|   Answering your mental health questions

What Is Personality Disorder?

Personality disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause sufferers to have significant difficulty relating to other people. People with personality disorders are prone to angry outbursts, frequent mood swings and poor impulse control. They are often isolated because they have difficulty making or keeping friends.

A personality disorder can have a far-reaching negative impact on a person’s life because it can interfere with their ability not only to maintain meaningful relationships, but to be successful in a job and function appropriately in society.

Types of Personality Disorders

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, there are 11 diagnosable personality disorders. In addition to the shared symptoms described above, each disorder has distinct symptoms. Examples of specific personality disorders include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder. Characterized by a lack of empathy for others and a lack of understanding or regard for societal norms of right and wrong. Sociopaths suffer from this kind of personality disorder.
  • Borderline personality disorder. Characterized by a distorted, negative and unstable self-image. The sufferer often feels that they are worthless or even evil.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder. As the name suggests, people with this disorder suffer from extreme narcissism, but it is only surface-deep. They have a disproportionate sense of their own importance, crave admiration and place little importance on other people’s feelings, but they are emotionally vulnerable to criticism.
  • Dependent personality disorder. Sufferers have an unhealthy dependence on others for feelings of self-worth, which also makes them easily hurt by others. They are uncomfortable being alone and may need outside input to make even simple decisions.
  • Schizoid personality disorder. The sufferer is detached and indifferent to connecting with other people. They are emotionally aloof and usually do not want to forge relationships with others, even family members.

Risk Factors for Personality Disorders

Experts believe that personality disorders are the result of a combination of biological and circumstantial factors. Some risk factors for developing a personality disorder are:

Did You Know?

Personality disorders are not uncommon. According to statistical information from the National Institute of Mental Health, a little over 9 percent of Americans live with some kind of personality disorder.

  • Childhood environment. Children who grew up in an abusive, neglectful or otherwise negative home are more likely to have personality disorders as adults.
  • Loss of parent(s). Children who lose a parent through a bad divorce, or one or both parents through death, are at an increased risk of developing a personality disorder.
  • Genetics. People with a family history of personality disorders have a greater chance of having a personality disorder themselves.

Personality Disorder Treatment

Often, someone with a personality disorder is unable to recognize that they are displaying symptoms of a mental illness; they perceive their behavior as normal and tend to consistently blame others for their problems.

Like many mental illnesses, the typical approach to treating a personality disorder is with a combination of medication and therapy.

  • Medications. If you have been diagnosed with a personality disorder, your doctor or therapist will likely prescribe mood-stabilizing drugs and/or antidepressants, which are often effective in the treatment of personality disorder symptoms. Sometimes anti-anxiety or antipsychotic drugs are also prescribed.
  • Individual or group psychotherapy. People with personality disorders can benefit greatly from the behavior-modifying strategies of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. A therapist trained in CBT will implement this kind of psychotherapy to help you improve processes such as your recognition of distorted thought patterns, your behavioral response to stress and your approach to interacting with other people.
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