PTypes - Personality Types
PTypes Neurotic Solutions Avoidant

Neurotic Solution: Obsessive-Compulsive Type

The strategy of the Obsessive-Compulsive solution can be interpreted from the discussion by John M.Oldham and Lois B. Morris of the Conscientious personality style.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
Conscientious Personality Type
Expansive Solution 


Neurotic Needs 

Compulsive Attachments

Compulsive Aversions

  • achievement
  • work
  • productivity
  • respect of others
  • perfection
  • mastery
  • control
  • "shoulds"
  • orderliness
  • responsibility
  • systems
  • order
  • rules
  • high standards
  • doing things right
  • knowing what's best
  • doing things one's own way
  • details
  • doing better and trying harder
  • pushing oneself and others
  • criticalness
  • evaluating others' performances
  • directing
  • disapproving
  • punishing
  • perfectionistic standards
  • hoarding
  • parsimony 
  • failure to achieve
  • disrespect
  • imperfection
  • lack of control
  • helplessness
  • of being overwhelmed
  • of being unable to function
  • of being casual
  • of being irresponsible
  • of being self-indulgent
  • of being incompetent
  • weaknesses
  • disorganization
  • disorientation
  • flaws or defects in performance
  • mistakes
  • imperfections
  • substandard performance



Neurotic Solution

American Psychiatric Association (1994, pp. 672-73) 

Preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control.

  • is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost;
  • shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met);
  • is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity);
  • is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification);
  • is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value;
  • is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way or doing things ;
  • adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes;
  • shows rigidity and stubbornness.



Neurotic Beliefs and Attitudes 

Rationalizations and reinforcements of the compulsive attachments and aversions and the neurotic solution that they engender.

Aaron T. Beck and associates (pg. 361) 

  • I am fully responsible for myself and others.
  • I have to depend on myself to see that things get done.
  • Others tend to be too casual, often irresponsible, self-indulgent, or incompetent.
  • It is important to do a perfect job on everything.
  • I need order, systems, and rules in order to get the job done properly.
  • If I don't have systems, everything will fall apart.
  • Any flaw or defect of performance may lead to a catastrophe.
  • It is necessary to stick to the highest standards at all times, or things will fall apart.
  • I need to be in complete control of my emotions.
  • People should do things my way.
  • If I don't perform at the highest level, I will fail.
  • Flaws, defects, or mistakes are intolerable.
  • Details are extremely important.
  • My way of doing things is generally the best way.



Idealized Image

The neurotic "solution" is idealized (Horney, 1950, pg. 22)

John M.Oldham and Lois B. Morris (pp. 62-63)

"Call them the backbone of America. Conscientious-style people are the men and women of strong moral principle and absolute certainty, and they won't rest until the job is done and done right. They are loyal to their families, their causes, and their superiors. Hard work is a hallmark of this personality style; Conscientious types achieve. No accomplished doctor, lawyer, scientist, or business executive could get far without a substantial amount of Conscientious style in his or her personality pattern. Neither could a computer whiz, an efficient housekeeper, an accountant, a straight-A student, a good secretary -- or anyone else who works hard to do well. The Conscientious personality style flourishes within cultures such as ours in which the work ethic thrives. Conscientious traits -- hard work, prudence, conventionality -- may even confer a longevitity advantage. We address this style first among the fourteen because the Conscientious style is adaptable, common, and thus likely to be a principal component of many diverse personality profiles. Indeed, within our society so wide a range of Conscientious behaviors is considered normal, even admirable, that it may be hard to draw the line between the Conscientious personality style and the Obsessive-Compulsive personality disorder (p. 77) that marks its extreme. What are we to say about the man or woman who always takes a briefcase filled with work along on a vacation? Is he or she a workaholic who can't relax and is headed for an early heart attack? Or this a person who loves to work, thrives on challenge, and is bound for great things in his or her career? That depends on whether the style enriches the six domains of this person's life or controls and distorts them."


  1. Hardworking. . . ."dedicated to work, works very hard, and is capable of intense, single-minded effort."

  2. Righteous. . . ."is a person of conscience. These are men and women of strong moral principles and values. Opinions and beliefs on any subject are rarely held lightly. . . .want to do the right thing."

