Personality Disorders |

Personality Disorders: An Overview

Lisa Batten

What Are Personality Disorders?

Personality disorders occur when people develop long-term patterns of thinking and behavior that often cause significant disruption in their daily lives and relationships. People with personality disorders often have trouble dealing with everyday stress and tend to have significant difficulty maintaining relationships.

The symptoms of each of the personality disorders are different and their severity can range from mild to severe. People may have more than one personality disorder and they can often occur alongside other mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

Often, people with a personality disorder may not realize they have a problem and may blame any life issues on external factors. Usually, treatment is only sought when their lives have been severely disrupted in some way.

Traits of a High-Functioning Sociopath

When you hear the term “sociopath,” thoughts of serial killers, assassins and criminals come to mind – thanks to pop culture and the media. The actual definition of a sociopath, however, is a person with anti-social personality disorder.  Although some

There are several genetic and environmental risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing a personality disorder. Diagnosis of personality disorders requires an assessment by a mental health professional. They are typically diagnosed in adults 18 years or older since personalities are still developing in people under 18.

There are 10 types of personality disorders that are arranged in three different clusters based on descriptive similarities.

Types of Personality Disorders

Cluster A – odd or eccentric disorders

  • Paranoid personality disorder: a pattern of feeling constantly suspicious and mistrustful of other people. People with paranoid personality disorder don’t often confide in others as they assume others have bad intentions and want to harm or deceive them. They may have significant difficulties forgiving people for perceived slights.
  • Schizoid personality disorder: displaying a limited range of emotional expression and being withdrawn or showing a lack of interest in social relationships. They often prefer solitary ventures and find little enjoyment in activities. They are indifferent to praise or criticism from others and may find it hard to pick up on social cues.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: characterized by a pattern of extreme discomfort during social interactions. People with schizotypal personality disorder often have distorted thoughts and perceptions which can lead to eccentric behavior and peculiar speech. They may hear voices, have suspicious thoughts about others, or believe their thoughts are magical.

Cluster B – dramatic, emotional, or erratic disorders

  • Antisocial personality disorder: lacking empathy and displaying a pervasive pattern of violating the rights of others. They may engage in manipulative or deceptive behavior and have a bloated self-image. People with antisocial personality disorder are prone to engaging in impulsive behavior and put themselves in risky situations without considering the consequences to themselves or others.
  • Borderline personality disorder: characterized by a pattern of instability in relationships, intense emotions, fear of abandonment, abrupt mood swings, and poor self-image. People with borderline personality disorder often engage in impulsive behavior and are more likely to have repeated suicide attempts and extreme displays of emotions such as self-harm or intense anger.
  • Histrionic personality disorder: a pattern of constantly seeking attention and exaggerated emotions. Those with histrionic personality disorder tend to depend heavily on the approval of others and engage in behaviors such as behaving or dressing provocatively in order to be the center of attention.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder: displaying grandiose self-esteem or a sense of entitlement with a willingness to take advantage of others for personal gain. They tend to lack empathy and display a pervasive need for admiration. They may feel more deserving or special than others and put their needs above everyone else’s.

Cluster C – anxious or fearful disorders

  • Avoidant personality disorder: characterized by a pattern of extreme shyness and feelings of inadequacy. They are very sensitive to criticism from others. People with avoidant personality disorder may avoid social situations and be reluctant to try new activities for fear of rejection or embarrassment. As a result, they often feel isolated and inferior to others.
  • Dependent personality disorder: overwhelming thoughts about needing others and feeling afraid to be on their own. They often display a pattern of excessively needy, submissive, and clingy behavior. People with dependent personality disorder need constant reassurance and have difficulty making daily decisions without support from others.
  • Obsessive compulsive personality disorder: a pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and rigid conformity to rules. People with obsessive compulsive personality disorder have significant difficulty being flexible and set unrealistically high standards for themselves and others. They are often preoccupied with schedules and work which can significantly impact personal relationships.


Causes of Personality Disorders

There are currently no known definitive causes of the development of personality disorders. However, several risk factors have been identified that may increase their likelihood. Personality disorders develop over time and may form as a means of coping with stress or trauma. There is also some evidence that people may have a higher biological risk of developing a personality disorder than others.

Overall, it’s difficult to narrow down the causes of personality disorders but some genetic and environmental risk factors have been identified that may play an important role in their onset.

Genetic risk factors for developing a personality disorder

Certain genes passed on from parents can put people at increased risk of developing a personality disorder. Generally, risk factors may include a parent with a personality disorder or other mental illness such as depression, bipolar, or anxiety. In the case of Cluster A personality disorders, people with a personality disorder in this category almost always have a relative with schizophrenia.

Genetics also influences a person’s traits and temperament which can increase their risk of developing a personality disorder. For instance, excessively shy people are more prone to developing avoidant personality disorder. Likewise, people born with a temperament characterized by high emotional reactivity may be at a higher risk for developing borderline personality disorder.

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Environmental risk factors for developing a personality disorder

Environmental risk factors can include the circumstances a person grows up in and experiences that influence their development. One of the most common environmental risk factors that increase the risk of developing a personality disorder is a history of child abuse or neglect.

Verbal abuse in childhood is associated with an increased likelihood of developing personality disorders such as borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, or paranoid personality disorder. Children who were sexually or physically abused or neglected have an elevated risk of developing all Cluster B or C personality disorders.

There is also a strong association between growing up in a low socioeconomic status home and development of symptoms of all personality disorders. This group tends to be especially more likely to develop externalizing disorders such as antisocial personality disorder. Growing up in a low socioeconomic household can create various adversities which may contribute to the development of mental health problems.

Another risk factor for developing a personality disorder is parenting. There is evidence that having a parent with personality issues, such as poor bonding and emotional detachment, increases the risk of developing symptoms of personality disorders later in life.

Overall, the causes of personality disorders are complicated and vary by disorder and individual. However, there are specific environmental and genetic factors that can increase the likelihood of developing a personality disorder. In many instances, a person may be more genetically prone to developing a personality disorder and development occurs over time as a means to cope with trauma, stress, or adversity in the person’s life.

Treatments for Personality Disorders

Although treating a personality disorder can be very challenging, there are many different forms of treatment available. The most common forms of intervention are medication and therapy.

Medication is not a useful approach for all personality disorders but can be helpful to treat symptoms of certain ones. Treatment may include medication to help reduce depression or anxiety if it is a presenting concern. Other types of medication may also be used such as antipsychotics or mood stabilizers. Medications are normally used in conjunction with therapy.

Various types of therapy are used to treat personality disorders. Psychotherapy is the most effective long-term treatment currently available. Common methods used include cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and psychoeducation. Therapists will often take an eclectic approach, using elements of different types of therapies to fit the individual client’s needs.

People with personality disorders may also benefit greatly from group therapy and family therapy. One popular approach is an intensive form of group therapy called therapeutic communities. People attend classes one to five days a week to explore in-depth the experience of having a personality disorder.

With regular attendance, group therapies can be especially helpful for people who have difficulties forming social support, want to build healthier relationships with family, or are seeking to improve social skills.

If you think that you or someone you love is experiencing difficulties due to a personality disorder seek a consultation with a mental health professional who will guide you through diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Each situation is unique and requires a tailored treatment plan