Living With OCPD

garfield ocpd

I have battled Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) for most of my adult life. While OCPD and OCD have some similarities, there are differences, namely:

  • People with OCD have insight, meaning they are aware that their unwanted thoughts are unreasonable. People with OCPD think their way is the “right and best way” and usually feel comfortable with such self-imposed systems of rules.
  • The thoughts, behaviors and feared consequences common to OCD are typically not relevant to real-life concerns; people with OCPD are fixated with following procedures to manage daily tasks.
  • Often OCD interferes in several areas in the person’s life including work, social and/or family life. OCPD usually interferes with interpersonal relationships, but makes work functioning more efficient. It is not the job itself that is hurt by OCPD traits, but the relationships with co-workers, or even employers can be strained.
  • Typically, people with OCPD don’t believe they require treatment. They believe that if everyone else conformed to their strict rules, things would be fine! The threat of losing a job or a relationship due to interpersonal conflict may be the motivator for therapy. This is in contrast to people with OCD who feel tortured by their unwanted thoughts and rituals, and are more aware of the unreasonable demands that the symptoms place on others, often feeling guilty because of this.
  • Family members of people with OCPD often feel extremely criticized and controlled by people with OCPD. Similar to living with someone with OCD, being ruled under OCPD demands can be very frustrating and upsetting, often leading to conflict. (OCPD Fact Sheet)

I have been considered a perfectionist most of my life, a badge I wore with honor for many years, and one I still wear on occasion. As we age — I am now sixty — we tend to reflect on our lives and how we got where we are today. Self-reflection and assessment are good, allowing us the opportunity to be honest about the path we have taken and choices we have made in life.

When I first realized fifteen or so years ago that I had a problem, a BIG problem that was harming my wife and children, the first thing I did was try to figure out how I ended up with OCPD. While my mother had perfectionist tendencies, she was quite comfortable living in the midst of clutter and disarray (but not uncleanliness). I concluded that it was my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing with its literalistic interpretations of the Bible that planted in me the seeds of what would one day become OCPD. I spent most of my adult life diligently and relentlessly striving to follow after Jesus and to keep his commandments. But try as I might, I still continued to come up short. This, of course, only made me pray more, study more, give more, driving me to allot more and more of my time to God/church/ministry. In doing so, the things that should have mattered the most to me — Polly, our children, my health, and enjoying life — received little attention. Polly was taught at Midwestern Baptist College that she would have to sacrifice her relationship with me for the sake of the ministry. I was, after all, a divinely called man of God. Needless to say, for way too many years, our lives were consumed by Christianity and the work of the ministry, so much so that we lost all sense of who we really were.

ocd santa

Perhaps someday several of my children will write about growing up in a home with a father who had OCPD. The stories are humorous now, but not so much when they were lived out in real time. My children are well versed in Dad’s rules of conduct. Granted, some of these rules such as “do it right the first time” have served them well in their chosen fields of employment, but their teacher was quite the taskmaster, and I am certain there were better ways for them to learn these rules.

My oldest sons fondly remember helping me center the church pulpit, right down to a one-sixteenth of an inch. Did it matter if the pulpit was slightly off center? For the world — of course not; but, for me it did. I felt the same way about how I prepared my sermons, folded the bulletins, cleaned the church, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. When I took on secular jobs, employers loved me because I was a no-nonsense, time to lean, time to clean manager. (Is it any surprise that most of my adult jobs were either pastoring churches or management jobs?)

People walking into my study were greeted by a perfectly cleaned and ordered office. The desktop was neat, and the drawers were organized, with everything having a place. My book shelves were perfectly ordered from tallest to smallest book and then by subject. Dress-wise, I wore white one-hundred-percent pinpoint cotton shirts and black wingtip shoes. My suits were well-kept and matched whatever tie I was wearing. My appearance mattered to me. Congregants knew they would never find me shopping at the local Walmart wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants.

What I have mentioned above sounds fine, right? Surely, I should have a right to order my life any way I want to. And that would be true, except for the fact that I live in a world populated by other people; people who are not like me; people who are happy with clutter, disarray, and OMG even dirt! It is in their personal relationships that people with OCPD have problems, and, in some instances, they can drive away the very people who love them.

For the first twenty-five years of marriage, my relationship with Polly was defined by Fundamentalist/patriarchal thinking. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that such beliefs play well in the minds of people with OCPD. I had high expectations not only for myself, but for my wife and children too. We all, of course, miserably failed, but all that did was increase the pressures to conform to silly (at times harmful) behavioral expectations. It didn’t help matters that I was an outgoing decision-maker married to a passive, always-conform-to-the-wishes-of-others woman. While we put on quite a dog and pony show for most of our time in the ministry, behind the scenes things were not as they outwardly appeared to be.