  3. Correct. "Everything must be done "right". . . .has a clear understanding of what that means, from the correct way to balance the checkbook, to the best strategy to achieve the boss's objectives, to how to fit every single dirty dish into the dishwasher."

  4. Perfectionistic. . . ."likes all tasks and projects to be complete to the final detail, without even minor flaws."

  5. Persevering. . . ."stick to their convictions and opinions. Opposition only serves to strengthen their dogged determination."

  6. Orderly and meticulaous. . . .like the appearance of orderliness and tidiness. They are good organizers, catalogers, and list makers. No detail is too small for consideration.

  7. Prudent. "Thrifty, careful, and cautious in all areas of their lives. . . .do not give in to reckless abandon or wild excess."

  8. Accumulative. "A 'pack rat'. . . .saves and collects things, reluctant to discard anything that has, formerly had, or someday may have value for him or her."



Attributes of the Idealized Image 

  1. Industry, diligence.
  2. Scrupulousness, conscientiousness, dutifulness, responsibility, idealism, highmindedness.
  3. Deliberateness, judiciousness, rationality, logicalness, sensibility.
  4. Having high standards; trying to be complete, perfect; radical, persistent, thorough, thoroughgoing.
  5. Perseverance, tenacity, steadiness, firmness.
  6. Orderliness, tidiness, cleanliness, meticulousness.
  7. Prudence, self-control, self-restraint, carefulness, cautiousness, discipline.
  8. Frugality, thriftiness, saving, conserving.



Neurotic Pride

"While perfectionists condescendingly look down on others their arrogant contempt for others is often hidden" (Cooper, 116).

"Neurotic pride cannot endure anything less than perfection without extreme self-recrimination" (pg. 142).

"Expansive people tend to identify with their pride, whereas self-effacing people are afraid of it. This is one way of distinguishing self-effacing people from perfectionists, with whom they share many values. Both try to be good, dutiful and loyal; but perfectionists are proud of their virtue, whereas self-effacing people have a taboo against pride and must disclaim special merit" (Paris, pg. 210).



Neurotic Claims

"Horney indicates that the perfectionists' beliefs in their greatness are less naive than the narcissists, yet perfectionists, too, have an inflated expectation for complete justice. In other words, they are entitled to fair treatment in life because of their high standards. After all, they are fair, just, and dutiful, so how dare life not also contain an infallible justice! According to Horney, perfectionists hate all undeserved fortune, regardless of whether it is good or bad. This 'invalidates the whole accounting system'" (Cooper, pg. 116).

Perfectionist standards provide two important elements (a) being superior to others and (b) controlling life. (pg. 117).

"'Perfectionists demand "respect [from] others rather than glowing admiration" (NHG, 196) and a just reward for their rectitude'" (Cooper, pg. 141, quoting Paris, p. 208).

"As confirmation of his opinion of himself, he needs respect from others rather than glowing admiration (which he tends to scorn). Accordingly his claims are based less on a 'naive' belief in his greatness than (as we have described it in Chapter 2 on neurotic claims) on a 'deal' he had secretly made with life. Because he is fair, just, dutiful, he is entitled to fair treatment by others and by life in general. This conviction of an infallible justice operating in life gives him a feeling of mastery. His own perfection therefore is not only a means to superiority but also one to control life. The idea of undeserved fortune, whether good or bad, is alien to him. His own success, prosperity, or good health is therefore less something to be enjoyed than a proof of his virtue. Conversely, any misfortune befalling him—such as the loss of a child, an accident, the infidelity of his wife, the loss of a job—may bring this seemingly well-balanced person to the verge of collapse. He not only resents ill fortune as unfair but, over and beyond this, is shaken by it to the foundations of his psychic existence. It invalidates his whole accounting system and conjures up the ghastly prospect of helplessness" (Horney, 1950, pp. 196-97).

"Also, since he is as exacting on others as he is on himself, his influence on others is often cramping, especially if he is in an executive position" (pg. 315).

"The imposition of their standards on others leads perfectionists to admire a select few and to be critical or condescending toward the majority of humankind" (Paris, pg. 197).

