Positive Psychopathology and Positive Functioning: OCD, Flourishing and Satisfaction with Life through the Lens of Character Strength Underuse, Overuse and Optimal Use

  • Hadassah Littman-OvadiaEmail author
  • Pavel Freidlin


Theoretical propositions suggesting that character strengths (CSs) may have darker sides have triggered a new wave of studies, providing novel insight into the role that misuse of CSs play in psychopathology. Pioneering research in the field has addressed the challenge of constructing an instrument for measuring over/under/optimal use of CSs, and explaining the role of specific strengths’ underuse or overuse in social anxiety disorder. The present study sought to continue this line of research by examining the role of specific strengths’ underuse-overuse in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An international sample of 970 adults completed online questionnaires derived from a CSs website. We first replicated findings that general CSs’ underuse and overuse were associated with negative outcomes, while optimal use was related to positive outcomes. Second, we found obsessive-compulsive symptoms (OCS) to be associated with the overuse of social intelligence, judgment, appreciation of beauty and excellence, fairness, perseverance, and prudence, as well as with underuse of forgiveness, self-regulation, curiosity, and creativity. Using simultaneous regression, the noted misuse of strengths, not including the overuse of perseverance and the underuse of curiosity and creativity, accounted for almost a quarter of the variance in OCS. Using discriminant analysis, the combination of the overuse of social intelligence, judgment, appreciation of beauty and excellence, fairness, and prudence, as well as the underuse of forgiveness and self-regulation, successfully re-sorted 89.3% of the participants into those that do and do not have clinical levels of OCD. These findings provide support to the role of strengths misuse in psychopathology.


Character strengths Strengths use Strengths underuse Strengths overuse Strengths optimal use OCS OCD Strength deviation 



  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5™ (5th ed.). Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aristotle. (trans. 1999). Nicomachean ethics (W. D. Ross trans.), Kitchener Ontario: Batoche Books.Google Scholar
  3. Burns, R. P., & Burns, R. (2008). Discriminant analysis. In R. P. Burns & R. Burns (Eds.), Business research methods and statistics using SPSS (pp. 589–608). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  4. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi, D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). New well-being measures: Short scales to assess flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 97, 143–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fergus, T. A., & Bardeen, J. R. (2014). Emotion regulation and obsessive–compulsive symptoms: A further examination of associations. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3, 243–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Foa, E. B., Huppert, J. D., Leiberg, S., Hajcak, G., Langner, R., Kichic, R., Hajcak, G., & Salkovskis, P. M. (2002). The obsessive-compulsive inventory: Development and validation of a short version. Psychological Assessment, 14, 485–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Freidlin, F., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Positive psychopathology: Social anxiety via character strengths underuse and overuse. Personality and Individual Differences, 108, 50–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frost, R. O., & Steketee, G. (2002). Cognitive approaches to obsessions and compulsions: theory, assessment and treatment. Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  10. Grant, A. M., & Schwartz, B. (2011). Too much of a good thing: The challenge and opportunity of the inverted U. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 61–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hirschfeld, R. M., Williams, J. B., Spitzer, R. L., Calabrese, J. R., Flynn, L., Keck, P. E., Lewis, L., McElroy, S. L., Post, R. M., Rapport, D. J., Russell, J. M., Sachs, G. S., & Zajecka, J. (2000). Development and validation of a screening instrument for bipolar spectrum disorder: the Mood Disorder Questionnaire. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(11), 1873–1875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Keyes, C. L. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 207–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kroenke, K., Spitzer, R. L., & Williams, J. B. W. (2001). The PHQ-9: Validity of a brief depression severity measure. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16, 606–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kung, S., Alarcon, R. D., Williams, M. D., Poppe, K. A., Jo Moore, M., & Frye, M. A. (2013). Comparing the Beck depression inventory-II (BDI-II) and patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) depression measures in an integrated mood disorders practice. Journal of Affective Disorders, 145, 341–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lavy, S., & Littman-Ovadia, H. (2017). My better self: Using strengths at work and work productivity, organizational citizenship behavior and satisfaction. Journal of Career Development, 44, 95–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Bareli, Y. (2014). Strengths deployment as a mood-repair mechanism: Evidence from a diary study with a relationship exercise group. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9, 547–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Littman-Ovadia, H., & Steger, M. (2010). Character strengths and well-being among volunteers and employees: Toward an integrative model. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 419–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Littman-Ovadia, H., Lavy, S., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2017). When theory and research collide: Examining correlates of signature strengths use at work. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18, 527–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lochner, C., Stein, D. J., & Taljaard, L. (2017). Cognitive training in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Investigating a novel treatment strategy. Mental Health Matters, 4, 44–46.Google Scholar
  20. Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  21. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peterson, C. (2006). The values in action (VIA) classification of strengths. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. S. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.), A life worth living: Contributions to positive psychology (pp. 29–48). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  24. Pietrefesa, A. S., & Coles, M. E. (2008). Moving beyond an exclusive focus on harm avoidance in obsessive compulsive disorder: Considering the role of incompleteness. Behavior Therapy, 39, 224–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rashid, T. (2015). Strength-based assessment. In S. Joseph (Ed.), Positive psychology in practice: Promoting human flourishing in work, health, education, and everyday life (2nd ed., pp. 519–542). Hoboken: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Robinson, L. J., & Freeston, M. H. (2014). Emotion and internal experience in obsessive compulsive disorder: Reviewing the role of alexithymia, anxiety sensitivity and distress tolerance. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 256–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Seligman, M. E. P. (2015). Chris Peterson’s unfinished masterwork: The real mental illnesses. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 3–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Smith, A. H., Wetterneck, C. T., Hart, J. M., Short, M. B., & Björgvinsson, T. (2012). Differences in obsessional beliefs and emotion appraisal in obsessive compulsive symptom presentation. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 1, 54–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Steiger, J. H. (1980). Tests for comparing elements of a correlation matrix. Psychological Bulletin, 87, 245–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stern, M. R., Nota, J. A., Heimberg, R. G., Holaway, R. M., & Coles, M. E. (2014). An initial examination of emotion regulation and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3, 109–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. WHO. (2001). Mental health: New understanding, new hope. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  32. Wootton, B. M., Diefenbach, G. J., Bragdon, L. B., Steketee, G., Frost, R. O., & Tolin, D. F. (2015). A contemporary psychometric evaluation of the obsessive-compulsive inventory—Revised (OCI-R). Psychological Assessment, 27, 874–882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yap, K., Mogan, C., Moriarty, A., Dowling, N., Blair-West, S., Gelgec, C., & Moulding, R. (2017). Emotion regulation difficulties in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 695–709. Scholar

Copyright information

© The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Sciences and PsychologyAriel UniversityArielIsrael

Personalised recommendations