Our personality traits shape how we think, feel and behave, and thus how we manage stressful events, adjust to new situations, and engage with others. A personality disorder exists when our traits center around unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving. A personality disorder makes it difficult to manage and control impulses and emotions, connect with other people (i.e., family, friends, colleagues) and maintain relationships. These difficulties are chronic in nature and negatively impact one’s self perceptions and overall mental health and well-being. Those with a personality disorder often feel isolated, are at greater risk for developing alcohol/drug problems and other mental health issues, and are at higher risk for suicide and self-harm. Personality disorders not only disrupt the lives of the diagnosed individual, but also those in his/her support system. People with personality disorders tend to have limited insight into their contribution to the problems they face, instead seeing others as the root of their difficulties.
Personality disorders fall into clusters. The first cluster is marked by suspicion and mistrust of others and includes Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal and Antisocial Personality Disorder (PD). The second cluster is marked by emotionality and impulsivity and includes Borderline, Histrionic and Narcissistic PD. The third cluster is marked by anxiety and includes Avoidant, Dependent and Obsessive Compulsive PD.
Most personality disorders begin in the teenage and early adult years. The exact cause is not clear, but many theories point to neurologic and genetic factors coupled with early childhood trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect). A personality disorder is unique to the individual and no two people will present in the exact same way.
There is no cure for personality disorders, but they can be well managed through long-term psychological treatment. Psychotherapy provides an opportunity for greater insight and understanding about personality characteristics that are contributing to difficulties. Through therapy, an individual may learn to manage symptoms and reduce behaviors that cause interpersonal problems and difficulties in overall function. Sometimes it is helpful to take medication adjunctively, such as antidepressants, anxiolytics and mood stabilizers, depending upon other mental health issues that develop alongside the personality disorder. Without treatment, problems stemming from personality disorders will be long lasting.