"The bargain of the perfectionist is based on a legalistic conception of the world order: 'Because he is fair, just, dutiful, he is entitled to fair treatment by others and by life in general. This conviction of an infallible justice operating in life gives him a feeling of mastery'. Success is not a matter of luck or being the favorite of fortune, as it is for the narcissist, or of a superior shrewdness, talent, and ruthlessness, as it is for the arrogant-vindictive person; rather, it is a proof of virtue. Ill fortune could mean that the perfectionist was not really virtuous or that the world was unjust. Either conclusion shakes him 'to the foundations of his psychic existence', invalidating 'his whole accounting system' and conjuring up 'the ghastly prospect of helplessness'. If he recognizes 'an error or failure of his own making', self-effacing trends and self-hate may come to the fore (NHG, 197)" (Paris, pg. 198).

"Perfectionists demand 'respect from others rather than glowing admiration' (NHG, 196) and a just reward for their rectitude" (Paris, pg. 208).



Tyrannical Shoulds

"[P]erfectionists identify with their superior standards of behavior" (Cooper, pg. 116).

"The difficulties of the perfectionistic type are in some ways opposite [to the narcissistic type]. He works methodically and attends rather too meticulously to details. But he is so cramped by what he should do and how he should do it that there is no room left for originality and spontaneity. He is therefore slow and unproductive. Because of his exacting demands on himself he is easily overworked and exhausted (as is well known of the perfectionistic housewife) and lets others suffer as a result" (Horney, 1950, pg. 315).

"They were made to feel worthless or guilty when they did not live up to their parents' demands, but by conforming to expectations they put themselves beyond reproach and gained a feeling of superiority" (Paris, pg. 197).

"Whereas narcissists identify with their claims, perfectionists identify with their shoulds, which are very strong indeed. They make strenuous efforts to measure up to their shoulds 'by fulfilling duties and obligations, by polite and orderly manners, by not telling obvious lies'. Their 'arrogant contempt of others' is hidden behind 'polished friendliness' because their shoulds 'prohibit such "irregular feelings"' (NHG, 196). They think they 'should be able to control every anxiety, no matter how deep it is, should never be hurt, and should never make a mistake' (NW, 207). Their judgment must always be correct, and they must perform all roles and tasks to perfection. Horney became aware of the power shoulds wield in her examination of perfectionism in New Ways in Psychoanalysis, but she later came to see that they exercise a coercive force in every solution" (Paris, pg. 206).

"Perfectionists cannot be perfect and cannot control their anxieties" (pp. 206-207).

"Perfectionists identify with their shoulds and look down on others from their lofty height. They make strenuous efforts to fulfill the shoulds and deal with their failures by equating standards with performance or by various forms of externalization. Because of the stringency of their inner dictates, perfectionists are often in rebellion against them and experience 'listlessness and inertia' in the face of what they are 'supposed to do or feel'" (pp. 207-208).




"The pride system tends to intensify the self-hate against which it is supposed to be a defense, since any failure to live up to one's tyrannical shoulds or of the world to honor one's claims leads to feelings of worthlessness" (Paris, IKHS).

"According to Horney, even perfectionsits often fail to recognize the manner in which they hold others in contempt because of shortcomings. Much of this is, of course, the projection of their own unconscious self-contempt" (Cooper, pg. 116).

"Neurotic pride cannot endure anything less than perfection without extreme self-recrimination" (pg. 142).

"[A]ny misfortune befalling him such as loss of a child, accident, the infidelity of his wife, the loss of a job—may bring this seemingly well-balanced person to the verge of collapse" (Horney, 1950, pg. 197).

"His other breaking points we mentioned when discussing the tyranny of the should: his recognition of an error or failure of his own making, and his finding himself caught between contradictory shoulds. Just as a misfortune pulls the ground away from under him, so does a realization of his own fallibility. Self-effacing trends and undiluted self-hate, kept in check successfully hitherto, then may come to the fore" (Horney, 1950, pg. 197).



See also

Karen Horney: Intrapsychic Strategies of Defense




American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. 4th ed. Washington: Author.

Aaron T. Beck, Arthur M. Freeman and Associates (1990). Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders. New York: Guilford Press.

Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Karen Horney (1939). New Ways in Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________(1942). Self-Analysis. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________ (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.

John M.Oldham and Lois B. Morris (1995). The New Personality Self-Portrait. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam.

Bernard J. Paris (1994). Karen Horney : A Psychoanalyst`s Search for Self-Understanding . New Haven, CT: Yale UP.

Bernard J. Paris. "Brief Account of Karen Horney." International Karen Horney Society. <>

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