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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFear of asymmetry

Fear of asymmetry

6 min read
Shawna Ecklind, LMFT

By Shawna Ecklind, LMFT

Reviewed by Taylor Newendorp

Oct 13, 2022

Possibly related to:

What is Perfectionism OCD focusing on 90-Degree Angles?

Perfectionism OCD may involve fears and discomforts about items not being exactly at 90 degrees with other objects. All subtypes of OCD involve both obsessions and compulsions. With themes focused on perfection and symmetry, obsessions are often centered around things not resting at 90-degree angles, or a fixation on angles and alignment in general. Compulsions involved in this manifestation of Perfectionism OCD often have to do with aligning items so they feel just right.

Some of the symptoms of this category/subtype may be misinterpreted as immutable parts of a person’s personality. An individual may feel that they just need things to “feel” perfect and—because they feel temporary relief from any fears or worries by engaging in the compulsions—it can be difficult to view their behaviors as part of a mental health concern. When the obsessions and compulsions become excessive, though, there can be a clear distinction between a personality trait and OCD. 

There can also be an overlap in perfectionistic behaviors and OCD-related compulsions. To assist with distinguishing between the two, it helps to understand the underlying fears and motivation behind one’s behaviors. With OCD, obsessions are often repetitive and cause distress or frustration, and compulsions temporarily alleviate the anxiety or distress that the obsessions cause. With perfectionistic tendencies unrelated to OCD, one may find that behaviors do not come in response to distress or frustration, and instead align with one’s intentions and goals.
  • “This is not correct because it isn’t at a right angle”
  • Experiencing excessive anxiety about things not having an angle of 90 degrees
  • An overwhelming need or urge to make angles exact
  • Hyperfocus on things that aren’t exact, symmetrical, or “just right”
  • “If it’s not at a perfect 90-degree angle I won’t be able to concentrate on anything else”
  • “It seems wrong. Does that mean something bad will happen?”

Common Triggers

People with Perfectionism OCD may be triggered by situations involving making choices or making sure that things are perfect or exact. Anxiety and distress may increase in situations where the individual has to make decisions or be around things that could possibly not feel perfect or exact. Bearing the responsibility to make sure that things are exact and at 90 degree angles can take up lots of time for people with this theme of OCD.

Common triggers for people with a focus on 90-degree angles in Perfectionism OCD include:

  • Seeing items that are not aligned correctly or at exactly 90 degrees
  • Aligning or moving objects
  • Drawing or creating art
  • Thinking about places or items that are not exact
  • Having to hold or touch items
  • Stressful situations where they may visually fixate on objects and angles

How can I tell if I’m suffering from Perfectionism OCD focused on 90-degree angles, and it’s not just a part of who I am?

While it can be difficult at times to distinguish between a personality trait and OCD, there are some distinct differences to watch out for. To help identify those differences, it is helpful to have an understanding of OCD symptoms. OCD includes intrusive thoughts, sensations, images, urges, and doubts, increased anxiety or distress in response to these, and urges to engage in physical or mental compulsions to relieve that anxiety or distress. The short-term relief gained by engaging in compulsions leads to a vicious cycle in which the brain believes that it must do compulsions when obsessions arise, in order to achieve relief from the anxiety or distress.

When intrusive thoughts, sensations, and doubts about angles being exactly 90 degrees are leading you to engage in repetitive behaviors and/or mental acts that interfere in your daily life, this is a sign that it isn’t just a personality trait. OCD may be the culprit, and reaching out for professional help to manage the intrusive thoughts may be helpful. 

Tracking your behaviors and mental acts to identify compulsions and monitoring the amount of time you spend either experiencing the intrusive thoughts, fixating on angles, or engaging in compulsions to alleviate your discomfort will also assist in distinguishing OCD.

Common compulsions

When people with Perfectionism OCD about 90-degree angles experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in mental or physical behaviors in an attempt to alleviate that distress. While they may gain temporary relief from distress and anxiety when engaging in compulsions, the belief is reinforced that the thought image, feeling, or urge should be feared. Often, this leads to more and more compulsions, less reduction in distress and anxiety, and greater difficulty when trying to resist compulsions.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Perfectionism OCD about 90-degree angles include:

  • Arranging items to ensure that they are exactly at 90 degrees with respect to each other
  • Aligning objects so that they feel “just right”
  • Reassuring oneself that it is fine or does not need to be exact
  • Ruminating about things not being exact
  • Engaging in mental review to ensure that things were left at 90 degrees
  • Intentionally avoiding looking at objects that could or could not be aligned at 90-degree angles

How to treat fear of asymmetry in Perfectionism OCD

Perfectionism OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can learn to break the toxic cycle of engaging in compulsions to reduce distress and anxiety. In ERP, you engage in exercises called exposures with the guidance of a therapist. Exposures are designed to gradually trigger the anxiety you feel in response to your obsessions, giving you an opportunity to resist the urge to engage in compulsions and instead accept the discomfort or uncertainty that you feel.

By doing this, you are teaching your brain that your obsessions have no meaning, pose no real threat, and that you have the ability to tolerate difficult emotions. In time, ERP can reduce the anxiety you feel in response to obsessions. It is a highly effective treatment and is the gold standard treatment for OCD, backed by years and years of clinical research.

Examples of possible exposures done to treat Perfectionism OCD about 90-degree angles may include:

  • Not fixing things so they are exactly at the appropriate angle
  • Purposefully move things so that they aren’t exact
  • Hold items in a way that increases distress
  • Draw pictures with inexact angles
  • Look at photos with inexact angles

These exercises are designed so that they do not induce as much distress at first, and then trigger increasing amounts of distress over time.

An OCD specialist and their therapy member will work together to develop possible exposures based on each individual’s intrusive thoughts and the different things that trigger them. It is a collaborative effort done in order to ensure that all triggers are identified and exposures are created that can induce both lower and higher levels of distress and anxiety over time. 

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.

Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp, M.A., LCPC, has specialized in the treatment of OCD since 2011. He is a former clinical supervisor for The Center for Anxiety and OCD at AMITA Behavioral Health Hospital in Illinois, and is currently the Regional Clinical Director for NOCD.