A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social activities, work and school.
In some cases, you may not realize that you have a personality disorder because your way of thinking and behaving seems natural to you. And you may blame others for the challenges you face.
Personality disorders usually begin in the teenage years or early adulthood. There are many types of personality disorders. Some types may become less obvious throughout middle age.
Types of personality disorders are grouped into three clusters, based on similar characteristics and symptoms. Many people with one personality disorder also have signs and symptoms of at least one additional personality disorder. It’s not necessary to exhibit all the signs and symptoms listed for a disorder to be diagnosed.
Cluster A personality disorders
Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior. They include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.
Paranoid personality disorder
Pervasive distrust and suspicion of others and their motives
Unjustified belief that others are trying to harm or deceive you
Unjustified suspicion of the loyalty or trustworthiness of others
Hesitancy to confide in others due to unreasonable fear that others will use the information against you
Perception of innocent remarks or nonthreatening situations as personal insults or attacks
Angry or hostile reaction to perceived slights or insults
Tendency to hold grudges
Unjustified, recurrent suspicion that spouse or sexual partner is unfaithful
Schizoid personality disorder
Lack of interest in social or personal relationships, preferring to be alone
Limited range of emotional expression
Inability to take pleasure in most activities
Inability to pick up normal social cues
Appearance of being cold or indifferent to others
Little or no interest in having sex with another person
Schizotypal personality disorder
Peculiar dress, thinking, beliefs, speech or behavior
Odd perceptual experiences, such as hearing a voice whisper your name
Flat emotions or inappropriate emotional responses
Social anxiety and a lack of or discomfort with close relationships
Indifferent, inappropriate or suspicious response to others
“Magical thinking” – believing you can influence people and events with your thoughts
Belief that certain casual incidents or events have hidden messages meant only for you
Cluster B personality disorders
Cluster be personality disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
Antisocial personality disorder
Disregard for others’ needs or feelings
Persistent lying, stealing, using aliases, conning others
Recurring problems with the law
Repeated violation of the rights of others
Aggressive, often violent behavior
Disregard for the safety of self or others
Lack of remorse for behavior
Borderline personality disorder
Impulsive and risky behavior, such as having unsafe sex, gambling or binge eating
Unstable or fragile self-image
Unstable and intense relationships
Up and down moods, often as a reaction to interpersonal stress
Suicidal behavior or threats of self-injury
Intense fear of being alone or abandoned
Ongoing feelings of emptiness
Frequent, intense displays of anger
Stress-related paranoia that comes and goes
Histrionic personality disorder
Constantly seeking attention
Excessively emotional, dramatic or sexually provocative to gain attention
Speaks dramatically with strong opinions, but few facts or details to back them up
Easily influenced by others
Shallow, rapidly changing emotions
Excessive concern with physical appearance
Thinks relationships with others are closer than they really are
Narcissistic personality disorder
Belief that you’re special and more important than others
Fantasies about power, success and attractiveness
Failure to recognize others’ needs and feelings Exaggeration of achievements or talents
Expectation of constant praise and admiration
Unreasonable expectations of favors and advantages, often taking advantage of others
Envy of others or belief that others envy you
Cluster C personality disorders
Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by anxious, fearful thinking or behavior. They include avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Avoidant personality disorder
Too sensitive to criticism or rejection
Feeling inadequate, inferior or unattractive
Avoidance of work activities that require interpersonal contact
Socially inhibited, timid and isolated, avoiding new activities or meeting strangers
Extreme shyness in social situations and personal relationships
Fear of disapproval, embarrassment or ridicule
Dependent personality disorder
Excessive dependence on others and feeling the need to be taken care of
Submissive or clingy behavior toward others
Fear of having to provide self-care or fend for yourself if left alone
Lack of self-confidence, requiring excessive advice and reassurance from others to make even small decisions
Difficulty stating or doing projects on your own due to lack of self-confidence
Difficulty disagreeing with others, fearing disapproval
Tolerance of poor or abusive treatment, even when other options are available
Urgent need to start a new relationship when a close one has ended
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Preoccupation with details, orderliness and rules
Extreme perfectionism, resulting in dysfunction and distress when perfection is not achieved, such as feeling unable to finish a project because you don’t meet your own strict standards
Desire to be in control of people, tasks and situations, and inability to delegate tasks
Neglect of friends and enjoyable activities because of excessive commitment to work or a project
Inability to discard broken or worthless objects
Rigid and stubborn
Inflexible about morality, ethics or values
Tight, miserly control over budgeting and spending money
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.
When to see a doctor
If you have any signs or symptoms of a personality disorder, see your doctor or other primary care professional or a mental health profession. Untreated, personality disorders can cause significant problems in your life that may get worse without treatment.
Personality is the combination of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that makes you unique. It’s the way you view, understand and relate to the outside world, as well as how you see yourself. Personality forms during childhood, shaped through an interaction of:
• Your genes. Certain personality traits may be passed on to you by your parents through inherited genes. These traits are sometimes called your temperament.
