What is Personality Disorder?

The word ‘personality’ refers to our characteristics or traits that we have developed as we have grown up. Personality is what makes each one of us a unique individual. These characteristics include the ways that we think, feel and behave, and how we relate to others.

Sometimes, parts of one’s personality can develop in ways that make it difficult for them to live with themselves and with other people. These traits can be difficult to change and can cause significant problems in everyday life.

For someone experiencing a Personality Disorder, these difficulties are ongoing and problematic, harm their well-being, mental health and relationships with others.

Is personality disorder a mental illness?

A Personality Disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder. Find out more about the diagnostic process.

Experiencing difficulties in how we think about ourselves and the world, and how we relate to others because of a Personality Disorder can lead to developing other mental health problems.

These problems may include depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems, and sometimes visual and auditory hallucinations.

What causes Personality Disorders?

There is no single cause of a personality disorder.

A personality disorder usually develops over time and as a result of complex factors interacting with each other. These include the environment we grew up in, early childhood experiences and genetic factors, such as personality traits or our sensitivity to emotional stimuli.

You may be more likely to develop a personality disorder if you’ve experienced:

●    an unstable or chaotic family life, such as living with a parent who is an alcoholic or who struggles to manage a mental health problem

●    little or no support from your caregiver – this may be especially hard if you experienced a traumatic event or situation

●    a lack of support or bad experiences during your school life, in your peer group or the broader community

●    growing up in an environment where you were repeatedly misunderstood, criticised or ignored for being upset or angry

What are the main signs and symptoms of a Personality Disorder?

Individuals diagnosed with personality disorder experience significant long-term difficulties in the way they think about, feel and behave towards themselves and others. These include problems in:

●    making or maintaining relationships

●    connecting with other people, including friends, family or work colleagues

●    managing and controlling their emotions

●    coping with life and difficult feelings

●    controlling their behaviours and impulses

What are the types of Personality Disorder?

Diagnostic systems (such as the DSM-5 and the ICD-11) tend to identify ten types of personality disorder, falling into three categories:

●    Paranoid Personality Disorder – characterised by difficulties in trusting others and watching others closely, looking for signs of betrayal or hostility.

●    Schizoid Personality Disorder – marked by a lack of interest in relationships with others, experiencing little pleasure from life and being emotionally cold towards others.

●    Schizotypal Personality Disorder – characterised by having beliefs that you can read minds or that you have special powers such as a ‘sixth sense’.

●    Antisocial Personality Disorder – characterised by aggressive behaviour, getting into fights easily, and doing things to get what you want even though it hurts others and sometime yourself in the long run. People with Antisocial Personality Disorder are putting their needs above others.

●    Borderline Personality Disorder also is known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder – characterised by difficulties managing emotions, experiencing emotions intensely and having problems in maintaining stable relationships. Individuals with a borderline personality disorder may also experience suicidal thoughts and engage in self-harming behaviour.

●    Histrionic Personality Disorder – characterised by feeling very uncomfortable when not being the centre of attention.

●    Narcissistic Personality Disorder – marked by beliefs that particular reasons make one different, better or more deserving than others.

●    Avoidant (anxious) Personality Disorder – characterised by worry about being rejected by others and avoidance of work or social activities that mean you must be with others.

●    Dependent Personality Disorder – described by feeling weak and unable to make decisions or function properly without help or support from others.

●    Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder – characterised by needing to keep everything in order and under control. Individuals with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder often set unrealistically high standards for themselves and others.

What are the difficulties of living with a Personality Disorder?

Living with a personality disorder can make everyday life very challenging for the person diagnosed as well as those around them, family and friends.

They may feel misunderstood, lonely and isolated. Being sensitive to emotions and difficulties in managing these often means that people diagnosed with a personality disorder find it difficult to connect with others. They can also engage in dangerous and self-harming behaviour, be impulsive and be thought of as argumentative.

What are the psychological treatments for Personality Disorders?

The most common treatment for personality disorders includes a mix of psychological therapy and sometimes medication for a short period if there is a crisis.

Psychological therapies available include:

●    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which looks at how your feelings, thoughts and behaviour influence each other and how you can change these patterns.

●    Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT), which combines CBT’s practical methods with a focus on the relationship between you and your therapist. This can help you reflect on how you relate to people (including yourself) and why these patterns have developed. You can read more about CAT on our pages about talking treatments.

●    Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) – a treatment designed specifically for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It uses individual and group therapy to help you learn new skills to manage your emotions.

●    Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) – a long-term talking treatment which aims to improve your ability to recognise and understand your and other people’s mental states, and to help you examine your thoughts about yourself and others to see if they’re valid.

●    Schema Therapy is usually a long-term talking treatment which aims to help you change the ways of thinking (or ‘schemas’) which cause you difficulty while strengthening the ways of thinking which are helpful to you.

What is the medication for Personality Disorders?

Currently, no one medication is used solely in the treatment of personality disorders. The indicated treatments are psychological like those listed above. Some medicines can be used only short-term. Medication can be used to help treat and alleviate other co-occurring problems such as depression, anxiety and psychotic symptoms.

How can I find out more about Personality Disorders or be assessed?

You can contact me for both a diagnostic assessment and treatment for Personality Disorders.

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