A personality disorder is a general term used to describe a long-term mental illness characterized by dysfunctional behaviors and personality traits. Personality disorders affect a person’s thinking, their perception of situations, their self-image, and the way they relate to others. Those living with personality disorders tend to be inflexible, rigid, and have a narrow-minded view of the world. They are unable to respond in a healthy way to everyday stresses, changes, and the demands of life. These dysfunctions can have a negative impact on important aspects of life, such as jobs, family, and one’s social life.
Personality disorders have many symptoms. Frequent mood swings, poor impulse control, experiencing inappropriate emotions in a given situation, substance or alcohol abuse, and angry outbursts are some of the symptoms that those with a personality disorder exhibit. They also find it difficult to participate in social activities, and often find themselves in conflict with others.
To properly diagnose a person with a personality disorder, a psychological evaluation is typically performed. Several criteria must be present for an accurate diagnosis. If you or a loved one shows signs of having a personality disorder, seeking help from a professional is important. A good place to start may be getting a physical exam. Your doctor may order laboratory tests to check for thyroid or other underlying conditions.
While a disorder may be recognizable in childhood or adolescence, some experts believe it better to wait until adulthood, when personalities reach full development.
Personality disorders are thought by some to stem from environmental factors. Early childhood events, such as abuse, may influence thinking and behavior patterns later in life. Genetics may also leave people predisposed to certain personality traits and behaviors. Still, others believe the combination of environmental and genetic factors to be the cause.
People with mild symptoms of a personality disorder may be able to manage live a healthy life with only minor disruptions. For others, medication and/or psychotherapy are effective treatment options. In some cases, hospitalization is necessary.
Types of Personality Disorders
Personality disorders are grouped into three clusters, by similarities. Each one has its own characteristics, as well.
Cluster A. These disorders share eccentric, odd thinking or behavior.
Paranoid personality disorder
Schizoid personality disorder
Schizotypal personality disorder
Cluster B. This group includes disorders with dramatic, overly emotional thinking or behavior.
Antisocial (formerly, sociopathic) personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Histrionic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Cluster C. These personality disorders are characterized by fearful, anxious thinking or behavior.
Avoidant personality disorder
Dependent personality disorder
Obsessive-compulsive personality (different from OCD)
Mental Health America