Our “personality” is made up of a set of character traits and behavioral patterns that make us who we are as individuals. Our personality affects how we see ourselves, how we see the world around us, our emotions and our thought patterns. We all may have certain personality traits that others may find unpleasant; however, an average personality should be able to function within one’s culture and society. If someone finds themselves having lifelong and consistent difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, tolerating distress, seeing things the way the rest of society does, or difficulty with impulse control, this may be a sign of a personality disorder.
A personality disorder is a collection of personality traits that make it difficult for people to function within the context of their culture and society.
In general, personality disorders are diagnosed when someone’s inner experience and behavior are different from an average person within their culture and society.A person with a personality disorder may:
-see themselves, those around them, or events in their environment in a different way than most people
-display an emotional response that is considered “inappropriate” or more intense than most people
-have difficulty functioning socially and forming or maintaining relationships with those around them
-have difficulty controlling behavioral impulses, engaging in behaviors that may be dangerous, disruptive, or unlawful
The above traits and behavioral patterns must be experienced lifelong, dating back to adolescence or early adulthood. These traits and patterns must be present in a variety of situations, and not merely episodes of reactions to environmental stressors or illness.
Personality disorders are caused by a number of factors, and these factors are often broken down into categories including biological, psychological, social and spiritual. There is no one single cause for personality disorders, as they often develop due to a number of risk factors combined.
Risk factors for personality disorders include:
-early childhood adversity including child abuse, neglect, and inconsistent parenting
-family history of mental illness or personality disorders
Cluster A tends to present with “odd” or “eccentric” behaviors, and “paranoid” or distrustful thoughts and feelings towards others. People with traits in this cluster may not desire close relationships, and may have difficulty with emotional expression. Examples include schizoid, paranoid and schizotypal personality disorders.
Cluster B tends to present with “impulsive” or “dramatic” behaviors, and may have difficulty controlling their anger, anxiety, fears, or their own desires. Examples of cluster B personality disorders include:
-antisocial personality disorder: traits include disrespect for the safety of themselves and others, unlawful behavior, lack of remorse for harmful behaviors
-borderline personality disorder: traits include unstable sense of self or identity, unstable and/or intense relationships, frequent worry and efforts to avoid being abandoned in relationships, impulsivity, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, self harm, and significant mood dysregulation
-histrionic personality disorder: traits include desire to be the center of attention, using one’s physical appearance to command attention, acting in a dramatic or theatrical fashion, being easily influenced by others
-narcissistic personality disorder: traits include an exaggerated sense of self importance, fantasies of success or power, being sensitive to failure, requiring admiration, arrogance, a lack of empathy, or taking advantage of others to get ahead
Cluster C tends to present with “anxious”, “fearful” or “compulsive” behaviors. People with traits in this cluster may be hypersensitive to rejection by others, may rely on others to make decisions for them, or may be so consumed with “perfection” that it becomes difficult to make decisions or complete tasks. Examples of cluster C personality disorders include avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
There is no blood test or brain scan that can diagnose personality disorders.
Diagnosis is made by discussing your symptoms with your care provider.
Personality disorders are generally diagnosed in adulthood. During adolescence, it is normal to experience changes in emotions, thinking patterns, self image and coping strategies. In some personality disorders, the patterns can be noted in adolescence, and identified/diagnosed before age 18.
Counselling, or talk therapy, is the gold standard for the treatment of personality disorders. Counselling can help you understand your own experience, and the steps you can take to create healthy thinking patterns, behaviors, and relationships. Involving your family in the management of personality disorders can also be beneficial to help you and everyone around you understand your experience.
No way! Personality disorders are dysfunctional patterns of thinking and reacting to the world around us. Often, these patterns arise from learned behaviors and personal experience. However, when you continue to use thinking patterns and behaviors that you once used to overcome adversity in other areas of your life, this can cause problems for you and those around you. You are doing the best you can with the tools you have AND you can learn healthier thinking patterns and behaviors that will help you reach your goals.