Personality disorder (PD) is a type of mental disorder where a person thinks, behaves and interacts with others in a way that is different to what is expected by the cultural norms around them. Having a personality disorder can mean that it is difficult to build or sustain meaningful relationships, that a person isn’t able to adapt and fit into a community or that they struggle or experience distress with significant change in their life such as when moving or starting a new job. Personality disorders usually become noticeable in a person during adolescence.
If your way of thinking, behaving and feeling is very rigid and causing you to have difficulties in everyday life it may be worth considering if you have a personality disorder.
There are several classifications for personality disorders with these disorders typically existing on a spectrum, like regular personality features, from insignificant to prominent. As a result of these disorders existing on a spectrum some people may exhibit only some symptoms of a personality disorder or they may display symptoms for multiple types of personality disorders.
One of the most common methods used to categorise personality disorders splits these disorders into three distinct "clusters." At the root of this classification is the definition that a personality disorder is a permanent and inflexible pattern of thinking that causes considerable suffering or impairment in day to day life. To be counted as a personality disorder there should be no evidence that the impairment is the result of substance abuse or another medical condition.
People suffering from this type of personality disorder are often described as having “strange” or “weird” ideas or behaviours:
This category is distinguished by unstable emotions and dramatic or impulsive behaviour.
This category is distinguished by anxious and scared thoughts and behaviour as follows:
The symptoms of personality disorder vary according to the type of personality disorder however, many of the symptoms of overlap.
Common signs of a personality disorder include:
It is important to note that as with any mental health disorder, many people will exhibit some of the symptoms and characteristics of a personality disorder without actually having one.
The exact cause of personality disorder is not conclusively known. Scientific research suggests that there are a variety of potential causes and risk factors that may increase the likelihood of a person having a personality disorder.
In general, personality is created in childhood. It is defined by a mix of how you are born and your early childhood influences. There is therefore a connection of personality disorder with your genetics and childhood. People who have experienced childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect are more likely to develop a personality disorder. There are a range of genes that are responsible for different personality traits and at the moment research is insufficient to conclusively say which genes can create a predisposition to a personality disorder.
Many people have many personalities and may behave a certain way without having a personality disorder. However if someone displays the symptoms in a way that is affecting their ability to form meaningful relationships, their ability to perform at work or succeed in other important aspects of work it is important to speak to a doctor. If you are a friend or family member seeing this behaviour in another it is important to encourage them to speak to a doctor. It is possible for a person with a personality disorder to be unaware that their behaviour is unusual or causing them everyday difficulties as the behaviour or way of thinking seems normal to them. Be gentle when recommending that another person seek help.
To diagnose a personality disorder a doctor may inquire about current symptoms and behaviours, ways of thinking, previous mental health concerns, family history of mental health, experience in relationships, medical history, and any drug or alcohol problems. The doctor may also perform a physical examination and blood tests to rule out any medical concerns. They may require additional evaluation or therapy from a psychiatrist or psychologist if they think it is necessary.
The end goal of proper treatment and support for a personality disorder is to help a person learn to control unhelpful symptoms in order to be able to maintain healthy relationships, and have a meaningful and rewarding life. Learning to trust a doctor or therapist might be challenging for someone with a personality disorder however establishing a solid relationship with a healthcare professional is a vital step towards treatment. The type of treatment will differ depending on the type of personality disorder and any other disorders that may also be present.