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How is the obsessive-compulsive personality profile created?

How is the obsessive-compulsive personality profile created?

May 23, 2024

Originally, the terms "obsession" and "compulsion" were defined in Latin as "being surrounded, besieged, blocked" and "being forced to do something they do not want", respectively.

More recently, the description that psychology applies to the obsessive personality refers to a way of being centered on perfectionism and rigidity in the cognitive reasoning from which the individual can not escape; as well as an operation based on extreme order, frequent doubts and a significant slowness in the performance of any task (Rojas, 2001).

After the findings that behavioral psychology and cognitive psychology have been able to perform in the last decades in the experimental field, obsessive-compulsive individuals they seem to present the following common features : a great anxious interference that makes it difficult for them to conclude an action already begun and a type of distortion at a cognitive level based on thoughts of a dichotomous type (from which they categorize ideas in an absolutist, extremist and non-nuanced way, of the "all or nothing" ).


This operation leads them to have a low tolerance for assuming their own and others' mistakes, as well as generating a large volume of obligations and strict rules on how things should be (and the people around them) in general. But this is just a sample of to what extent the obsessive-compulsive personality has its own characteristics . Let's see what they are.

  • Related article: "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): what is it and how does it manifest?"

The nature of the obsessive-compulsive personality

Obsessive-compulsive personalities often focus the focus of their attention to very specific and delimited areas of interest , showing little ability of creative thinking and severe difficulties in unfolding in unstructured situations, such as those of a social nature. They are characterized by high fears of being wrong or not knowing how to act, which is why they show great interest and relevance towards insignificant details.


The DSM-V (APA, 2014) defines obsessive-compulsive personality disorder as a dominant pattern of preoccupation with prayer, perfectionism and mind control , at the expense of flexibility, openness and efficiency, which begins in the early stages of adult life and is present in various personal contexts. This profile is characterized by the presence of at least four of the following aspects:

  • Concern for details, order or lists.
  • Perfectionism that prevents the completion of tasks .
  • Excessive dedication to work or to the performance of tasks to the detriment of dedication to leisure time and interpersonal relationships.
  • Scrupulous general operation , conscious and inflexible in excess of ethical and moral values.
  • Difficulty getting rid of useless objects.
  • Unwilling to delegate.
  • Avaro towards himself and towards others.
  • Rigid and stubborn performance .

Development of obsessive-compulsive behavior

The causal origin of the obsessive-compulsive personality also seems to be explained, as in much of the constructs in the field of psychology, by the interaction between the hereditary component and the nature of the environment in which the individual develops.


Thus, many studies corroborate how the presence of a certain hereditary burden in the subject is what predisposes him to this way of being determined , to which is added the environmental factor, which is defined above all by highly rigid and normative contexts. More specifically, the investigations carried out with samples of subjects of homozygous and dizygotic twins indicate a significantly higher percentage of obsessive-compulsive symptoms in the first group, with 57 and 22% respectively (van Grootheest et al., 2005).

On the other hand, in a 2011 meta-analysis study, Taylor and his team found that between 37 and 41% of the variance of obsessive-compulsive symptomatology was explained by additive hereditary factors, while non-shared environmental variables would explain 50 -52% of the variance. Thus, the etiological hypothesis suggests that it is the interaction of both factors that causes this type of psychopathological manifestations.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: what is it?"

The model of Salkovskis

One of the authors who has contributed the most to the study and nature of the obsession-compulsion construct is Paul Salkovskis, who proposed one of the explanatory models of reference on the origin and maintenance of OCD in 1985, which has been reformulated and completed from more recent research.

Such a model clearly states how the interaction between exposure to early environmental experiences increases the individual's internal predisposition to develop this type of personal profile. Thus, the individual is generating a system of thought and global and internal beliefs about the sense of personal responsibility and moral values, and a high activation of attention to potentially aversive stimuli, mainly.

These beliefs are finally externalized in the form of obsessive ideas due to the presence of external triggers, both internal (such as memories) and external (for example, listening to a news item on the radio).

