Personality Disorders

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What is a Personality Disorder?

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A personality disorder is one of several types of mental afflictions that produce inflexible and unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviors. People with personality disorders have difficulty grasping accurate assessments of situations and people. They often lead to significant and negative consequences in relationships and functionality.

People affected by personality disorders will regularly exhibit behaviors that are contrary to what is perceived as “normal” by general society. Because of the dysfunction that causes personality disorders, it can be difficult for people to recognize that they are affected, further complicating the strain and discomfort in the situation.

These long-term patterns of conduct are incredibly disruptive to relationships as well as performance at work or in school. Accordingly, the sooner these problems can be identified and treated, the sooner healthy relationships can resume.

Who is affected by personality disorders?

Studies estimate that 9.1 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with some form of personality disorder. The most common is borderline personality disorder, affecting approximately 1.6 percent of the U.S. population. Experts believe the actual numbers are higher, as these figures do not represent undiagnosed cases.


What causes personality disorders?

Personality disorders are mental problems resulting from malfunctions in the brain. These affections may result from genetic transmission and/or from environmental factors such as traumatic events. In the latter case, personality disorders have often developed following some form of abuse during childhood.

Commonly, co-existing conditions accompany personality disorders. These disorders can obviously complicate situations that involve personality disorders and include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance abuse
Woman with a personality disorder talking to a therapist

What are the symptoms of personality disorders?

With many forms of recognized personality disorders, experts have grouped these conditions into three “clusters” to aid in assessment and study. These categories and their broad symptoms are:

  • Cluster A – Demonstrate odd thinking and eccentric behavior. (paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders)
  • Cluster B – Demonstrate highly dramatic and emotional responses (antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders)
  • Cluster C – Demonstrate fearful thinking and anxious behavior (avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders)

How do personality disorders affect people?

This wide range of personality disorders produces a tremendously varied list of symptoms and effects. Each of the clusters and specific disorders listed above generate unique symptoms. Here is a short list of each disorder and some of the common symptoms associated with each:

Paranoid Personality Disorder – patients suffer from paranoia and basic distrust of others, even without any substantiation of ill intent. Symptoms include:

  • Prevalent distrust and suspicion of other people and their intentions
  • Groundless belief that other people wish to undermine or entrap the person
  • Reading threatening meanings behind truly innocent words and actions

Schizoid Personality Disorder – not to be confused with schizophrenia, schizoid patients seem apathetic in relationships and lacking in emotion. Symptoms include:

  • Indifference toward most pleasurable activities
  • Difficulty relating to others; appearing apathetic toward others
  • Lack of interest in developing familiar relationships
  • Narrow spectrum of emotional expression

Schizotypal Personality Disorder – also different than schizophrenia, schizotypal patients engage in uncommon, even superstitious and peculiar, beliefs and practices. Symptoms include:

  • Odd thinking patterns and behaviors, often manifesting in dress and other external practices
  • Fantastical beliefs, such as possession of magical powers or psychic abilities
  • Social anxiety and avoidance of developing close relationships

Antisocial Personality Disorder – antisocial patients tend to abuse, exploit, and manipulate others without any semblance of contrition. Symptoms include:

  • Indifference to the feelings, needs, and rights of others
  • Aggressive and violent actions
  • Reckless, impulsive behavior, often putting self or others at risk

Borderline Personality Disorder – borderline patients frequently engage in impulsive actions and dramatic emotional responses that complicate the ability to sustain healthy relationships. Symptoms include:

  • Distorted self image, often unstable and/or fragile
  • Extreme reactions including severe mood swings
  • Irrational fear of rejection and abandonment

Histrionic Personality Disorder – histrionic patients seek attention and give overly exaggerated responses to common occurrences. Symptoms include:

  • Need of constant approval and attention
  • Dramatic assertions with little support
  • Misinterpretation of relationship status, usually believing they are deeper than they truly are

Narcissistic Personality Disorder – narcissistic patients show an inflated sense of self-importance as well as an unreasonable need for admiration. Symptoms include:

  • Overblown feelings of self-importance and sense of superiority
  • Fantasies about one’s attractiveness, success, money, and power
  • Exaggeration of achievements and abilities

Avoidant Personality Disorder – avoidant patients tend to be overly shy and fear criticism to the point of avoiding social and work interactions. Symptoms include:

  • Exceedingly sensitive to criticism and/or rejection
  • Avoidance of work or personal situations that involve social activity
  • Overly fearful of trying new things and potential embarrassment

Dependent Personality Disorder – dependent patients have a need to be around others and often have fit the description of “clingy.” Symptoms include:

  • Excessive dependence on others and being cared for
  • Assuming a submissive role in relationships with others
  • Fear of isolation and having to care for oneself

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder – obsessive compulsive patients possess obstinate and excessively rigid thought patterns and behaviors. Symptoms include:

  • Fixation on details, order, and rules
  • Excessive perfectionism, leading to anxiety and distress when unrealistic expectations are not me
  • Desire to control people and situations

How do you treat personality disorders?

As with any mental health concern, the best place to begin is with a proper diagnosis. Otherwise, you might incur more harm than healing through treatment that is inappropriate for your actual problem. At Bridgepoint, we work to ensure that we thoroughly examine, question, and test our visitors before they become patients. Only after achieving confidence in a true diagnosis can we be comfortable moving forward with a treatment plan.

The most common form of treatment for personality disorders involves a series of sessions with a therapist. During these periods, your therapist will work with you to re-train your brain away from unhealthy behaviors and toward “normal” processes that will reduce and/or eliminate the unwanted symptoms. Before beginning any regimen of therapy, be sure your therapist is trained and fully licensed to practice in that discipline. This will protect your future mental health from further complications.

While medications do not directly assist in treating personality disorders, they can aid in reducing some symptoms. Antidepressants and other anti-anxiety medicines can provide some needed stability while you work through your situation with your therapist.

Family members may be able to play a role in recovery as well. Your Bridgepoint counselors will incorporate any and all techniques that will be beneficial to your overall recovery plan. Contact us today to begin your healing process and restore the relationships damaged by the personality disorders affecting you and your loved ones.

Visit Our Resources Page

Bridgepoint encourages clinicians, patients, and their loved ones to research new methodologies and techniques to improve mental health and wellbeing. To assist with your own learning, we’ve put together a variety of resources on a variety of topics – including genomics – to help you on your mental health journey.

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