Home article What Are Personality Disorders?

What Are Personality Disorders?

What Are Personality Disorders?

Your personality is “the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual; the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual” (dictionary.com). In essence, it is how you think, feel, and act, and what makes you a unique individual.

Many factors contribute to a person’s personality, such as genetics, environment, and life experiences. “A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems with functioning, and lasts over time” (psychiatry.org).

Typically, personality disorders present by late adolescence or early adulthood, and they cause problems at home and in your personal life, including your relationships, your education, and your work. But not all problems are caused by personality disorders. People tend to throw around the term “personality disorder” any time someone displays traits that they don’t like.

The truth is that personality disorders have very specific diagnostic criteria. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 9% of U.S. adults meet the diagnostic criteria for a personality disorder.

The diagnosis of a personality disorder requires a pattern of behavior and perception that is causing problems in functioning. The pattern must be seen in at least two areas of the following:

  1. How a person thinks about himself, others and events in his life
  2. How a person responds emotionally to others
  3. How a person relates to and interacts with others
  4. How a person controls his own behavior

This pattern must be consistent and long-term, and not caused by another mental or physiological disorder. Once it is determined that someone has a personality disorder, it is often specified into a particular type. There are many types of personality disorders, and they all look very different from one another. What they have in common is that they are all a deviation from what is considered normal in one’s culture, and they all cause problems in one’s functioning.

Here are the different types of personality disorders (DSM V):

  • Generalized Personality Disorder – meets the basic diagnostic criteria
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder – suspicious of the motives of others
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder – detached from social relationships and emotions
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder – socially uncomfortable and quite odd and eccentric
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder – violating rights of others and breaking laws
  • Borderline Personality Disorder – unstable relationships, self-image and feelings; impulsive
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder – overly emotional and seeking of attention
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder – grandiosity, need for admiration, lack of empathy
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder – timid, feels inadequate, overly sensitive to what others think
  • Dependent Personality Disorder – excessive neediness, submissive and clingy
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder – need for order, perfection and control

The definitions I have provided here are vague, but they can give you an idea of what each one is about. If you’re concerned that you or someone you love might have a personality disorder, talk to a therapist. While personality disorders won’t necessarily go away, there are many skills that a therapist can teach a person to help minimize their distress and improve their relationships and ability to function.

Chances are, you or your loved one don’t even have a personality disorder. It is far more common that you or your loved one simply have some issues that get in the way of having optimal relationships. Either way, when someone really wants to make changes in their life, it can be done with the guidance of a good therapist and a lot of hard work.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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