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  • Writer's pictureJennifer McCrackin

Personality Traits That May Make OCD More Likely: Do you have these?


It has long been thought that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might be related to different personality characteristics. For example, Freud thought that personality traits such as indecisiveness and orderliness played a large role in the development of OCD.1

Although there does not appear to be one type of personality that is vulnerable to developing OCD, recent research suggests that certain personality features may be influential.2

Personality Categories

Although there are many ways in which we can think about or define personality, it has become popular to describe personality using distinct categories that reflect different aspects of the way we think or act.

According to one popular psychological model, the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), personality can be described using seven categories.3

Novelty Seeking: People high in this trait are usually excitable, curious and impulsive, while those on the low side are calm, cautious and sensible.

Harm Avoidance: People high in this trait are usually anxious, worried about the future and unable to tolerate uncertainty, while those on the low side are relaxed and deal well with anxiety.

Reward Dependence: People high in this trait are usually warm, loving and sensitive, while those on the low side tend to be cold and/or unemotional.

Persistence: People high in this trait are usually hard-working, industrious and resistant to fatigue, while people low in this trait may get tired easily, are more laid-back and less goal-directed.

Self-Directedness: People high in this trait are usually mature, responsible, reliable and goal-oriented, while people low in this trait tend to be more self-focused, unreliable, and immature.

Cooperativeness: People high in this trait usually strive to get along with others and are good team players while those low in this trait tend to be uncooperative and value their personal good above that of others.

Self-Transcendence: People high in this trait usually search for something bigger than themselves, get easily engrossed in activities they enjoy and are spiritual in nature, whereas people low in this trait tend to be rational, present and not particularly spiritual.

Studies using the model have consistently found that individuals with OCD have higher scores on harm avoidance and lower scores on novelty seeking, reward dependence, self-directedness, and cooperativeness compared to people without OCD.4

How Personality Categories Relate to OCD

While specific personality characteristics are unlikely to be a direct cause of OCD, they could be risk factors. A risk factor is something that increases a person's chances of eventually developing a given illness.

For example, a person who scores high on harm avoidance may develop ineffective coping strategies for managing stress, thus increasing the chance that they will develop OCD.

In addition to being risk factors for developing OCD, particular personality traits may be associated with symptoms of OCD owing to a shared biological basis.5

In another example, someone who is low in reward dependence may have difficulty taking advantage of the support offered by friends and family that might otherwise be helpful in dealing with difficult situations. Again, under the right circumstances, this could leave them vulnerable to developing OCD.

Specific Personality Traits That Are Prevalent in OCD

Unrelated to the personality categories detailed above, there are five specific personality traits that many people with OC spectrum disorders tend to have.6

Perfectionism: A need to have situations and objects exactly right.

Indecisiveness: An inability to make decisions or needing a lot of time to decide.

Impulsivity: An inclination to do what feels good at the moment without thinking about future consequences.

Responsibility: A tendency to take on and/or feel more responsible for your actions than most people do.

Neuroticism: A drive to avoid situations that seem dangerous.

Therapy Can Help Identify Personality Patterns

Psychotherapy can be helpful in identifying personality characteristics or patterns of behavior that are getting in the way of developing good coping strategies and/or taking advantage of treatment.

Many clinical psychologists are trained in personality assessment and can work with you to explore your personality profile. If you are interested in learning more about how your personality might be influencing your symptoms or treatment, be sure to speak with your mental health care provider.

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