What are personality disorders?
A healthy self-identity is an elusive beast for the best of us. Sometimes shit happens that knocks us on our ass and leaves us shaken, wondering what we could have done or said differently. We reflect, adjust our thinking and behaviour, and move on.
But someone with a personality disorder has more of an uphill battle when it comes to making sense of their identity and their life. People with personality disorders believe their behaviour is normal and it’s everyone else around them that has a problem. They’re not content with who they really are and lack self-love, but don’t know it and/or refuse to accept it. They have an unstable self-image, trouble with relationships, problems with emotional regulation and impulse control, and tend to blame others for the challenges they face in life.
The Origins of Personality Disorders
Personality disorders are a long-term pattern of thoughts and behaviours that are inflexible and unhealthy. From a societal perspective, someone with a personality disorder behaves against what cultural norms deem acceptable. In other words, it’s a condition where an individual thinks abnormally from an average person, specifically in relation to how they feel, perceive or relate to others.
10% to 13% of the world’s population is estimated to have a personality disorder. – The Recovery Village
“Personality disorder” is a modern term, but it can be traced back as far as the ancient Greeks, who noted instances where personality traits would deviate from social norms. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that psychiatrists started defining what character disorders as weaknesses or deviations.
What Types of Personality Disorders Are There?
Today, there are ten main personality disorders grouped in three clusters, each defined by their own thought patterns and behaviours (though there is some overlap between them and people can be diagnosed with more than one). While many personality disorders are genetically linked to mood disorders, the difference is that people with mood disorders like depression and anxiety want to change, whereas personality disorders don’t believe they need to.
These are the “weirdos” who exhibit eccentric, odd behaviours. This group of disorders is related to higher rates of schizophrenia, suggesting a genetic link (the differences are that people with schizophrenia may have delusions, hallucinations, and/or racing thoughts). The three types of cluster A personality disorders are:
- Schizoid – Aloof, seclusive, prefer to be alone, not interested in personal relationships. They’re perceived as flat or blunt and don’t take pleasure in physical contact.
- Paranoid – Accusatory, suspicious, distrustful. They assume others will disappoint them. They react severely if they’ve been lied to and are likely to hold grudges.
- Schizotypal – Awkward, peculiar behaviour, bizarre fantasies, magical thinking (like random events are linked). They want to be liked but are poor at gauging other’s perceptions of them.
These are the wild ones who exhibit dramatic, erratic behaviours. There is a genetic relationship to mood disorders like depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorders. There are four types of cluster B personality disorders:
- Antisocial (aka sociopath or psychopath) – Charming, manipulative, arrogant, aggressive, poor impulse control. They exploit others for their own benefit and rarely accept responsibility for their actions.
- Borderline – Unstable moods, emotions and sense of self, exhibiting risky behaviour and sometimes self-harm. They have Intense relationships that become dramatic and sour quickly. They’re terrified of being abandoned.
- Histrionic – Attention seeking, excessive emotionality, and looking for approval. They manipulate people and situations to draw attention to themselves. They have lots of superficial relationships.
- Narcissistic – Grandiose self-image, self-important, lack empathy for others. They believe they’re the best and therefore deserve the best, to the point of excessive demands. They have fragile self-esteem and are vulnerable to criticism.
The worriers who exhibit fearful, anxious behaviours. There is a genetic association with anxiety disorders. The three types of cluster C personality disorders are:
- Avoidant – Cowardly, timid, overly sensitive, fears criticism, extremely shy and socially withdrawn with low self-esteem. They want relationships but don’t take social risks.
- Dependent – Clingy, indecisive and submissive, lack of self-confidence, and have an intense fear of rejection. They lack self-confidence and often get trapped in abusive relationships.
- Obsessive Compulsive – Compulsive, perfectionist, rigid, stubborn, need to be in control. They’re inflexible and easily stressed. They waste time excessively planning. (This is not the same as OCD, which is an anxiety disorder with a repetition of ritualistic behaviours).
Treating Personality Disorders
The possible causes of personality disorder are neurological and genetic factors, and/or environmental stressors like childhood trauma or neglect. People with personality disorders tend to be rigid and inflexible in their thinking with a narrow view of the world, which makes it hard for them to deal with change and cope with major situations.
Personality disorders are tough to untangle. But, treatment can be effective if they understand the concept that the problem is within themself and not caused by others. If you know someone who is struggling, or if you’re ready to admit that maybe it is you and not the world that has the problem, we can help.