The Arkham Sessions: The Psychology of O.C.D. In ‘Batman: The Clock King’
It's about time! The Arkham Sessions returns to the analysis of every episode of Batman: The Animated Series with a classic favorite, "The Clock King." The title villain is a seemingly harmless, time-obsessed efficiency expert who learns the unfortunate lesson that one small change in his schedule can turn him into a vengeful killer. Of course, Batman won't let him get away with demolishing trains, overriding the city's traffic controls, and strapping Gotham's mayor to the top of the clock tower. With some insight from the episode's writer, the show delves into the traits and states of people who are obsessive-compulsive. The psychologically satisfying episode has us asking if rigidity and extreme order can actually cause more harm than good.
OCD and OCPD: What's the difference?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions (intrusive, repetitive thoughts and images that cause anxiety and distress) and compulsions (rituals, mantras, and other compensatory behaviors that serve to relieve the anxiety). Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is an enduring, longstanding pattern of behavior characterized by rigid adherence to rules, an overwhelming need for order, extreme fixation with lists and minor details, and perfectionism. The difference is that persons with OCD experience levels of anxiety and distress, and often find that their illness interferes with their functioning. Work, school, relationships and social life are often hard for people with OCD because they are struggling with both obsessions and the compulsions.
People with OCPD, however, find ways not only to live with their personality characteristics but can even use their perfectionism and meticulousness to their advantage. As we say in the episode, "those with OCD are often paralyzed by thoughts that just won't go away, while people with OCPD are inspired by them."
What's wrong with being "tightly wound up"?
Sometimes, nothing. Some famous writers and artists who have been referred to as "Super Achievers" show traits of obsessiveness. The Clock King's origin story teaches us that persons with obsessiveness can actually be quite successful, effective and high-functioning. It isn't until the character has an interpersonal conflict that tests his limits that we see the negative effects of a super-achiever lifestyle.
Characters like The Clock King test our patience as well as our compassion
Almost everyone (including the episode's writer) feels a sense of frustration and annoyance with the Clock King's rigidity and sense of self-righteousness. In fact, when we encounter people with this personality style (whether from OCD, OCPD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, or other conditions that impair social skills), we often react with disapproval and distance. The Clock King gives us a chance to realize that rigidity and rules are a way for a person to essentially keep themselves safe in a world that they find chaotic, unpredictable and threatening.
For more information on OCD and OCPD, check out The International OCD Foundation.