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Personality disorders

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

In some cases, you may not realize that you have a personality disorder because your way of thinking and behaving seems natural to you. You may even find yourself blaming others for the challenges you have.

How do personality traits differ from personality disorders?

A personality trait can be defined as something about a person that impacts how they think, feel and behave on an enduring basis. Personality traits dictate these things on a consistent basis, rather than in isolated incidents. For example, some people are more extroverted and generally prefer the company of others, while others are introverted and enjoy being alone.

Unfortunately, the term ‘Personality Disorder’ has often been associated with stigma. No one likes to think that there is a problem with their personality or that it makes it harder for other people to be around them. However, personality disorders are genuine mental health disorders that cause significant impairment and/or distress.

The causes of personality disorders

Currently, the causes of personality disorders are not entirely understood. Based on the current research, studies have shown 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, are known to have higher rates of childhood abuse, neglect or trauma.

Personality disorders usually develop in the teenage years or early adulthood. There are several different types of personality disorders, and some types may be more difficult to recognise compared to others.

The different types of personality disorders include:

Cluster A

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

  • Paranoid personality disorder: people with this disorder are 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: people experiencing this disorder experience a significant lack of interest in social relationships and have an unemotional response to social interactions.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: this may cause people to 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 – people experiencing this disorder will have 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 – people with this disorder are known to be highly strung and dramatic, feel an excessive need for attention and approval and may be obsessed with their appearance.
  • Borderline personality disorder – the main features of this disorder include 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 – a pattern of inflated self-esteem, need for admiration, 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:  people with this disorder will typically avoid social interaction. Similarly to social anxiety disorder, people with avoidant personality disorder are extremely sensitive to negative judgements by others. Further, they may be timid and socially isolated with feelings of inadequacy.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: people with this disorder are 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: people with this disorder typically experience a 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.

When should I speak to a professional?

It is 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 signs of a personality disorder such as mood swings, erratic behaviours or behaviours that impair relationships, then it is worth speaking to a health professional.

A personality disorder is hard to manage alone. The good news is, you never have to go through it alone. Talking to a doctor or mental health professional is the first step towards getting support and treatment.

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

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