• Your environment. This involves the surroundings you grew up in, events that occurred, and relationships with family members and others.
Personality disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of these genetic and environment influences. Your genes may make you vulnerable to developing a personality disorder, and a life situation may trigger the actual development.
Although the precise cause of personality disorders I not known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering personality disorders, including:
• Family history of personality disorders or other mental illness
• Abusive, unstable or chaotic family life during childhood
• Being diagnosed with childhood conduct disorder
• Variations in brain chemistry and structure
Personality disorders can significantly disrupt the lives of both the affected person and those who care about that person. Personality disorders may cause problems with relationships, work or school, and can lead to social isolation or alcohol or drug abuse.
If your doctor suspects you have a personality disorder, a diagnosis may be determined by:
• Physical exam. The doctor may do a physical exam and ask in-depth questions about your health. In some cases, your symptoms may be linked to an underlying physical health problem. Your evaluation may include lab tests and a screening test for alcohol and drugs.
• Psychiatric evaluation. This includes a discussion about your thoughts, feelings and behavior and may include a questionnaire to help pinpoint a diagnosis. With your permission, information from family members or others may be helpful.
• Diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5. Your doctor may compare your symptoms to the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Each personality disorder has its own set of diagnostic criteria. However, according to the DSM-5, generally the diagnosis of a personality disorder includes long-term marked deviation from cultural expectations that leads to significant distress or impairment in at least two of these areas:
• The way you perceive and interpret yourself, other people and events
• The appropriateness of your emotional responses
• How well you function when dealing with other people and in relationships
• Whether you can control your impulses
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the type of personality disorder, as some personality disorders share similar symptoms and more than one type may be present. Other disorders such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse may further complicate diagnosis. But it’s worth the time and effort to get an accurate diagnosis so that you get appropriate treatment.
The treatment that’s best for you depends on your particular personality disorder, its severity and your life situation. Often, a team approach is needed to make sure all of your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met. Because personality disorders are long-standing, treatment may require months or years.
Your treatment team may include your primary doctor or other primary care provider as well as a:
• Psychologist or other therapist
• Psychiatric nurse
• Social worker
If you have mild symptoms that are well-controlled, you may need treatment from only your primary doctor, a psychiatrist or other therapist. If possible find a mental health profession with experience in treating personality disorders.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is the main way to treat personality disorders.
During psychotherapy with a mental health professional, you can learn about your condition and talk about your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. You can learn to cope with stress and manage your disorder.
Psychotherapy may be provided in individual sessions, group therapy, or sessions that include family or even friends. There are several types of psychotherapy – your mental health professional can determine which one is best for you.
You may also receive social skills training. During this training you can use the insight and knowledge you gain to learn healthy ways to manage your symptoms and reduce behaviors that interfere with your functioning and relationships.
Family therapy provides support and education to families dealing with a family member who has a personality disorder.
There are no medications specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat personality disorders. However, several types of psychiatric medications may help with various personality disorder symptoms.
• Antidepressants. Antidepressants may be useful if you have a depressed mood, anger, impulsivity, irritability or hopelessness, which may be associated with personality disorders.
• Mood stabilizers. As their name suggests, mood stabilizers can help even out mood swings or reduce irritability, impulsivity and aggression.
• Antipsychotic medications. Also called neuroleptics, these may be helpful if your symptoms include losing touch with reality (psychosis) or in some cases if you have anxiety or anger problems
• Anti-anxiety medications. These may help if you have anxiety, agitation or insomnia. But in some cases, they can increase impulsive behavior, so they’re avoided in certain types of personality disorders.
Hospital and residential treatment programs
In some cases, a personality disorder may be so severe that you need to be admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care. This is generally recommended only when you can’t care for yourself properly or when you’re in immediate danger of harming yourself or someone else.
After you become stable in the hospital, your doctor may recommend a day hospital program, residential program, or outpatient treatment.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Along with your professional treatment plan, consider these lifestyle and self-care strategies:
• Be an active participant in your care. This can help your efforts to manage your personality disorder. Don’t skip therapy sessions, even if you don’t feel like going. Think about your goals for treatment and work toward achieving them.
• Take your medications as directed. Even if you’re feeling well, don’t skip your medications. If you stop, symptoms may come back. You could also experience withdrawal-like symptoms from stopping a medication too suddenly.
• Learn about your condition. Education about your condition can empower you and motivate you to stick to your treatment plan.
• Get active. Physical activity can help manage many symptoms, such as depression, stress and anxiety. Activity can also counteract the effects of some psychiatric medications that may cause weight gain. Consider walking, jogging, swimming, gardening or taking up another form of physical activity that you enjoy.
• Avoid drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and street drugs can worsen personality disorder symptoms or interact with medications.
• Get routine medical care. Don’t neglect checkups or skip visits to your primary care professional, especially if you aren’t feeling well. You may have a new health problem that needs to be addressed, or you may be experiencing side effects of medication.
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