Personality Disorders

A group of disorders in which habitual patterns of thought and behaviour cause persistent life problems

  • Develop in adolescence or early adulthood
  • Gender, genetics, and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the type

People with personality disorders have ingrained patterns of thought and behaviour that prevent them from fitting in with society. An affected person often fails to see that his or her personality is unusual. Although many people have strong personalities, this is not the same as a personality disorder. People with personality disorders are inflexible and unable to adapt.

Personality disorders tend to develop in adolescence and early adulthood but may not be properly diagnosed until later in life. The cause of most of these disorders is unknown, although genetic influences and childhood experiences are thought to play a role in some cases.

What are the types?

Personality disorders are divided into three broad groups: emotional or erratic, eccentric or odd, and anxious or fearful. Each group has its own pattern of thought processes and behaviour, although they may often overlap.

Emotional or erratic

This personality disorder further divides into four different types: antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic.

An antisocial personality is typified by impulsive, destructive behaviour that often disregards the feelings and rights of others. A person with this disorder lacks a sense of guilt and cannot tolerate frustration. He or she will have problems with relationships and may often be in trouble with the law.

A person with a borderline personality has multiple abnormalities that may include an uncertainty about personal identity and an inability to form stable relationships. People with this disorder describe feelings of emptiness and may indulge in promiscuity, reckless spending, or substance abuse. They may harm themselves or threaten suicide.

People with a histrionic personality have emotions that are exaggerated but shallow. They are self-centred, inconsiderate, and easily bored and constantly seek reassurance and approval.

People with a narcissistic personality believe themselves to be unique, special, and superior to others. They constantly seek attention and admiration and lack concern for the problems of others.

Eccentric or odd

This group can be divided into three types of personality: paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal.

A person with a paranoid personality tends to be mistrustful, jealous, and self-important. He or she readily interprets other people’s actions as hostile and may feel continually rebuffed.

People who have a schizoid personality are emotionally cold and indifferent to others. They tend to be prone to fantasy and ill at ease in company. This disorder is not related to the mental illness schizophrenia.

People with a schizotypal personality display eccentric and suspicious behaviour, often accompanied by odd ideas, such as a belief in magic or telepathy. They may have an unkempt appearance and vague, abstract speech patterns and may talk to themselves.

Anxious or fearful

The four different types of personality that make up the anxious or fearful group of disorders are: avoidant, passive–aggressive, obsessive–compulsive, and dependent.

A person with an avoidant personality is timid, oversensitive to rejection, and cautious of new experiences and responsibilities. He or she is generally ill at ease in social situations.

People with a passive–aggressive personality react to any demands made on them by being stubborn and argumentative. They put off tasks at work and at home and may be deliberately inefficient and critical of people in authority.

An obsessive–compulsive personality is marked by a continual striving for perfection with limited regard for the feelings of other people. Generally, people with this disorder are inflexible, pedantic, and overly conscientious.

People with a dependent personality are weak-willed and submissive. They appear helpless, lack self-reliance, and leave decisions to other people.

What might be done?

A person with a personality disorder is often aware that he or she does not fit in, but it may be a family member who contacts the doctor. The doctor will first assess the person’s behaviour and how it affects others and then look for provoking factors. If drug or alcohol abuse is contributing to difficulties, part of the treatment plan will include advice on overcoming the problem.

People in whom relationship difficulties or low self-esteem are the main problems may benefit from a form of psychological therapy. A few people with severe problems may have prolonged treatment in a special community where they can learn to deal with day-to-day experiences.

Generally, the manifestations of an abnormal personality tend to decrease in severity as people get older.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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