Distinguishing OCD vs Perfectionism: Striving for Excellence or Struggling?

This article will clarify the difference between OCD and perfectionism, answering questions like “Is perfectionism OCD,” highlighting their unique characteristics, impact on mental well-being, and the importance of accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment approaches.

Difference between OCD And Perfectionism

What is OCD and perfectionism?

Anyone who is meticulous about keeping a calendar with detailed blocks of time set aside for eating or sleeping or who organizes everything in their home by color might wonder if they are experiencing OCD and perfectionism. 

OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a legitimate mental health disorder. Individuals experience either intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) they might want to stop but are unable to. These feelings or behaviors can significantly impede daily function.


Perfectionism is when people want to control things in their lives with their actions or their thoughts so that life is perfect and they are capable of stopping any of their behaviors, but they don’t because it provides a sense of order or reward.

Overlapping traits between OCD and perfectionism

There are many overlapping traits between perfectionism and OCD but is perfectionism OCD?

Attention to detail

One of the most common overlapping traits between OCD and perfectionism is attention to detail. People who experience either condition pay very close attention to small details that might otherwise be overlooked, like dust in an office, the length of their pencils when sharpened, the order of their paper clips on a desk, how neatly papers are stacked, and where everything is positioned on their desk.

However, there is a key difference here between OCD vs perfectionism: people who struggle with perfectionism can either deal with a healthy or unhealthy level, and the things they do in, for example, their office are things they could stop at any time, but they choose to do because it helps give a sense of order and control to their office. 

Someone struggling with OCD might be completely unable to control their actions in the office and find that, for example, they cannot leave their office if all the papers are not neatly stacked and if they get up to go to a meeting and bump their desk and the order of paper clips is disturbed, they will be late to that meeting because they absolutely must restore order before they leave.


Perfectionism and OCD also share a similar need for orderliness. This can include keeping order in their home or in their schedule in terms of what they wear or how things get folded and put away.

Again, a key difference between perfectionism vs OCD is that an individual experiencing perfectionism can choose to have a healthy level rather than an unhealthy level, but someone with OCD might be completely unable to control their compulsions or their obsessions. In fact, the need to control via compulsions might be influenced by a need to get rid of the obsessions out of their control.

There are challenges distinguishing between OCD vs perfectionism, especially because so many people use the term “OCD” haphazardly, especially when joking about someone who displays signs of perfectionism. But if you are concerned that you might struggle with either condition, it’s important that you reach out to mental health professionals for an assessment. 

OCD Vs Perfectionism

Challenges in distinguishing between the two

There are challenges distinguishing between the two, but knowing the difference between OCD and perfectionism can help. 


Perfectionism vs OCD is different in its causes. OCD is a mental health disorder, and it can be caused by genetics or trauma, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse. Perfectionism is a personality trait, and it is something that can be developed, perhaps because a family member raised you in a home that was kept in a particular fashion.


OCD involves unwanted thoughts or repeated actions that can cause an individual severe anxiety. In order to reduce their anxiety, individuals perform compulsive actions or rituals to try and overcome it. These behaviors can manifest in several ways: an individual feels compelled to do certain things because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. This might include:

  • Locking or unlocking the door a certain number of times
  • Obsessively shutting windows throughout the day
  • Repeating movements like blinking or standing
  • Walking in a specific pattern
  • Picking up and setting down items
  • Tapping fingers
  • Speaking words in a specific order, perhaps a certain number of times

This can be incredibly exhausting and severely disruptive to daily function. By comparison, someone with perfectionism might just:

  • Keep their office clean
  • Always organize their closet in a color-coordinated fashion
  • Have to put things back after using them immediately 

Behaviors and outcomes

Someone with perfectionism might think that if they don’t color coordinate the clothing hanging in their closet, it will make them seem like a messy person and other people will judge them. By comparison, someone with OCD will struggle with irrational fears if they don’t lock and unlock their front door 16 times each time they go to leave.

Is perfectionism a form of OCD?

Is perfectionism OCD? No. Perfectionism is often a personality trait that people distinguish by creating a routine or organizing things in a specific way. But a key difference between perfectionism and OCD is that people who have perfectionism don’t establish routines or organize their homes out of anxiety.

They like to do these things because it helps them feel in control. They set high expectations for themselves and for the people around them, and this can lead to healthy achievements and goal-oriented behavior.

However, perfectionism can become unhealthy when it leads to other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or OCD. It is a factor that can contribute to OCD if it is left at an unhealthy level.

Perfectionism vs OCD

Managing and treating OCD and perfectionism

Talking to a mental health professional can help you receive an official diagnosis one way or the other. You might find that it’s perfectionism, and OCD is not something with which you struggle, but your perfectionism could be so unhealthy that it’s triggering other mental health disorders, interfering with your romantic or personal relationships, and leaving you mentally exhausted. In these cases, you can get treatment for either situation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be one of the most effective forms of treatment for things like unhealthy perfectionism, and psychotherapy can help with OCD symptoms, as can medication. Don’t be afraid to prioritize your mental health.

Summing Up

There are several distinct features and shared traits of perfectionism and OCD. Understanding the differences between them is significant so that you know what you need to do to encourage mental health and overall well-being. 

You might need an effective intervention and therapy to help you manage more severe cases of OCD, whereas if you are struggling with perfectionism, you can do things at home to ensure it stays within healthy limits. No matter what, seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of OCD and perfectionism.