What are Personality Disorders?
Personality disorders are some of the most complex (and most misunderstood) mental health disorders today. A personality disorder is more than just an “unpleasant” or “disagreeable” personality. Those who struggle with a true personality disorder experience a plethora of difficult symptoms on a daily basis.
Personality disorders comprise a series of mental illnesses that relate to a decreased ability to perceive and relate accurately to people, situations, and the world at large. Having a personality disorder tends to have significant impacts on a person’s relationships, mental health, and an overall sense of well-being.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V), there may be the presence of a personality disorder if a person experiences significant impairments in self and interpersonal functioning, in conjunction with one or more pathological personality features (i.e. – detachment, antagonism, negative affectivity, etc.).
While there are several types of personality disorders where each individual may be affected differently, there are some common symptoms most people with a personality disorder experience including frequent mood swings, social isolation, anger outbursts, general paranoia, difficulty forming and sustaining friendships, poor impulse control, and addiction. It is not uncommon for someone with a personality disorder to have other, co-occurring diagnoses as well, such as depression.
Currently, the DSM-V lists ten different personality disorders. These ten are then grouped into three different “clusters,” based on the unique sets of traits within the personality disorders:
Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders and fears social relation)
- Paranoid Personality Disorder (irrational suspicions and mistrust)
- Schizoid Personality Disorder (lack of interest in social relationships)
- Schizotypal Personality Disorder (odd behavior or thinking)
Cluster B (dramatic, emotional or erratic disorders)
- Antisocial Personality Disorder (lack of empathy and a pattern of criminal activity)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (“black and white” thinking, impulsivity, behaviors that lead to self-harm)
- Histrionic Personality Disorder (inappropriately seductive behavior, exaggerated emotions)
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (grandiose behavior, extreme levels of jealousy and arrogance)
Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)
- Avoidant Personality Disorder (feelings of social inadequacy, avoidance of social interaction)
- Dependent Personality Disorder (psychological dependence on other people)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (rigid conformity to rules, moral codes, and orderliness)
It is important to note the distinction between obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is an anxiety disorder. While the names are similar, the disorders and associated symptoms are hugely different. Click here to read more about OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Methods Typically Used in Therapy for Personality Disorders
Treatment for personality disorders generally involves a number of medical and mental health professionals. Almost always, the treatment team for an individual with a personality disorder will include a medical doctor/primary care physician, a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist. Thus, the patient can receive comprehensive care, and have physical, medical, and psychological monitoring.
Psychotherapy for personality disorders may vary based on the individual’s unique needs. Nonetheless, there is typically a combination of dialectical behavioral and cognitive behavioral therapy. This dual approach tends to result in a more effective treatment outcome.
Within initial treatments, it’s not uncommon for medication to be prescribed. There are no specific medications prepared for individuals suffering from personality disorder symptoms but antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety medications are common.
Treatments almost always involve psychotherapy or talk therapy. From there, the therapist will diagnose the actual issue and personality disorder and treatment can progress.
Because personality disorders are associated with increased risk of suicide and self-injurious behaviors, hospitalization may be required in some cases.
Reasons for Hiring a Therapist
Personality disorders can result in a significantly diminished lifestyle and a host of other problems. They can interfere with one’s ability to develop friendships, sustain jobs, advance in careers, and, at times, can lead to decision-making that proves detrimental to personal well-being. Some people with personality disorders even experience paranoid thoughts, delusions, and visual and/or auditory hallucinations. Because of the nature of the symptoms, personality disorders are not typically well-managed without the support of professional intervention.
Yet, statistics show individuals with personality disorders are some of the least likely to pursue mental health support.
And those who do seek professional support often end up seeking therapy for addiction or impulse control, not knowing those are actually symptoms of the bigger issue – a personality disorder. Friends and family cannot force them to seek help unless the harm is so great it results in hospitalization or the like.
If you or someone you know might be struggling with a personality disorder or are experiencing symptoms similar to those described in this article, search the therapist directory at TherapyTribe, to find a therapist specializing in personality disorders. A therapist with expertise in personality disorders can be a great resource on how to develop a treatment plan, and how to navigate the various mental health professionals that may be of assistance.
- Doyle, M., While, D., Mok, P., et. al. (2016). Suicide risk in primary care patients diagnosed with a personality disorder: A nested case-control study. BMC Family Practice. 17:106.
- Fonagy P, Luyten P, Bateman A. (2017). Treating borderline personality disorder with psychotherapy: Where do we go from here? JAMA Psychiatry.74(4):316–317.
- Lamkin, J., Maples-Keller, J., & Miller, J. (2017). How Likable Are Personality Disorder and General Personality Traits to Those Who Possess Them? Journal of Personality.