing the compulsive behaviors that follow.

3. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: These techniques can help manage stress and anxiety associated with OCD. They involve focusing on the present moment without judgment.

4. Medication: In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage OCD symptoms effectively. Always consult with a Primary Care Physician, Psychiatrist, or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for personalized advice regarding medication.

Perfectionism vs OCD: The Intersection

While perfectionism and OCD are distinct conditions, they often overlap in several ways. Both involve an intense focus on orderliness, precision, and control over one’s environment or tasks at hand. Moreover, both conditions can have an origin of unresolved trauma and can lead to significant distress if not managed effectively.

However, it’s important to note that while many individuals with OCD exhibit perfectionistic tendencies, not all perfectionists have OCD. Perfectionism left unchecked leads to significant distress or interferes with daily functioning – similar to how obsessions and compulsions in OCD cause distress and interfere with everyday life.

Overcoming Perfectionism vs OCD

Overcoming perfectionism vs OCD requires understanding their similarities and differences while implementing effective coping strategies tailored to each condition’s unique challenges. Whether it’s setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion for perfectionism, or utilizing EMDR therapy for OCD – there are numerous strategies available to manage these conditions effectively.

Remember, it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. And most importantly, it’s okay to seek help when you need it. Overcoming perfectionism and OCD is a journey – one that requires patience, self-compassion, and professional support.

Therapy for Perfectionism with Carmelle Ellison, LCSW Can Help

As a black therapist in California and black career woman, I have experience with the expectations and realities of perfectionism. I understand how to treat perfectionism in therapy. I created my practice to make sure that there is more than enough space for you. Also, I know the value of being therapeutically cared for by someone who is not only effective at what they do but also looks like you.

I am a black therapist in San Francisco and offer virtual telehealth therapy for high-achieving black career women throughout California. Please reach out today. I am here to help support you on your path.

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.


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