Each of us has a unique personality made up of traits that come from both our genetic make-up and our life experiences and is a vital part of what makes us who we are and how we interact with others. Our specific characteristics influence the way we think, feel and behave, which makes us all unique individuals.
Personality disorders are mental health conditions that can cause a range of distressing symptoms and patterns of abnormal behaviour. They typically start in adolescence and persist into adulthood. The cause is often a combination of genetic reasons and a harmful childhood experience. It has been found that people with a personality disorder have often experienced physical or sexual abuse in their early years, though recent research suggests that neglect in these early years may be the most significant factor.
In general, individuals with personality disorders may have difficulty sustaining close or intimate relationships. They may experience chronic interpersonal problems, or have difficulties in establishing a coherent sense of self or identity. Others may perceive them to be impulsive, irritable, fearful, demanding, hostile, manipulative, or even violent.
Personality disorders range from mild to severe and as such affect how a person thinks and behaves, making it hard for them to live a normal life. They are very deep-rooted, so hard to treat, but people can be helped to manage their difficulties.
NB: While it can be tempting to ‘self-diagnose’’ a personality disorder, it is important to remember that a diagnosis can only be made by a psychiatrist, and that the disorder is such that it causes severe disruption and distress in an individual’s life and also affects those around them.
What are the different types?
Personality disorder can show itself in different ways. The DSM-IV-TR (The American Psychiatric Association’s manual of mental disorders) lists ten types. Each one is linked with a different set of attitudes, emotions, and behaviours. While some people will have only one type, other people may have elements of two or more.
This is known as ‘psychopathy’ under the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983. Antisocial personality disorder is not usually diagnosed before the age of 18 but characteristics of the disorder can be recognized in younger people as conduct problems. Early treatment of children (aged 5-11 years) and young people (aged 12-17 years) with conduct problems may help to prevent antisocial personality disorder from developing later.
The symptoms of antisocial personality disorder may include:
- behaving unlawfully, leading to repeatedly being arrested and convicted
- deceiving people
- behaving angrily and aggressively
- feeling agitated or depressed a lot of the time, and easily bored
- being impulsive (doing something without thinking of the consequences)
- behaving irresponsibly and exploiting or manipulating other people
- not caring about the safety and feelings of other people
- not feeling remorse when causing harm to others.
Not everyone with antisocial personality disorder will have all these symptoms. Some people with antisocial personality disorder may also have other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and problems with drugs and alcohol.
Feeling inadequate or inferior to other people, and avoiding work or other social activities, is one sign of avoidant personality disorder. Individuals with this disorder commonly expect disapproval and criticism and worry constantly about being ‘found out’ and rejected. They may be particularly worried about being ridiculed or shamed by others, so they avoid social relationships, friendships and intimacy. However, they feel lonely and isolated, and long to have the very relationships they avoid. It’s hard for others to understand the extent of their worries and their fear of ordinary social situations. Such individual is often perceived as a loner. The treatment of choice is usually psychotherapy, however, individual therapy is usually preferred to group therapy.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
Our BPD Overview will provide you with detailed information, including an informative article by Nathalie Himmerlich - the founder of the 'Reach For The Sky Therapy'.
Information about symptoms associated with the BPD can be found on our BPD Symptoms page.
To read about currently known/available/recommended treatments please visit our BPD Treatment page.
Bipolar disorder page contains detailed information of the disorder. Please follow the link.
Dependent personality disorder is a long-term (chronic) condition in which people depend too much on others to meet their emotional and physical needs. This disorder usually begins in childhood. The causes of this disorder are unknown. It is one of the most common personality disorders, and is equally common in men and women. People with this disorder do not trust their own ability to make decisions. They may be very upset by separation and loss. They may go to great lengths, even suffering abuse, to stay in a relationship. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is considered to be the most effective treatment for gradually helping people with this condition make more independent choices in life. Medication may help treat other conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
OCPD is characterized by a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency. It is a type of personality disorder marked by rigidity, control, perfectionism, and an over-concern with work at the expense of close interpersonal relationships. People with OCPD tend to stress perfectionism above everything else, and feel anxious when they perceive that things are not right. People with OCPD may hoard money, keep their home perfectly organized, or be anxious about delegating tasks for fear that they will not be completed correctly. OCPD tends to occur in families, so genes may be involved. A person's childhood and environment may also play roles.
