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The ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder Essay Research Paper The

The Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder- Essay, Research Paper

The Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder-

John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil magnate who, by the time

of his death in 1937, was probably worth close to a billion dollars,

is perhaps one of the best historical examples of an

obsessive-compulsive. An obsessive-compulsive is one who is driven to

an act or acts, generally being asocial, by his own fixations but by

nature of his peculiar psyche must balance these actions with others

more socially acceptable. There are abundant examples of Rockefeller’s

deeds fitting these clinical characteristics, and John D. Rockefeller

is today generally regarded as an obsessive-compulsive. The roots of

this disorder are traceable back to his childhood. While much of

Rockefeller’s business history remains a mystery today, it is apparent

that much of his success is attributable to his obsessive-compulsive


Franz Alexander and Louis B. Shapiro’s description of the

obsessive-compulsive disorder from their book “Neuroses, Behavior

Disorders, and Perversions” is a frequently used summary of the

commonly agreed-upon characteristics. It states: “Full blown cases of

obsessive-compulsive states present a dynamic equilibrium in which

obsessive preoccupation with ego-alien fantasies… are precariously

balanced by rituals representing an exaggeration of social standards,

such as cleanliness, punctuality, consideration for others. The

dynamic formula is similar to bookkeeping in which on the one side of

ledger are the asocial tendencies which the patient tries to balance

precisely on the other side with moralistic and social attitudes…

Every asocial move must be undone by an opposing one…” The term

“ego-alien” refers to thoughts, emotions or material which are

consciously detestable to the patient (though not he may not

necessarily be conscious of the reason). This summary is important,

and we will return to it later.

Rockefeller was born in 1839 and raised in a troubled, then

broken, home. His father, who sold quack “quick-heal” ailment

medicines, was often away for months at a time. Rockefeller was raised

essentially by his mother. Eventually his father consummated a

bigamous marriage with a teenage Canadian and left Rockefeller and his

mother and siblings.

At an early age, it became apparent that young John was not

quite like the other children. For instance, he adamantly refused to

play with other children unless he could choose the game. In almost

every description of him as a child, he is often described as

“thinking”. He married Laura Celestia Spelman, a girl who was

strikingly similar to his mother, which is never a good sign; and

when he decided to go into business, he borrowed $1000 from his

father- at ten percent interest. Ten percent was well above the going

rate; Rockefeller’s father essentially loansharked his son.

Rockefeller was apparently disturbed by his childhood; he absorbed his

cutthroat business techniques from his shyster father, and at some

point other influences at a young age probably began to develop his

obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unfortunately, few intimate accounts of

his early life and family exist, so it is difficult to pinpoint these


Rockefeller seemed to make his fortune with hardly any effort;

a brief outline is appropriate. After dropping out of high school and

serving a clerical apprenticeship, Rockefeller went into business,

forming a produce house with one partner and $4,000 of capital between

them. In its first year its gross income was $450,000, with a net

income of $4,400- better than one hundred percent return. After

flourishing through the Civil War boom, Rockefeller’s company bought

its first refinery. Rockefeller soon gave up his original partnership

to concentrate on the oil business. In 1870, with a capital of better

than one million dollars, Rockefeller reformed his company as the

Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Buying the means to control production

from the smallest detail (he even built his own barrels to save money)

Rockefeller soon managed to dominate the nationwide oil market.

In 1879 Standard Oil controlled 95 percent of oil production in the

United States.

Like all successful businesses of the time, Rockefeller’s

company did a fair amount of illegal dealing; and while Standard Oil

was perhaps not quite as crooked as its competitors, it is in this

fact that we see the first facet of Rockefeller as an

obsessive-compulsive. While Rockefeller encouraged illegal railroad

rebates and even invented a few new ones (such as the “drawback”, a

variation on the kickback) he was an adamant churchgoer. He strongly

disapproved of: smoking, drinking, card playing, dancing, merriment,

“wenching”, theatre going, concert going, banqueting, idling,

socializing in general and “good fellowship”. He took no vacations, no

time off. He did nothing in his small amount of free time except go to

church two or three times a week. These are the “rituals representing

an exaggeration of social standards” mentioned by Drs. Alexander and

Shapiro. Rockefeller, who as an obsessive-compulsive had to balance

his asocial acts (the seamy and/or illegal acts of Standard Oil) by

social acts, in this case presenting (to himself as well as others) a

facade of deep morality.

In the anti-corporation hue and cry of the late 1800’s and

early twentieth century, Rockefeller was assaulted by the courts in an

attempt to reduce his virtual monopoly. In 1892 he was ordered to

dissolve his trust, one of his inventions which allowed him control

over a number of subsidiary companies. He simply placed relatives and

friends at the helms of the newly-freed subsidiaries. In 1906 Standard

Oil’s railroad rebate schemes were discovered and the company was

fined $29.2 million. The judge, luckily for Rockefeller, had made an

incompetent decision (his fine was too high by at least an order of

magnitude) and the decision was reversed in a higher court. Standard

Oil paid nothing. In the year following the 1892 decision, Rockefeller

donated over $1.5 million to charities. While he had been donating

money since his teenage years, this amount was three times as large as

any sum he had ever donated in one year. In 1907, after the second

major court case, he donated over $39 million. This was also the

largest amount he had ever donated, by a large margin. We can say with

some assurance that these hefty donations were a result of

Rockefeller’s obsessive-compulsive disorder; he was simply balancing

the guilt he felt from his business practices with philanthropy.

To what extent was Rockefeller’s obsessive-compulsive disorder

responsible for his phenomenal success? Rockefeller was unquestionably

a financial genius, obsessive-compulsive or no. However, clearly

Rockefeller’s disturbance was responsible for his illegal activities

that continued into the 1900’s, after he had made more money than he

could possibly use, and when he donated a large percentage of his

personal income to various charities. Rockefeller’s tactics put left

tens of thousands of workers (at least one estimate is even over one

hundred thousand) after the turn of the century after he had

accumulated a staggering amount of wealth. It would probably be safe

to say, at the very least, that any fortune generated by illegal

activities after the mid 1890’s was the result of his

obsessive-compulsive complex; perhaps his obsession for money spurred

him on from his very first business venture through the last days of

Standard Oil. Too few records exist of Standard Oil and Rockefeller

for us to be sure at what point Rockefeller’s obsessive-compulsive

disorder became the dominant force.

John D. Rockefeller is, by all historical accounts, a

clear-cut case of an obsessive-compulsive, one who commits asocial

acts and feels a need to balance these actions with more socially

becoming conduct. The origins of Rockefeller’s disorder appear to

have occurred in his childhood; the obsessive-compulsive syndrome that

resulted was probably responsible for most of his financial ambition

and subsequent success.