Everything You Need To Know About Personality Disorders
Most people know about the different types of mental illnesses. While anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are still taboo in some circles, there is at least a lot more awareness than there once was. The same cannot be said for personality disorders.
An estimated 14.8% of American adults have personality disorders, but much of what the general public knows comes from unreliable sources. Movies and TV shows often use personality disorders as to create a quick-and-easy backstory. Unfortunately, this strategy is more often than not used as a profile for someone dangerous.
Public awareness of personality disorders is crucially important. But what is a personality disorder in the first place?
What Is A Personality Disorder?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a personality disorder refers to “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture.” In other words, the individual thinks, feels, and acts in certain ways that make it difficult to function within their own society. These patterns may make it tough to hold down a job and are often responsible for destroying relationships. In very rare cases, a personality disorder may lead to behavior that put others in danger. Far more often, personality disorders put the individual himself in danger.
Personality disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For example, environmental factors such as repeated trauma and abuse for example, can lead to a pattern of paranoia. Genetic factors, such as a chronic serotonin deficiency, can lead to a depressive pattern and chronic lack of motivation.
To get a clearer idea of what a personality disorder is, let’s take a look at some of the most common personality disorders.
Types of Personality Disorders
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD):
Not to be confused with OCD (which is actually very different), OCPD is the most common personality disorder, affecting 8% of American adults. OCPD is characterised by patterns of overly-controlling behavior, perfectionism, fixations with rules and lists, and rigid adherence to moral codes. While people with OCPD may be successful in their work lives, considering the high standards to which they hold themselves, they may also be paralyzed by the constant pressure. They also struggle to maintain healthy relationships due to the unmeetable expectations they have of others.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):
BPD is another common disorder, and one that is often represented in television and movies. It is characterised by patterns of emotional instability, fear of abandonment, outbursts of anger and violence, intense and unstable relationships, threats of suicide, and self-harm. Borderline PD may be caused by a history of sexual abuse, parental neglect, and models of similar patterns by parents or guardians. It leads to many damaged relationships, difficulty holding down jobs, legal problems, and physical damage.
Less common, but still highly prevalent, personality disorders include:
Paranoid Personality Disorder: The person has an unsubstantiated belief that people are trying to sabotage him/her. A general sense of paranoia and suspicion of people and patterns.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: The person has an inflated view of their own importance, usually at the expense of others.
Antisocial Personality Disorder: The person has a disregard for the feelings or wellbeing of others, often leading to damaging or criminal acts for personal gain.
Schizoid Personality Disorder: The person avoids social interaction and is uninterested and often oblivious to social cues and expectations.
Avoidant Personality Disorder: The person is excessively shy and harbors chronic feelings of inadequacy.
There are a number of other personality disorders, all of which negatively impact the suffering individual and those around them.
Symptoms of Personality Disorders
Since there are different types of personality disorders, each is characterized by its own range of symptoms. However, there are certain common symptoms that just about all of them share:
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Dysfunctional relationships
- Difficulty understanding and putting into practice work and social mores
Facts and Statistics
Personality disorders are very prevalent in the United States. A 2004 study found that almost 15% of American adults suffers from at least one personality disorder. That’s more than 30 million people! This study did not include borderline, schizotypal, or paranoid disorders. However, there is often comorbidity – in other words, people who suffer from one personality disorder may well be diagnosed with a second.
OCPD was found to be the most common personality disorder – almost 8% of Americans fit the criteria.
Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of personality disorders are both genetic and environmental. Certain traits, often called one’s temperament, may be passed on genetically from parent to child. The environment in which one grew up also has a significant part to play in the development of a personality disorder.
Risk factors include (as per Mayo Clinic):
- Family history of personality disorders or other mental illness
- Abusive, unstable or chaotic family life during childhood
- Being diagnosed with childhood conduct disorder
- Variations in brain chemistry and structure
Treatment of Personality Disorders
Treatment of personality disorders will differ based on the disorder. Most commonly, personality disorders are treated with a combination of therapy and medication. Medication is used to improve mood symptoms. Therapy generally aims to help the individual learn to regulate their emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), for example, are both therapies that teach practical skills, such as reality testing. This works by challenging irrational thoughts over and over again until patterns begin to change. DBT is centered around mindfulness practices, which help individuals regulate strong emotions by changing their relationship to the emotions. Mindful observation of the moment means that the person does not try to resist or hold onto the emotion. When left undisturbed, emotions pass over a matter of seconds.
Personality disorders are very complex and diagnosis should be done by a licensed mental health professional. However, they are far more common than most people suspect, and awareness and understanding is therefore very important. If you suspect that you or a loved one may suffer from a personality disorder, know that help is available and you can learn to live happily and effectively.