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Personality Disorders: What You Need to Know

Personality Disorders 101

Personality disorders vary greatly in their expression, but one thing is clear: they affect an individual at the very core of their being: their personality. To understand the effects of personality disorder(s), one has to define what exactly constitutes personality. Personality can be defined as the daily expression of the sum of life experiences, personal philosophy, culture, environmental factors, and inherited characteristics. Personality typically is the same throughout your life, although it can evolve with age.

So what exactly is a personality disorder? The term is used to describe the internal conflict that people go through when their personality may not fit the expectations of their culture, family, society, and/or peers. Personality disorders are usually long-term and are characterized by some sort of pattern within behavior.

Personality disorders can be experienced differently based on a variety of factors. There are 10 main types of personality disorders, and each type affects emotions as well as how we respond to external stimuli (the behavior of others that is out of our control [Medline Plus]). They can also change how people treat their relationships and contribute to acquiring other psychological disorders. The specific types of personality disorders are as follows (APA), typically organized in clusters:

Cluster A

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder

  • Near-permanent suspicion of others as being dangerous or wishing to harm you

  • Pattern of seeing others in a negative and dangerous light

  • Schizoid Personality Disorder

  • Often shows detachment from personal relationships

  • Prefers solitude over company

  • Little to no interest in praise or criticism received from others

  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder

  • Pattern of being uncomfortable with close relationships

  • May behave eccentrically or have uncommon beliefs

  • May have social anxiety

Cluster B

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder

  • Disregard for the rights of others

  • Frequent lying, stealing, and/or cheating

  • Can be compulsive

  • Borderline Personality Disorder

  • Intense emotions, poor self-image, and impulsivity

  • Ongoing feelings of extreme anger or emptiness

  • Instability in relationships

  • Repeated suicide attempts

  • Histrionic Personality Disorder

  • Excessive emotion and need for attention

  • May be uncomfortable when they are not the center of attention

  • Exaggerated or rapidly changing emotions

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  • Need for admiration coupled with a lack of empathy for others

  • May have a sense of entitlement or lack empathy

  • May take advantage of others frequently

Cluster C

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder

  • Shyness to an extreme degree

  • Preoccupied with being criticized or rejected

  • Feelings of inadequacy

  • Sensitivity to criticism

  • Dependent Personality Disorder

  • Obsessive need to be taken care of coupled with submissiveness

  • May have difficulty making daily decisions

  • Fear of inability to take care of themselves

  • Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

  • Preoccupation with orderliness, cleanliness, perfection, and control

  • May work excessively, be overly focused on details, or be inflexible in their morals

  • This is not the same as OCD. For more information about OCD, refer to our article here

Each one of these disorders are different, yet they have similarities in that they affect one’s personality and, by extension, behavior (Mayo Clinic). Their causes can also be similar. Because personality forms during childhood and is very resistant to change, the environment in which one grows up determines a large portion of their personality. This means that environmental factors are a major cause of personality disorders. In addition to these, genetic factors have some extent of influence. To a large extent, a combination of both these factors are the main reasons for personality disorders.

These factors showcase some of the many risk conditions for developing personality disorders. For example, being in an abusive home or relationship, having a chaotic or unstable personal life, having a family history of personality disorders, as well as a childhood conduct disorder can increase the risk of having a personality disorder. Furthermore, personality disorders can severely impact relationships. The variety of symptoms caused by said disorders can create unstable relationships with others that may lead to a dependency on those relationships. Social interaction may be difficult on a day-to-day basis, as a result of personality disorders, and one may think isolation is the only solution.

As personality disorders are complex and deeply integrated into one’s psyche, they can be very hard to treat. The most common treatment for personality disorders is psychotherapy, of which behavioral therapy is popular for treating personality disorders specifically. Other treatments involve a range of medications, mainly antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medicines. These are mainly used to treat chemical imbalances in the brain that may be causing anxiety or other strong emotions. Popular medications include Risperidol, Haldol, and Xanax. However, it is important to determine the type of personality disorder before getting treatment, as treatment needs to be specialized for the needs of the patient. For example, the treatment for avoidant personality disorder is not going to be the same as the treatment for narcissistic personality disorder, as the two disorders are near opposites.

It is very important to realize that personality disorders are not the fault of the individual. Oftentimes, personality disorders have negative factors of childhood trauma. As previously stated, the environment in which one’s personality develops is critical to the expression of personality disorders. Childhood trauma can contribute to a variety of personality disorders. For example, having an abusive parent(s) can lead to paranoid personality disorder, antisocial disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc. Trauma can affect an individual’s personality to an extreme degree, but the way the individual perceives the trauma is also important. Referring to the earlier example, if a child sees an abusive and self-absorbed parent, they might think that such behaviors are okay and develop antisocial personality disorder. However, if the child is in a state of permanent fear within the same household, paranoid personality disorder may develop.

With personality disorders, as with any psychological disorder, it is always important to seek help.. Mental health problems are very common, with millions suffering worldwide. This is not to suggest that people should find solidarity in mutual suffering, but rather the fact that mental health issues are common and therefore, one shouldn’t be afraid or feel alone in seeking help. People genuinely care about you and there is always someone who will understand what you are going through - and that is an understated comfort.

At Letters to Strangers, we offer solace in the form of letters and other youth-focused forms of healing and support. Some of the most powerful thoughts, profound musings, and poetic ramblings of the mind are laid bare on an 11" by 8.5" sheet of paper and delivered to you. Each letter is a beautiful journey into the soul of humanity on roads of graphite and rivers of ink. All you need is paper and a pen, and maybe it'll help us make sense of past trauma. It’s one way for us to begin the journey to protect against the onset of conditions like personality disorders, or learn to open up to others if we are in the middle of that journey. At the end of the day, please remember: you are not alone.


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