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What is an Obsessive Personality? Signs, Symptoms & Treatments by Lauren Christiansen

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

Photo credit: Pexels

Kaila had been going through a lot of changes in the last year. Her husband passed away, she had to go back to work full-time, her kids had gone to college. The more stress she suffered, the more depressed and anxious she became. Over time, she began to notice herself engaging in strange behavior. She would watch a television show and become obsessed with the characters, frantically googling every one of them and learning about the actors who played them. She began researching the time-period the show took place in, fantasizing that she was a character within the story herself. She knew this behavior was unhealthy, but she couldn’t seem to stop. Her obsession with the show had become uncontrollable, and her anxiety attacks continued to increase.

When most of us think of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, hand-washing, sanitizing, and re-locking doors come to mind. We tend to think of the disorder only in terms of the behavior that comes as a result, instead of the mindset that led to the behavior. Though many people struggle with OCD, there are even more individuals who only have difficulties controlling their obsessions. These individuals may not worry about keeping the house perfectly clean, but they have reoccurring, endless, looping thoughts. They may become fixated on one thing, such as a show, a commodity (lipstick, makeup, shoes, etc.), a book, or politics. Their obsessive thoughts about that subject continue to grow, or they may switch obsessions over time. Here’s what to know about having an obsessive personality:

What is an Obsessive Personality?

Often referred to as “Pure O”, or “Purely Obsessional OCD”, obsessive personality types are marked by repeated, intrusive, and uncontrollable thoughts that usually have no outwardly related behavioral compulsions. Instead of having outward rituals, the person suffers from inward, mental rituals. This variation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is not listed as a separate diagnosis in the DSMIV, but it is a common mental health problem. Some obsessions involve:

  • Repeated, intrusive thoughts and images that create a great amount of stress

  • Making attempts to ignore said intrusive thoughts and images

  • Thoughts can be fixated on objects or can be somatic, sexual, or aggressive

Sufferers “relieve” the stress from their intrusive thoughts by mentally reviewing the information, over and over again. This can also involve doing or re-doing actions. For example, someone might reimagine the trauma from their childhood filled with abuse. They could then create stories in their head where they stand up to the parent, hurt them, or send them to jail. In reality, none of those actions occurred at the time of the abuse.


Research demonstrates that cognitive-behavioral therapy is very useful for treating Pure O, or an obsessive personality disorder. The therapist should also make sure to address the underlying mental rituals because only treating the obsessive part of the disorder will not be as effective.

Some SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have proven to be very helpful in treating an obsessive personality. One study showed that approximately 40-60% of sufferers had moderate improvements after taking an SSRI for a certain length of time.

Obsessive Personality & Creativity

Becoming fixated and obsessed with one person, object, or image can be a sign of intelligence and creativity. Obsessions are typically created to distract someone from some form of pain they are experiencing in their everyday lives. Creating a fantasy scenario can lead to a false sense of empowerment and control. It also demonstrates that the person is analytical, thoughtful, intellectual, and insightful.

The therapist should focus on helping the patient see the good aspects of their personality and encourage them to channel their creativity in a more positive direction, such as work, hobbies, or writing. Journaling and storytelling can also be a wonderful way for sufferers to relieve their mental rituals by writing them out on paper instead of keeping them inward and locked up.

Do you struggle with an obsessive personality? If so, please contact Straight Talk Clinic at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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