Personality Disorder: Definition, Types, Causes, and More

Each person’s personality is unique and develops as they go through different life experiences; most are flexible enough to learn from past experiences and change their behavior when necessary. However, someone with a personality disorder finds it much more difficult to control their behavior; they experience extreme thoughts and feelings so intense that it is difficult to deal with everyday life.

They act in ways they cannot control, and they struggle to relate to situations and people. As a result of these challenges, they often experience significant problems and limitations in their relationships, social encounters, work, and education.

What is a personality disorder?

Personality disorders are a class of mental disorders characterized by long-lasting maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition, and internal experience, exhibited in many contexts and deviate from those accepted by the individual’s culture. These patterns develop early, are inflexible, and are associated with significant distress or disability.

The personality, defined psychologically, is the set of enduring behavioral and mental traits that distinguish an individual human. Therefore, personality disorders are those behaviors and experiences that are different from social expectations; those who possess them experience difficulties and problems in interpersonal functioning or impulse control, cognition, and emotionality.

They are characterized by an enduring collection of behavior patterns often associated with many personal, social and occupational disorders; they are also inflexible and pervasive in many situations, primarily because such behavior can be ego-syntonic (i.e., the patterns are consistent with the integrity of the individual’s self) and are therefore perceived as appropriate by that individual.

Personality disorder

This behavior can lead to maladaptive coping skills and personal problems that cause extreme anxiety, distress, or depression.

Groups and types of personality disorders

Ten types are grouped into three categories.

Group A: Strange or eccentric behavior

Paranoid personality disorder

People are suspicious and distrustful; they might think that they are being lied to or manipulated and that friends and colleagues cannot be trusted; they suspect that any confidential information about them will turn against them.

They may perceive hidden meanings in comments that most people consider innocent and suspect their partner or spouse of disloyalty, even without proof. Read more about Paranoid Personality Disorder.

Schizoid Personality Disorder

A person with this disorder may appear distant, detached, and cold. They may avoid close social contact with others and have difficulty forming personal relationships.

Others may view the person as lacking in a sense of humor and indifferent due to a limited ability to experience joy or pleasure; they may not show emotion; this poses additional challenges because the person with the condition is likely to be sensitive and feel very alone—complete content on schizoid personality disorder.

Schizotypal personality disorder

People with this disorder are also detached from social relationships and may have cognitive and perceptual distortions, poor social skills, delusional thoughts, and may have brief periods of psychotic episodes.

Some people have delusional thoughts about insignificant daily events, and the details may take on the wrong meaning; you may believe that the television or newspaper headlines are coded messages addressed to them, think that they are telepathic or have extraordinary empathic powers, but to a lesser extent than in schizophrenia.

Learn more about schizotypal personality disorder.

Group B: Dramatic, emotional, or erratic behavior

Antisocial personality disorder

People may not care about the consequences of their actions; they may be bored, depressed, and agitated, they may be deceitful and cunning, and they may try to manipulate or take advantage of others.

There seems to be no remorse or regret regarding how what they do may affect others. Read more about antisocial personality disorder. 

Borderline personality disorder

The individual has unstable and often intense relationships with others, self-harm, and emotional instability can occur—full content here on borderline personality disorder.

Histrionic personality disorder

It involves the need to be noticed by others and the fear of being ignored; being in the center of everyone’s attention becomes the primary goal.

It may seem that the person is not emotionally sincere, but at the same time, they may show too much emotion. The behavior can be provocative, flirtatious, inappropriate, and even seductive. Getting approval from other people becomes an obsession. Get more content on Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder

It involves a distorted self-image, and emotions can be unstable and intense; there is an excessive preoccupation with vanity, prestige, power, and personal adequacy; there also tends to be a lack of empathy and an exaggerated sense of superiority.

People with this condition often believe that they are better than those around them. However, their self-esteem is fragile, and they accept even light and constructive criticism with difficulty; they are easily hurt and rejected—more information on narcissistic personality disorder.

Group C: Anxious or fearful behavior

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Individuals avoid social situations and close interpersonal relationships mainly because they are afraid of rejection. They can feel inadequate, have low self-esteem, and find it difficult to trust people; they can seem extremely shy and socially inhibited. Read a little more about it in Avoidant Personality Disorder.

Dependent personality disorder

A person with this condition has an excessive need for care, is overly dependent on others, and has a deep fear of separation. Others may see the person as submissive and clingy.

Individuals with a dependent personality disorder often lack self-confidence. They may be unsure of their intelligence and abilities, finding it challenging to undertake projects independently or make decisions without assistance.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

An excessive preoccupation with perfectionism and work at the expense of close personal relationships is shown. The individual is inflexible and feels an overwhelming need for control; concerns about rules and efficiency make it difficult to relax.

People with this obsessive-compulsive personality disorder worry when things seem out of control or dirty. They are usually workaholics, interested in lists and schedules, and may have trouble completing tasks because everything must be perfect.

What are the symptoms of personality disorders?

Some symptoms that a person has a personality disorder include:

  • Frequent mood swings.
  • Extreme dependence on other people.
  • Narcissism (extreme vanity).
  • Stormy personal relationships.
  • Social isolation.
  • Suspicion and excessive distrust.
  • Difficulty making friends.
  • Need for instant gratification.
  • Substance or alcohol abuse.

Don’t be too alarmed if you recognize some of these personality traits. We all have our different quirks. Personality disorders are not diagnosed until 18 years of age because our personality is constantly developing until that age. What is different is that their behavior is extreme, and generally, they cannot adapt or change it.

Causes of personality disorders

We still don’t know exactly what causes it. However, certain factors can make someone more likely to develop one. Which are:

  • Family members who suffer from this disorder or other mental illnesses.
  • Childhood abuse or neglect.
  • Chaotic or unstable family life during childhood
  • being diagnosed with childhood conduct disorder.
  • Loss of parents through death or traumatic divorce during childhood.
  • Other significant trauma.

People with a personality disorder do not choose to feel the way they do and are in no way responsible for developing the disease.

How should a personality disorder be treated?

Certain types of psychotherapy are adequate. During it, an individual can learn about the disorder and what is contributing to the symptoms and can talk about thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Psychotherapy can help a person understand the effects of their behavior on others and learn to manage or cope with symptoms and reduce behaviors that cause problems with functioning and relationships. The type of treatment will depend on the specific personality disorder, how severe it is, and the individual’s circumstances.

Commonly used types of psychotherapy include:

Psychoeducation (teaching the individual and family members about illness, treatment, and ways to cope)

There are no medications specifically for treating personality disorders. However, medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety, or mood stabilizers, can help treat some symptoms.

More severe or long-lasting symptoms may require a team approach involving a primary care physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, and family members.

In addition to actively participating in a treatment plan, some self-care and coping strategies can be helpful for people with personality disorders:

  • Learn about the condition. Knowledge and understanding can help empower and motivate.
  • Get active. Physical activity and exercise can help control many symptoms, such as depression, stress, and anxiety.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol, as they can worsen symptoms or interact with medications.
  • Get routine medical attention. Don’t neglect check-ups or regular care from your family doctor.
  • Write in a journal to express your emotions.
  • Try relaxation and stress management techniques like yoga and meditation.
  • Stay connected with family and friends; avoid being isolated.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.