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Personality disorders

A personality disorder is a mental disorder in which we experience a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving. If we suffer from a personality disorder, we often experience challenges perceiving and relating to other people and situations. This causes significant problems in forming and maintaining positive relationships, work, school, and social life.

In some cases, we may not realise we have a personality disorder because our way of thinking and behaving seems natural to us, or we may even blame others for the challenges we have.

The difference between personality traits and personality disorders

A personality trait can be defined as something about us that impacts how we think, feel and behave on an enduring basis. Personality traits dictate these things on a consistent basis, rather than in isolated incidents. For example, we may be more extroverted and generally prefer the company of others, or we may be introverted and enjoy our alone time. 

Unfortunately, the term ‘personality disorder’ has often been associated with stigma. We don’t like to think that there’s a problem with our personality or that it’s hard for others to be around us. However, personality disorders are genuine mental health disorders that can truly cause significant impairment and/or distress.

What is the root cause of personality disorders?

Currently, the causes of personality disorders aren’t entirely understood. Current studies show that the development of a personality disorder is due to a combination of early childhood environment and genetics. People with particular personality types, such as borderline personality disorders (BPD), are known to have higher rates of childhood abuse, neglect or trauma.

Personality disorders usually develop in teenage or early adulthood years. 

What are the 10 personality disorders?

There are 10 different types of personality disorders, and some types may be more difficult to recognise compared to others. They’re broken up into 3 clusters.

Cluster A

People with ‘Cluster A’ personality disorders typically experience ‘odd’ or ‘eccentric’ thoughts or behaviours:

  • Paranoid personality disorder: Frequently suspicious and mistrustful of others. They generally interpret other people’s motives as harmful (even without sufficient evidence), and may be hostile or emotionally detached.
  • Schizoid personality disorder: A significant lack of interest in social relationships and an unemotional response to social interactions.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: Can behave eccentrically, have peculiar dress, have unusual or bizarre thoughts and beliefs, feel discomfort in social settings, and have trouble forming close relationships.

Cluster B

People with ‘Cluster B’ personality disorders typically experience unstable emotions and dramatic or impulsive behaviours:

  • Antisocial personality disorder: A disregard for the law or for the rights of others. They experience a lack of remorse including lying, aggression, violence or illegal behaviour.
  • Histrionic personality disorder: Highly strung and dramatic, feel an excessive need for attention and approval and may be obsessed with their appearance.
  • Borderline personality disorder: A strong fear of abandonment, intense and unstable relationships, extreme emotional outbursts, deliberate self-harm/other self-destructive behaviour and a fragile sense of self or identity.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder: Inflated self-esteem, the need for admiration, a lack of empathy or concern for others, and fantasies of success, power or beauty.
Cluster C

People with ‘Cluster C’ personality disorders typically experience anxious and fearful thoughts and behaviour:

  • Avoidant personality disorder: Will avoid social interaction. Similarly to social anxiety disorder, people with avoidant personality disorder are extremely sensitive to negative judgements by others. They may also be timid and socially isolated with feelings of inadequacy.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Preoccupied by rules, orderliness and value work above other aspects of life. They are perfectionistic and have a need to be in control. Note that this disorder is different from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Dependent personality disorder: Fear of being alone and a constant need to be taken care of. They experience significant difficulty separating from loved ones and/or making decisions independently.

Getting help

It’s important not to assume that someone you know has a personality disorder just because they are behaving in a particular way. But if you or a loved one show the above signs of a personality disorder, then it is worth speaking to a health professional.

Why should I speak to a professional?

A personality disorder is hard to manage alone. The good news is, you don’t have to. Talking to someone in the Mind Matters team is the first step towards getting support and treatment.

If you or someone you know is any immediate danger of suicide, then please call 000 and ask for an ambulance. Don’t leave the person alone until help arrives.

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