Towards the end of my time in the ministry — the early 2000s — I began to see how harmful my behavior was when it came to my familial relationships (and to a lesser degree my relationship with congregants). While it would be another decade before I would finally seek out professional secular counseling, I did begin to make changes in my life. These changes caused a new set of conflicts due to the fact that everyone was used to me being the boss, with everything being according to my plan. While Polly and the kids loved their new-found freedom, there were times where they were quite content to let me be the stern patriarch. As with all lasting change, it takes time to undo deeply-seated behaviors.

I am not so naive as to believe that I am “cured” from OCPD. I am not. My counselor is adept at pointing out to me when certain behaviors of mine move towards what he calls my OCD tendencies. I have had to be repeatedly schooled in the difference between good/bad and different. For example, young people today generally discipline their children differently from their baby-boomer parents. Read enough memes on Facebook and you will conclude that young parents have lost their minds when it comes to raising their children. What that brat needs is a licking, right? What I continue to learn is that people who act differently from me, look different from me, or have beliefs different from mine are not necessarily wrong/bad. Most often, what they really are is different. Learning to be at peace with differences has gone a long way in muting my OCPD thinking.

Both Polly and I agree that the last decade or so of married life has been great. One of the reasons for this has been my willingness to realize where my OCPD is causing harm and making the necessary changes to end the harm. The first thing I learned is that everyone is entitled to his or her own space. I have every right to order my office, drawers, and cars as I want them to be. I no longer apologize for having OCPD. All that I ask of others is that when they invade my space, that they respect my wishes. And that works for others too. I have to respect the personal boundaries of Polly and our children. This is why I do not meddle in the lives of my children. I give advice when asked, but outside of that, they are free to live as they please. Do my children make decisions I disagree with; decisions that leave me mumbling and cussing? Yep, but it’s their lives, not mine, and I love them regardless of the choices they make.

The second thing I learned is that it important for Polly and me to have times of distance from each other. It is okay for each of us to do things without the other. We don’t have to like all the same things. Understanding this has allowed Polly’s life to blossom in ways I could never have imagined. If you had known Polly in 1999 and then met the 2018 version, why you would wonder if she is possessed. From going back to college and graduating, to becoming an outspoken manager at work, Polly is an awesome example of what someone can become once the chains of Fundamentalism and patriarchal thinking have been broken.

ocd cartoon

The third thing I learned is that my OCPD can be productively channeled, with my personal relationships surviving afterward. Polly loves it when she comes home and finds that I have emptied the cupboards, cleaned them, and replaced everything neatly and in order. The joke in the family is that people want me to come clean their house for them but they can’t stand being around me when I do. In the public spaces where our lives collide, Polly and I have had to learn to give and take. I have learned that it is okay to leave the newspaper on the floor until tomorrow, and Polly has learned, come holidays, that I am going to clean every inch of the house — with her help of course. She will never understand why my underwear drawer needs to be straightened up for company, and she will likely never understand the need to clean under the stove/refrigerator for four times a year. But, because she loves me, she smiles and says, what do you need me to do next?

My chronic health problems and chronic, unrelenting pain have forced me to let go of some of my obsessions. I can’t, so I don’t. I don’t find this giving in/giving up easy to deal with, but I have come to see that life is too short for me to not enjoy the moment even if everything is not in perfect order. That said, I still have OCPD moments, and I suspect I always will. Several years ago, I had a dentist appointment. The dental assistant had me have a seat in the exam room. When she returned, she found me tapping the valance on the blind with my cane. I told her, I have been sitting here for years with that crooked valance driving me crazy. There, it’s fixed! She laughed. Later, she returned and told me that the all the valances in the other rooms were off-center too. She said, I never noticed that until you pointed it out to me. I likely will always have an eye for when something is crooked, especially wall hangings and sign lettering. Why can’t the doctor’s office get notices straight when they tape them on the wall, right? Dammit, how hard is it to do the job right the first time! Sigh, you see, OCPD never completely goes away, but it can be managed and controlled, allowing me, for the most part, to have satisfying and happy relationships with the people I love.

Enough of this. I have two monitors on my desk, and the right one is an eighth-inch higher than the left. Time to fix this glaring, earth-shattering mismatch, right? Dammit, where’s my level and tape measure?

Do you have OCPD or OCD tendencies? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am especially interested in hearing of how Fundamentalism affected your behavior.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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8 Comments

  1. Van

    Dammit Bruce, you wrote this just for me, didn’t you?

