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OCD and Personality

Certain Personality Traits May be a Risk for OCD


Updated June 13, 2014

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It has long been thought that 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. 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 important.

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 model, personality can be described using seven categories including:

  • Novelty Seeking – people high in this trait are usually excitable, curious and impulsive.

  • Harm Avoidance – people high in this trait are usually anxious, worried about the future and unable to tolerate uncertainty.

  • Reward Dependence – people high in this trait are usually warm, loving and sensitive.

  • Persistence – people high in this trait are usually hard-working, industrious and resistant to fatigue.

  • Self-Directedness – people high in this trait are usually mature, responsible, reliable and goal-oriented.

  • Cooperativeness – people high in this trait usually strive to get along with others and are good team players.

  • Self-Transcendence – people high in self-transcendence usually search for something bigger than themselves, get easily engrossed in activities they enjoy and are spiritual in nature.

Studies have consistently found that in comparison to people without OCD, individuals affected by OCD have higher scores on harm-avoidance and lower scores on novelty-seeking, reward dependence, self-directedness and cooperativeness.

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.

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.

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. As well, 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.


Alonso, P., Menchon, J.M., Jimenez, S., Segalas, J., Mataix-Cols, D., Jaurrieta, N., Labad, J, Vallejo, J., Cardoner, N., & Pujol, J. “Personality dimensions in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Relation to clinical variables.” Psychiatry Research June 2008 157: 159-168.

Kim, S.J., Kang, J.I, & Kim, C.H. “Temperament and character in subjects with obsessive-compulsive disorder” Comprehensive Psychiatry 2009 50: 567-572.

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