NOTE: OCPD is often confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While the names sound similar, these are two quite different disorders. OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by the presence of intrusive or disturbing thoughts, impulses, images or ideas (obsessions), accompanied by repeated attempts to suppress these thoughts through the performance of irrational and ritualistic behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). Those who are suffering from OCPD do not generally feel the need to repeatedly perform ritualistic actions (such as excessive hand-washing), while this is a common symptom of OCD. People with OCD have unwanted thoughts, while people with OCPD believe that their thoughts are correct. Differences between OCD and OCPD are fully captured in one of my articles, that can be accessed on the following link:OCD versus OCPD.
Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (for example, Prozac) may help reduce some of the anxiety and depression from this disorder. However, talk therapy (psychotherapy) is thought to be the most effective treatment for this condition.
In this condition, individuals have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves. This disorder is further characterized by an abnormal love of self, an exaggerated sense of superiority and importance and a preoccupation with success and power. The causes of this disorder are unknown. However, it has been suggested than an overly sensitive personality and parenting problems may affect the development of this disorder. It is important to distinguish between those who have narcissistic personality traits and those suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Those with narcissistic personalities are often seen as arrogant, confident, and self-centered, but they do not have the exaggerated or grandiose view of their own abilities that characterizes narcissistic personality disorder. The most common symptoms of this disorder, as identified by DSM-IV, are:
- A constant need for attention, affirmation, and praise
- An exaggerated sense of one's own abilities and achievements
- A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
- A lack of empathy for others
- Exploiting other people for personal gain
- A preoccupation with power or success
Paranoid Personality Disorder is a psychiatric condition in which a person has a long-term distrust and suspicion of others, but does not have a full-blown psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. Individuals with this disorder frequently feel wary of other people, imagining and believing that people around them have hidden motives and that they will use or take advantage of them unless they stay vigilant. Individuals find it difficult to trust others, they are always suspicious and are constantly looking for signs of betrayal or hostility. Paranoid Personalities are hypersensitive to any hint of hurt, betrayal, rejection or attack. The cause of Paranoid Personality Disorder is still unknown. However it appears to be found more common in families with other disorders such as schizophrenia, suggesting a genetic connection. Other research suggests negative childhood experiences, such as a threatening atmosphere, can also prompt the disorder. Psychotherapy and medication are the most effective treatments for this disorder. Medication is not generally encouraged though, as the sufferer may be suspicious of the doctor.
Schizoid Personality Disorder is a psychiatric condition in which affected people avoid social activities and consistently shy away from interaction with others. Schizoid Personality Disorder is characterized by introverted behaviour, often leading to those suffering being referred to as loners. Such individuals are not interested in social relationships and prefer to be on their own, often absorbed in their own thoughts and feelings. Individuals do not show a need for acceptance or attention, and tend to seek jobs requiring little social interaction. Many never marry and continue to live with their parents as adults. Schizoids do not express any strong feelings and frequently show emotional detachment and coldness. They do not desire or enjoy close relationships and have difficulty relating to others. They have very little interest in any activities, including sex.
The cause of Schizoid Personality Disorder is still unknown. It affects men more often than women and is more common in people who have close relatives with schizophrenia. The disorder usually beings in early adulthood. It must be noted that although the names sound alike and they might have some similar symptoms, schizoid personality disorder is not the same thing as schizophrenia. Many people with schizoid personality disorder can function fairly well. Psychotherapy is likely to be the choice of treatment, however, people with this disorder rarely seek treatment because their thoughts and behavior generally do not cause them distress.