Are People With OCD Creative Individuals, And If So, How?

I find this a complex yet interesting question because it depends on which context to put creativity.

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I find this a complex yet interesting question because it depends on which context to put creativity. First, there are many creative domains, e.g., arts, crafts, acting, writing, science etc. And so, from this perspective, we might say people with OCD are artistic, imaginative and inventive. And it all sounds very positive. But on the other hand, it’s as if we want people to see our creativity to prove OCD unique or establish that we are normal despite OCD. In other words, if we are creative with the arts before OCD, those qualities don’t inherently disappear due to a disorder. Still, we may think others will depict us as dull or uninventive, hence projecting our creativity and not letting others and ourselves lose sight of that.

Measuring Creativity

Either way, scientists have measured creativity among people with what they call the big five: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness-to-experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, plus Narcissism and OCD. The study showed that OCD correlated with the “Biographical Inventory of Creative Behaviours” (BICB). In addition, the Big Five and OCD collectively accounted for between 29 and 32% of the variance creativity, with 207 people participating in the study. 

Another Type Of Creativity

Even if the BICB shows that several people with OCD proved creative in the arts, what does it mean for those who are not? This question brings me to a second perspective. For example, I’m more inclined to think that people with OCD have a collective creativity. For instance, suppose someone with OCD can paint a great picture with oils, but another can’t; each has a shared imagination nonetheless. That is, in manipulating their environment to live as comfortably and anxiety-free as possible. 

It is a resourceful way to make daily activities work in tandem with OCD’s demands. If OCD is getting what it wants, such people can get through their everyday tasks with less threat and reduced distress. And what OCD wants is cooperation, meaning it demands the person’s compulsions to maintain consistency. So for that to happen, you can see why people need to be creative in a way that doesn’t involve the arts.

Autism And The Triad Of Impairments

To help clarify creativeness from this perspective, I often think of it as similar (yet the reverse) to people on the autism spectrum and the triad of impairments. These are difficulties with social interaction, social communication and an inflexible way of thinking and challenges with social imagination. So let’s suppose someone has difficulties with social imagination in the workplace and bullying due to meticulousness and taking too long on a task. Though the person is knowledgeable, he hasn’t developed the creative vision to solve the bullying problem, e.g., using his imagination or constructive ways to advocate for himself. In which case, interactive and communication difficulties are also factors in preventing bullying for this person.

OCD And Innovation 

Now let’s suppose somebody has difficulties with perfectionism OCD at work and is on with a team project. Let’s imagine her workmates are rushing her along to meet the deadline and stressing her out. But somehow, she hides her stress as she gathers ideas to find a solution. Her colleagues don’t know she has the obsessive disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. They don’t know it makes her anxious and why she cannot get past the urge to do compulsive actions. And so, this is where she uses her creative awareness and social imagination to achieve perfectionist results. 

For example, the process of using her mind to consider how to have her colleagues collude with some creative ideas (compulsions) is imaginative despite that it’s detrimental in the long run. In other words, she knows that convincing them is wrong. Still, she cannot get past OCD’s demands. For instance, suggesting she works overtime to add final artistic designs to the project is a creative way to do a sneaky perfection ritual and keep OCD quiet. But her colleagues think doing “overtime” is excellent and give her a pat on the back. So unbeknownst to them, she’s manipulating the team with creative experience together with interaction and communication skills. That is to get what she needs. It means having their cooperation to satisfy OCD and have it relieve her from anxiety momentarily. It’s a clever tactic despite that it’s not meant to be deceptive.

Autism And Creativity In OCD

Here’s another fascinating perspective about autism and creativity in OCD: a young man frequently went to a cafe for lunch. Each time he was accompanied by his father. The young man (let’s call him Tom) could not tolerate asymmetry and would persistently straighten the salt and pepper pots on the tables. So naturally, his father would stop him from doing it, even though the local customers knew Tom well and didn’t mind that he straightened the pots. Even still, when his father went to the toilet and told Tom to sit and not move until he came back, Tom waited till his father was out of sight. After that, he quickly went to each table and aligned the salt and pepper pots without interacting with the customers. He then went to his seat, acting as though he hadn’t moved when his father returned to their table. 

Put Creativity Into Recovery

In any case, instead of using creative ways to manage OCD unproductively, it can change with exposure and response prevention (ERP), the evidence-based treatment for this disorder. So, for example, the person with perfectionism fears would agree to face her obsessions and resist the rituals that keep her stuck in a circle. In doing so, she will build distress tolerance and be less sensitised to imagined imperfection. She also has the advantage of using social creativity to interact and communicate with her colleagues. That is to help them understand the problem with perfectionism OCD and how not to collude with her rituals. For people on the autism spectrum who have OCD, then methods can be modified if needed.

Summary

In short, it seems many people with OCD are creative with the arts. On the other hand, they are skilful with shaping their environment to achieve an obsessive-compulsive purpose and reduce anxiety collectively. Such creativity includes some on the autism spectrum. More specifically, since creativity appears to be a factor in OCD, people can get creative with exposures in ERP to help themselves recover. However, people on the autism spectrum may need treatment methods modifying.

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