    Yes, I have those tendencies, but I don’t think they come from fundamentalism.

    Reply
  2. Brian

    “I concluded that it was my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing with its literalistic interpretations of the Bible that planted in me the seeds of what would one day become OCPD. I spent most of my adult life diligently and relentlessly striving to follow after Jesus and to keep his commandments.”
    You know, Bruce, I think there is a deeper level to consider here. Religion, even the extremist version you embraced, is just a tool, a half-human invention. What is not ‘invented’ is a child’s experience in their formative years. It is said that the human brain is not fully done its foundational development until almost a quarter century has passed. The events that impact that development set the seeds that develop into conditions such as the one you share here. These seeds are planted both in the womb (think of moms who smoke and drink, are abused by others while carrying a child). The brain development from that point on conforms to the environment of threat, of certain injury and ‘death’. To attempt to control a ‘centering’ of the pulpit so exactly is a perfect example of a child/adult’s desperate need to control what can be controlled, all of that desperate energy poured out on something ‘doable’; likewise, following the KJV Jesus to the letter as a preacher leader!
    We had no control over what our moms and dads did and yet we adopted authorship in it all because that is what children do.
    I struggle with sustained focus and depression. As the song says, Jesus took my burdens all away… But he didn’t. They came back again and again because of course I was doing it all wrong. After trying so many ways, so many flavors, I stopped feeding at the religious trough. Therapy has been a huge help in garnering distance from the sick cycle of belief, but once you realize, one day realize how whacked out you really were in woo faith, you can never go back, would never consider harming yourself like that ever again.That ol’ time religion was good enough for papa, good enough for mama but not good enough for me.
    Thank-you for so openly sharing from your history. It always impresses me so deeply to hear from people who have done some of the hard emotional/psychic work, faced therapy and are willing to talk. You are a remarkable human being, Bruce Gerencser.

    Reply
  3. ObstacleChick

    Thank you for sharing, Bruce. In psychology, of course, there is the age old nature/nurture debate. I always thought it was more complicated, a combination of both. Your OCPD was no doubt drawn to a legalistic religion in which it could play out its tendencies. Had you not settled in IFB no doubt you would have found some other legalistic pursuithe or environment. It’s great that you came to a point in life to seek therapy from a qualified and trained therapist – many don’t.

    I believe my grandmother had some sort of undiagnosed OCD or OCPD. She was a perfectionist – growing up I learned that it was her way or the highway and that completion of chores MUST be done her way. She was never mean about it – indeed she was one of the kindest people you could meet. But if I didn’t load the dishwasher exactly by her method she would unload it and do it herselfor without a word. Then I would feel guilty, not because she said anything but just knowing how much work she did for the family and now she had to do more. She was a Sunday School teacher and Women’s Missionary Union teacher who spent hours researching and preparing her lessons. She had a library of Bible concordances, Biblical history books, and work by Baptist apologists. While most Sunday School teachers just used templates prepared by Baptist Sunday School Board (later called Lifeway) grandma added historical elements way beyond the basics. I sure her lessons were way over the heads of the country ladies she taught. She was eventually “fired” from teaching because she was frequently I’ll and would pass along her materials to the assistant teacher who didn’t have the wherewithal to give grandma’s complicated lessons. So my grandma’so perfectionist tendencies went into lesson planning and in striving to follow Jesus in every word and thought. This woman who by everyone’s standards was a model Christian lady who never uttered gpssip, curse words, never drank or lied, thought she was a rebellious filthy rag unworthy of the perfection of her Savior’s love. It was almost a blessing when Alzheimer’s took her mind and replaced it with a simpler child- like mind unconcerned with living up to Jesus’ unattainable perfection. Then we were left with the sweet and caring lady who somehow unbeknownst to us was an Atlanta Braves baseball fan!

    I think certain personalities are drawn like moth to flame to fundamentalist religion. Legalism, judgmentalism, self esteem issues – all within the fundamentalist world.

