Personality Disorders

It can be difficult to pinpoint your “personality” because it comprises so many different traits. However, we can generally sum up one’s personality as all of the emotional and behavior qualities which, in the course of our daily regular lives, make us unique. Personality traits are usually stable and quite predictable.

Personality disorders are characterized as consistent, chronic characteristics that can interfere with normal daily functioning.

What is a Personality Disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV), describes personality disorders as “clinical syndromes which have long lasting symptoms and encompass the individual’s way of interacting with the world.” If you have a personality disorder, you cannot change these traits because they remain a consistent part of your daily routine.

One especially important note: it is not uncommon for you to have personality traits that do not fit cultural norms. This alone does not mean that you have a personality disorder. Rather, to qualify as a personality disorder, the personality traits must be causing you significant emotional, occupational and/or social problems.”

How Many People Are Affected?

Personality Disorders

9% of American adults have a personality disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 9% of American adults have a personality disorder as defined above. Similar numbers are found worldwide. A host of celebrities and stars from a variety of fields have spoken publicly about their own struggles with personality disorders. Paula Deen suffered from agoraphobia and spent 20 years of her life locked in her home; Elton John battled with bulimia, and Michael Phelps overcame attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD with medication, therapy and the support of his family and school.

What Causes a Personality Disorder?

There is evidence that personality disorders are genetic – studies of sets of twins who were raised apart from one another and as adults exhibit very similar personalities and temperaments. In terms of identical twins, the chances of both rather than one developing a personality disorders is several times higher than that of fraternal twins.

There is also evidence that environmental factors can cause personality disorders. For example, some personality disorders develop as a result of the parenting received as children. It is also possible for personality traits during childhood to intensify and turn into personality disorders in adulthood. For example, a shy childhood could develop avoidant personality disorder as an adult.

Additionally, various medical problems can cause forgetfulness, disturbances in thinking, mood changes and even hallucinations. Examples include thyroid imbalance, trauma, exposure to toxic chemicals, hormonal changes, the effects of surgery and diabetes.

Signs of Personality Disorders

Personality disorders encompass a variety of individual signs and symptoms. According to the International Classification of Diseases 10 (ICD 10), to be diagnosed with a personality disorder you must have:

  1. Long-lasting personality traits that stray from cultural norms in at least two of the areas listed below: cognitive views and interpretations of the world, degree of emotional responsiveness, impulse control and gratifying needs and/or ways of relating to others.
  2. Personality traits that cannot be changed and is evident in virtually all situations, not just specific situations.
  3. Personality traits that negatively affect you and/or your society.
  4. Personality traits that are chronic in nature and began in either late childhood or adolescence.

In general, if you have a personality disorder, you will have trouble making friends or interacting with others in social situations. In addition, you may experience mood swings, isolate yourself from society, suddenly become angry, and/or abuse drugs.

Types of Personality Disorders

Personality disorders can be broken down into Cluster A, B and C types. Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by unusual ways of thinking or acting. These types of personality disorders include:

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder

Cluster B personality disorders exhibit themselves with theatrical, emotional ways of thinking or acting. These personality disorders include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder

Cluster C personality disorders exhibit themselves with anxiety and fear in thinking and actions. They include:

  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

What Treatments Are Available For Personality Disorders?

Personality disorder treatments depend on the specific nature of the disorder, its level of impact in your daily functioning and your current life situation. Often, personality disorder treatments need to take place on many levels including: psychological counseling, medications and family support. Many personality disorders are long-lasting and require long-term treatment plans.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective psychological treatments for personality disorders. It focuses on making the patient aware of the unhealthy personality traits and also making active behavioral changes to counter the traits. Other types of psychological therapy can also be used for personality disorders, including psychodynamic and psycho-education therapy.

If medications are required for treating a personality disorder, they could include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety, or anti-psychotic medications. In severe cases, patients may require hospitalization to treat a personality disorder. This is usually only necessary when the disorder is putting the patient or others in harm.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Kaplan, H. I., & Sadoc, B. J. (1996). Concise textbook of clinical psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

Morey, B., & Mueser, K. T. (2007). The family intervention guide to mental illness: Recognizing the symptoms & getting treatment. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Morrison, J. (2002). Straight talk about your mental health: Everything you need to know to make smart decisions. New York: Guildford Publications.

National Institute on Mental Health. (n.d.). Any disorder among adults. Retrieved from


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