What is Personality Disorder?

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.

Everyone has different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It is these thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that make up our ‘personality’. These are often called our traits. They shape the way we view the world and the way we relate to others. By the time we are adults these will make us part of who we are.

You can think of your traits as sitting along a scale. For example, everyone may feel emotional, get jealous, or want to be liked at times. But it is when these traits start to cause problems that you may be diagnosed as having a personality disorder.

A personality disorder can affect how you cope with life, manage relationships, and feel emotionally. You may find that your beliefs and ways of dealing with day-to-day life are different from others. You can find it difficult to change them.

You may find your emotions confusing, tiring, and hard to control. This can be distressing for you and others. Because it is distressing, you may find that you develop other mental health problems like depression or anxiety.

You may also do other things such as drink heavily, use drugs, or self harm to cope.

Research shows that personality disorders are fairly common. Around one in 20 people live with some form of personality disorder.

How is Personality Disorder diagnosed?

Doctors use guidelines for diagnosing mental health problems. The main guidelines used are the:

• International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and

• Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) produced by the American Psychiatric Association.

When making a diagnosis your doctor will:

• think about your symptoms, and

• compare them to the guidelines as stated above.

A doctor will ask you questions about your life and what feelings, emotions, and behaviours you have. This is called an ‘assessment’. The doctor should be a psychiatrist.

You shouldn’t feel that it’s your fault, or that you’re to blame if you’ve been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Problems with diagnosis are explored in more detail in further down on this page.

Personality Disorder Types

Personality disorders diagnoses are grouped into three ‘clusters’, A, B, and C.

Cluster A personality disorders

People with cluster A personality disorders can find it hard to relate to other people. Their behaviour might seem odd or eccentric to other people.

If you have been diagnosed with this, you may feel very suspicious of others without good reason. This can make you feel that other people are being nasty to you. Even though this isn’t true . You might feel easily rejected or hold grudges.

With schizoid personality disorder, you may have few social relationships and will prefer to be alone. You may not enjoy or want to be part of a close relationship. This may include being part of a family. You might appear cold and removed from situations.

Schizotypal personality disorder is where you have problems with relationships with other people. You may have strange thoughts, feel paranoid and have odd behaviour or appearance. You might have an inappropriate display of feelings.


Cluster B Personality disorders

People with cluster B personality disorders can find it hard to control their emotions. Other people might see them as unpredictable.

Being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) may mean you are impulsive and reckless. It might mean you don’t think about how your actions affect other people.

You may get easily frustrated, aggressive and be prone to violence. You may lie to get what you want. Others may see this as acting selfishly and without guilt. You may blame others for problems you are having in your life

You may have strong emotions, mood swings, and feelings you can’t cope with if you have borderline personality disorder (BPD). You may feel anxious and distressed a lot of the time.

You may have problems with how you see yourself and your identity. You may self-harm or use drugs and alcohol to cope with these feelings. This can affect the relationships you have with other people.

BPD is also known as ‘emotionally unstable personality disorder’.

If you are diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder, you may like being the centre of attention. You may feel anxious about being ignored. This can cause you to be lively and over-dramatic.

You may become bored with normal routines, worry a lot about your appearance and want to be noticed. You might be easily influenced by others.

Narcissistic personality disorder can mean you have a high sense of self importance. You may fantasize about unlimited success and want attention and admiration.

You may feel you are more entitled to things than other people are. You might act selfishly to gain success. You may be unwilling or unable to acknowledge the feelings or needs of others.


Cluster C personality disorders

People with cluster C personality disorders have strong feelings of fear or anxiety.

If you have dependent personality disorder, you may allow other people to take responsibility for parts of your life. You may not have much self confidence or be unable to do things alone. You may find that you put your own needs after the needs of others. You may feel hopeless or fear being alone or abandoned.

If you have avoidant personality disorder, you may have a fear of being judged negatively. This can cause you to feel uncomfortable in social situations. You might not like criticism, worry a lot and have low self esteem. You may want affection but worry that you will be rejected.

This is also known as anankastic personality disorder.

If you have this condition, you may feel anxious about things that seem unorganised or ‘messy’. Everything you do must be just right, and nothing can be left to chance. You may be very cautious about things and think a lot about small details. You may have problems completing tasks due to your own high standards. Others may see you as being controlling.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is different to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). If you have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, you may believe your actions are justified. People with OCD tend to realise that their behaviour isn’t rational.

You can find out more about ‘Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)’ by clicking here


What causes personality disorders?

It isn’t clear what causes personality disorders. It seems that a mix of factors can mean some people develop personality disorders.

These can include:

• biological factors, when it is passed on through your genes, and

• the environment around you when you were growing up.

Many people diagnosed with personality disorders have experience of trauma. These might include difficulties growing up, including childhood neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

When you are growing up, you learn to cope with emotional changes and make relationships with other people. Children who are abused or neglected often don’t learn these things. So, they may find it more difficult to manage how they feel when they are adults.

This doesn’t mean that all people who experience trauma will develop personality disorders. But they may be more likely to.

Where to get help and treatment

Personality disorders are usually treated with group psychological treatments or talking therapies. Below we explain more about the different types of therapies.

The options for treating personality disorders are continuously developing.

You and your doctor or healthcare team should agree on a treatment plan that works best for you.

If your GP feels you have a complex personality disorder, they may refer you to a:

• community mental health team or a community Clinic that has mental health facilities, or

• specialist personality disorder service or unit, if there is one locally.

These services are made up of professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists. They will have experience in helping people with personality disorders. 

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