    Reply
  4. DK

    I have OCPD and a young son with ADHD. Not a good mix. I’ve managed somewhat by letting my wife assume more of the parenting tasks with him. He’s on meds but we don’t give it to him when it’s not a school day.
    OCPD messed me up back in 2013. I was working full time and going to college full time. Then my wife got sick and I was pretty much a single dad for two months, on top of everything else. When you are driven to operate at 150% capacity and do everything perfect you will break. By the time the school term ended and my wife got better I had developed chronic anxiety and what I assume is low grade depression, both of which I struggle with to this day. I have pills I can take for bad cases of anxiety. I was motivated to seek treatment for my anxiety because I was exploding in anger at my kids and I didn’t want to be that way. My depression isn’t really bad enough for meds; it manifests itself as profound anhedonia.
    I struggle with guilt about my parenting and I’ve resigned myself to the idea that my only reason for existence is to take care of my family. All my life I’ve always had to take care of others.
    However I know that a lot of my anhedonia is a direct result of my fundamentalist upbringing. The whole “only one life will soon be past only what’s done for Christ will last” philosophy of life. I was raised to ask not what is allowed but what is “edifying”. “He that loses his life… Will find it” I was taught. Well I didn’t have a choice. My fundamentalist parents and teachers took my life away from me. I was never given a chance to find myself. I don’t know myself except in relation to that which is my duty. I was made a “soldier of the Cross” before I had a choice.
    I have nothing to offer any “god” because I am nothing. I am nothing precisely because God’s followers took the chance to be anything other than their version of a Christian away from me.
    Sometimes I think all I want to do is just be irresponsible and stupid. For once in my life. Go be a fuck up. Not be responsible for anyone or anybody. Any pain just proves I’m alive, right?

    Reply
    1. Brian

      DK, I am sorry to hear of your suffering and the feelings you endure in parenting. First, please have a look at this old piece by Arthur Janov:
      http://cigognenews.blogspot.ca/2014/10/compulsion-another-brilliant-piece-from.html (Please read it all; it isn’t long.)
      Then consider forgiving yourself for wanting to be entirely stupid and irresponsible. You come by the feelings honestly and they are there so that you can address your history. A comment below (I thnk it is Rebecca’s) suggests that the disorder might be genetic but the point is that genetics evolve over time and respond to individual conditions of childbirth and upbringing. Have you done any therapy to approach why you might need to yell and be an abusive father? The pressures of family life when you add illness are immense. Get good help from a qualified helper and spend your time making yourself a good man, a strong dad, a husband. Don’t let the bullshit religion that tried to destroy you, win. Tell Jesus-mongers to go to hell, that you love your kids and that you will endeavor to love your natural self. You are not nothing, as you state, You are the best and only dad in the world for your kids. Your wife needs you to find yourself and you do not do it by going out and fucking up. Why not give yourself what you really deserve? Love, care, help… Read Norm Lee’s free book (.pdf) Parenting without Punishing. It will help you move out of the trap you have fallen into so you can start to live for yourself and your family.

      Reply
  5. infmom

    I had not heard of OCPD till I read this, but you described my father-in-law to a T. He was a military man and he barked orders and expected obedience. Everything had to be done his way. He bullied his wife and children and I’m sure he was just as much of a jerk at work (where he was of course a manager).

    The bullying caused lasting problems for all four of his children. And all four of them chose spouses who had no problem telling the old man to go fly a kite when necessary. He tried Laying Down The Law with me once. Only once. Forever after he was very pleasant but he looked at me out the corners of his eyes. I found this very amusing. A couple of times he took my husband aside to bark at him for not raising our children the right way. He didn’t dare express opinions like that while I was in the room (and of course we raised our children our own way no matter what Grandpa thought).

    I’m glad you were able to make a change. My father-in-law never did. If anyone has a place in heaven, my mother-in-law did, for finding a way to put up with that for 60 years.

    Reply
  6. Rebecca

    I have a brother with OCD so severe that he is unable to live a normal life. His life was completely taken over by compulsive rituals to the point that he neglects self care, and could never work.

    I also have two sons who have strong tendencies in this direction around unwanted, intrusive thoughts accompanied by anxiety.

    In our family’s case, none of this has been associated with religious belief. I honestly think in most cases this is genetically based. I’m sure family upbringing can also be a factor. But, in my case, I am more lay back and tend to be easy going, not a perfectionist at all.

    OCD is thought to have a neurobiological basis, with neuroimaging studies showing that the brain functions differently in people with the disorder. An abnormality, or an imbalance in neurotransmitters, is thought to be involved in OCD.

    I do think, though, that people of faith with this disorder may be drawn to scrupulosity. And, it does seem to me that a fundamentalist view of the Christian faith could impact someone more vulnerable to move further into perfectionist tendencies. But, I don’t know that any religious belief, in and of itself, could actually cause OCD.

    Reply
  7. Connie

    I do not have OCD, I have CDO (in alphabetical order as it should be).

    Keeping a sense of humor about the alphabet soup which afflicts me ensures I remain somewhat sane. Strong boundaries help too.

    Reply

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