This combination of elements leads to the implementation of two new phenomena: first, an increase in attention to such trigger stimulus and the frequency of execution of behavioral actions to alleviate the worry and discomfort generated by the obsessive idea (such as compulsive rituals or avoidance and / or reassurance behaviors) and, secondly, a distorted feedback interpretation and distorted cognitive reasoning by which very high relevance is given to such obsessive ideas.

Finally, all of it it results in an increase in emotional distress, guilt, irritation, anxiety, worry or sadness . This consequence will serve as a basis to reinforce the initial belief system and further enhance the subject's attentional activation, causing a greater occurrence of future obsessive ideas in the face of the appearance of a new trigger stimulus. In short, the person is trapped in a maladaptive circle where, far from warding off discomfort, it manages to nourish it and increase it by the value of truth that the person gives to obsession and also to compulsion as a relieving phenomenon of discomfort.

Cognitive deficits

Some studies such as Shin's meta-analysis in 2014 have observed a series of deficits in cognitive processes in people with obsessive-compulsive functioning, especially in the capacity of visuospatial memory before complex tasks or stimuli, in executive functions, in verbal memory or in verbal fluency.

From these findings it has been concluded that people with OCD profile show significant difficulties in the organization and integration of the information received from the own experiences. That is to say that it seems that the subject presents a "lack of confidence" in his memory, which is the cause and consequence of the execution of the checks in a repetitive manner.

Salkovskis et al. (2016) corroborate what was defended by the previous author, adding in a recent study that they can also be attributed a lack of confidence in the outcome of their decisions, which motivates the verification, which is linked to a deficit in memory Explicit to remember the threatening stimuli.

Factors that contribute to its development

In Rojas (2001) a series of elements that are incorporated during the development of the obsessive-compulsive personality in the individual is exposed, motivating in this the acquisition of such cognitive and behavioral profile in a global and permanent way:

1. A rigid child development environment with many inflexible rules

These can provoke the learning of meticulous behavior in excess and a dogmatic belief system about responsibility , a dynamic of frequent concern in the face of potential experiences of danger or harm and a great implication in the negative interpretation that is given to intrusive thoughts in general.

2. A temperament tending to introversion with little communicative ability and significant ruminative capacity

This causes them to develop behavioral patterns that are not interactive and tend towards social isolation.

3. Restricted and limited affectivity

They present the belief of need to control and take care too much how to relate to the environment , these interactions being unnatural and spontaneous. They understand interpersonal relationships in a hierarchical way, conceptualizing them in categories of inferiority or superiority, instead of seeing them as symmetrical or equal.

4. The obsessive thought of the individual motivates the obsessive behavior

Illogical, absurd, irrational obsessive ideas are central, even though the person tries unsuccessfully to fight against them, since he is able to notice the senselessness they entail. These thoughts they are characterized by being frequent, intense, lasting and disturbing and they generate great emotional discomfort.

5. An external and unstable control locus

From this the person concludes that their own actions have no implication in the events that have occurred, being these the result of chance, of the decisions of others or of destiny. Thus, superstition becomes the method of interpretation of the situational signals to which the individual is exposed, leading him to perform a behavioral ritual (the compulsion) that will serve as a relief to such an anxiety anxious.

For this reason, they are constantly searching for these anticipatory signals that keep them tense, alert and hyper-vigilant in order to "prepare" for what may happen to them.

All this causes an increase and feedback of anxiety , which becomes the phenomenon underlying this type of personality profile. Finally, in constant imagination of potential fearsome, dangerous or harmful situations, the tolerance to the uncertainty that they present is extremely scarce.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association., Kupfer, D.J., Regier, D.A., Arango Lopez, C., Ayuso-Mateos, J.L., Vieta Pascual, E., & Bagney Lifante, A. (2014). DSM-5: Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Madrid [etc.]: Editorial Panamericana Medical.
  • Bados, A. (2015). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: nature, evaluation and treatment. In Dipòsit Digital of the Universitat de Barcelona. //hdl.handle.net/2445/65644.
  • Rojas, E. (2001). Who you are? From personality to self-esteem (4th ed.). Spain: Topics of Today.

Anxious, Neurotic, OCD Personality (May 2024).


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