Obsessive Compulsive Disorder vs. Type A Personality: What's the Difference?

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — October 7, 2019 — 2 min read
It has become common for people to refer to themselves as OCD. While the intent may not be bad, it can still insult someone diagnosed with it. It makes them feel like their struggles are being diminished. Just because you like things organized, does not mean you have OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that occurs when someone is caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repetitive intrusive and irrational thoughts or impulses. Compulsions are the repetitive acts brought on by an obsession. To be diagnosed, the obsessions and compulsions must become time-consuming and prevent one from completing valuable activities. Those could include working, going to school, or spending time with loved ones.

1.2% of U.S. adults are diagnosed with OCD. Personality types tend to fall on a spectrum rather than under a specific label. Type A is linked to being driven and a perfectionist. Type B is typically more relaxed and creative. A person can fall on either side of the spectrum or in the middle. Someone with more Type A traits may experience symptoms of OCD, but not as intensely. The rest of this article outlines the differences between these conditions.
 

Characteristics

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 

  • Uncontrollable thoughts, images, or impulses
  • Feelings of fear, disgust, doubt, and shame
  • Repeated acts: washing, repeating, checking, touching, counting, ordering, hoarding, praying
  • Symptoms interfere with work, social life, or relationships
  • Obsessions and compulsions are focused around a specific issue: contamination, harm, perfectionism, etc.

Type A Personality:

  • Described as a perfectionist, workaholic, obsessive, impatient, angry, or hostile
  • Fear of wasting time
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Tends to dwell on worst possible outcome of any problem or failure
  • Generally competitive and results oriented
  • Career driven
  • Sensitive to stress
  • Organized

Causes

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 

The exact cause of OCD is unknown. It typically begins in childhood. Research suggests that it could be caused by:
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain
  • Genetics
  • Trauma
  • Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections (PANDAS) – rare

Type A Personality: 

Like most personality traits, it forms during childhood. It is shaped by your genetics and environment. 
 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 

Type A Personality:

  • Anxiety
  • High hostility that can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease

Treatment

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 

The most effective treatments for OCD are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication. More specifically, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). About 70% of people will benefit from ERP and/or medication for their OCD. If treatment is unsuccessful, there are options for more intensive care. These include:
  • Day programs
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Residential facilities
  • Inpatient care

Type A Personality: 

Relaxation techniques can help. Common ones include:
  • Walking
  • Breathing exercises
  • Listening to music
  • Taking a break from screens and work
  • Identifying triggers
  • Practicing self-care
     
While Type A may be different from OCD, it can still impact someone’s life. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should see a trained therapist. A therapist can help determine whether someone’s habits are caused by OCD or not. Even if they have a Type A personality, a therapist can still help manage their symptoms.
 

You can save or print this information with the infographic below.OCD-vs-Type-A-infographic.jpg

If either of these descriptions cause you distress or it causes problems in your work or relationships, you should seek assistance. Get help at 1-800-939-5911.
 

Resources

International OCD Foundation
Mental Health America- OCD
NAMI- OCD
Healthline- Type A
Huffpost- Type A

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This blog was updated on October 12, 2021 to include updated information. 
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