Personality disorders are a group of mental health conditions that are characterized by inflexible and atypical patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. These inner experiences and behaviors often differ from the expectations of the culture in which someone lives.
If you have a personality disorder, you may have a difficult time relating to others and dealing with everyday problems in the ways that are expected by your cultural group. You may not be fully aware of this discrepancy between your thoughts and behaviors and those accepted by society.
You may have a view of the world that’s quite different than that of others. As a result, you could find it difficult to participate in social, educational, and family activities.
These behaviors and attitudes often cause problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, and work or school settings. They may also make people you feel isolated, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Personality disorders are treatable, however. Often a combination of talk therapy and medication can go a long way in helping you live with one of these conditions.
The cause of personality disorders isn’t known. However, it’s believed that they may be triggered by genetic and environmental influences, most prominently childhood trauma.
Personality disorders tend to emerge in the teenage years or early adulthood. The symptoms vary depending on the specific type of personality disorder. For all of them, treatment typically includes talk therapy and medication.
There are numerous types of personality disorders. They’re grouped into three clusters based on similar characteristics and symptoms. Some people may have signs and symptoms of multiple personality disorders.
Cluster A: Suspicious
- Paranoid personality disorder. People with paranoid personality disorder may be distrustful of others and suspicious of their motives.
- Schizoid personality disorder. People with schizoid personality disorder can display little interest in forming personal relationships or partaking in social interactions. They can have trouble interpreting social cues, causing them to seem emotionally distant.
- Schizotypal personality disorder. People with schizotypal personality disorder often believe that they can influence other people or events with their thoughts. They may misinterpret behaviors, leading to inappropriate emotional responses. They may also avoid having intimate relationships.
Cluster B: Emotional and impulsive
- Antisocial personality disorder. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to manipulate or treat others without expressing remorse for their actions. They may engage in dishonest behavior like lying and stealing, and they may be prone to heavy alcohol and drug use.
- Borderline personality disorder. People with borderline personality disorder often feel empty and abandoned, regardless of family or community support. They may have difficulty dealing with stressful events and have episodes of paranoia. They also tend to engage in risky and impulsive behavior, such as binge drinking and gambling.
- Histrionic personality disorder. People with histrionic personality disorder frequently try to gain more attention by being dramatic or provocative. They may be easily influenced by other people and are sensitive to criticism or disapproval.
- Narcissistic personality disorder. People with narcissistic personality disorder often believe that they’re more important than others. They tend to exaggerate their achievements and may brag about their attractiveness or success. Other symptoms include a deep need for admiration but lack empathy for other people.
Cluster C: Anxious
- Avoidant personality disorder. People with avoidant personality disorder often experience feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or unattractiveness. They may dwell on criticism from others and avoid participating in new activities or making new friends.
- Dependent personality disorder. People with dependent personality disorder depend on other people to meet their emotional and physical needs. They usually avoid being alone and regularly need reassurance when making decisions. They may also be more likely to tolerate physical and verbal abuse.
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder have an overwhelming need for order. They strongly adhere to rules and regulations, and they feel extremely uncomfortable when perfection isn’t achieved. They may even neglect personal relationships to focus on making a project perfect.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is a reference that doctors and mental health professionals use to help diagnose mental health conditions. Each personality disorder has criteria that must be met for a diagnosis.
A primary care doctor or mental health professional will ask you questions based on these criteria to determine the type of personality disorder. In order for a diagnosis to be made, the behaviors and feelings must be consistent across many life circumstances.
They should also cause significant distress and impairment in at least two of the following areas:
- the way you perceive or interpret yourself and other people
- the way you act when dealing with other people
- the appropriateness of your emotional responses
- how well you can control your impulses
In some cases, your primary care doctor or mental health professional may perform blood tests to determine whether a medical problem is causing your symptoms. In some cases, they may order a screening test for alcohol or drugs if they think substances are causing your symptoms.
Treatment can vary depending on the type and severity of your personality disorder. It may include psychotherapy and medications.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, may help in managing personality disorders. During psychotherapy, you and a therapist can discuss your condition, as well as your feelings and thoughts. This can provide you with insight on how to manage your symptoms and behaviors that interfere with your daily life.
There are many types of psychotherapy. Dialectical behavior therapy can include group and individual sessions where people learn how to tolerate stress and improve relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to teach people how to change negative thinking patterns so they can better cope with everyday challenges.
Online therapy options
Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.
There aren’t any medications approved for the treatment of personality disorders. However, certain types of prescription medications might be helpful in reducing various personality disorder symptoms, such as:
- antidepressants, which can help improve a depressed mood, anger, or impulsivity
- mood stabilizers, which prevent intense mood changes and reduce irritability and aggression
- antipsychotic medications, also known as neuroleptics, which can help reduce symptoms of psychosis like hallucinations and delusions
- anti-anxiety medications, which can help relieve anxiety, agitation, and insomnia
If you think someone may have symptoms of a personality disorder, or if they tell you that they think they do, encourage them to talk with a mental health professional. While voicing your concerns may cause tension, emphasize that your first priority is their well-being.
Call 911 or local emergency services if you ever feel that the other person intends to cause harm to themselves or others.
You can also provide your loved one with a list of crisis resources for when they need immediate support. Below are some hotlines and text lines that they can reach 24/7.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Call the Samaritans 24-Hour Crisis Helpline at 877-870-4673 (HOPE).
- If you’re living with a mental health or substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
- Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
The most important aspect of treating a personality disorder is determining the condition in the first place. When you recognize that you have a mental health condition, it will be easier for you to seek and stick with treatment.
Once you find a treatment that works for you, you should see an improvement in your symptoms.
You may have to try a few different types of treatment to find what works best. That’s OK. What matters is that you find a good fit.