You probably have heard of mental illnesses such as depression or eating disorders. It is likely that you or someone close to you have experienced one of these disorders.
You may have never heard of the term “personality disorder.” Yet, it is also likely that you have met someone with such a condition and have probably heard someone comment, “Oh, he’s such a narcissist!”
There are ten officially recognized personality disorders including paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.
While they vary greatly in their features, people with any type of personality disorder have ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are consistent across time and across situations.
Of course this is true for any personality trait (like whether you tend to be outgoing or shy), but a personality trait becomes a disorder when it causes serious problems in a person’s life such as in their relationships or at work.
Some personality disorders are striking and dramatic. For instance, someone with histrionic personality disorder is always the center of attention due to their flamboyant dress (think pop star) and theatrical behavior. Sounds fun, right? So, where does the “disorder” part come in? People with this disorder have such a need to be in the spotlight that their constant striving for attention may alienate them from others. They may claim to have numerous friends but lack any deep connection to others.
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is much less dramatic but can also be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, people diagnosed with the disorder can bring high quality results and much needed order to an organization or family. On the other hand, their indecision, need for control, over-commitment to work, and rigidity can cause problems at work and at home.
Perhaps the most problematic is antisocial personality disorder in which people may appear charming but engage in conning others, criminal behavior, and show no remorse.
People with borderline personality disorder are especially sensitive to feelings of being abandoned, display intense anger, and may cope by cutting themselves.
Personality disorders may not be noticed as clearly as more intense disorders like panic disorder where sufferers may show up to an emergency room fearing a heart attack only to find their heart is fine and their chest discomfort was due to anxiety.
Problems stemming from personality disorders are more subtle and may only become evident after years of knowing someone.
People with personality disorders may not view their behaviors as problematic, but family members or coworkers may send them for therapy due to the stress they feel from the person’s behavior.
Is there hope for people with personality disorders? Yes!
Newer psychotherapies such as cognitive behavior therapy help people with personality disorders live more meaningful lives, improve their work performance, and enhance their personal relationships. If you suspect that you or someone close to you may suffer from a personality disorder, please contact your doctor or a mental health professional.
Mark Reeves received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Florida State University and completed his postdoctoral training at Florida State Hospital. He has published and presented at conferences in the area of personality disorders and has worked with adolescents and adults with severe and persistent mental illness. He is currently employed as a Clinical Supervisor at Apalachee Center.