You may be given a medical diagnosis, when you are told you have a type of personality disorder. Usually, psychotherapists will focus on the aspects of your personality which cause you most difficulty. Some specialists try to understand the problems you experience by working with you to identify the individual patterns and experiences in your life.
Types of personality disorder: Psychiatrists have identified 10 different personality disorders which are grouped into three categories. These types of personality disorder and some of the characteristics identified by them follow. For each type, a diagnosis will not be made if you have only one or two of the characteristics. You may find that you meet the criteria for several different types of personality disorder.
It can also be the case that a wide range of people meet the criteria for the same disorder, despite having very different personalities and different individual experiences.
The three categories of personality disorders:
Suspicious Emotional and impulsive Anxious
Paranoid Borderline Avoidant
Schizoid Histrionic Dependent
Schizotypal Narcissistic Obsessive compulsive
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
BPD is like having no emotional buffer. You can go from nothing to suddenly feeling extremely overwhelming emotions and struggle with expressing them healthily.
- Feel very worried about people abandoning you and would do anything to stop that from happening.
- Have very intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly (for example, from feeling very happy and confident in the morning to feeling low and sad in the afternoon).
- Not have a strong sense of who you are; it can change depending on who you’re with.
- Find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships.
- Act impulsively and do things that could harm you (such as binge eating, using drugs or driving dangerously).
- Have suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour.
- Feel empty and lonely.
- Get very angry, and struggle to control your anger.
When very stressed, sometimes you might:
- Feel paranoid.
- Have psychotic experiences, such as seeing or hearing things that other people don’t.
- Feel numb or ‘checked out’ and struggle with memory.
Causes of personality disorders
There’s no clear reason why some people develop a personality disorder and others don’t. Most researchers think that a complex mix of factors is involved, such as the environment we grow up in, early childhood and teenage experiences and genetic factors. The environment we grow up in and the quality of care we receive can affect the way our personality develops. You may be more likely to develop personality disorder if you’ve experienced:
- An unstable or chaotic family life, such as living with a parent who is an alcoholic or who struggles to manage a mental health problem.
- Little or no support from your caregiver – this may be especially hard if you experienced a traumatic event or situation.
- A lack of support or bad experiences during your school life, in your peer group or wider community.
If you had a difficult childhood or experiences such as these, you might have developed certain beliefs about how people think and how relationships work. You might have developed certain strategies for coping which aren’t helpful in your adult life. Our experiences growing up can affect our personality in later life. Difficult or traumatic experiences may lead to personality disorder, such as:
- Losing a parent or sudden bereavement.
- Verbal, physical or sexual abuse.
- Being involved in major incidents or accidents.
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic situation will develop these problems. The way you and others reacted to it, alongside the support and care you received to help you cope, will have made a lot of difference. Similarly, not everyone who develops a personality disorder will have had a traumatic experience. Some elements of our personality are inherited. We are born with different temperaments: for example, babies vary in how active they are, their attention span and how they adapt to change. Some experts believe inheritance may play a part in the development of personality disorder.
Paranoid Personality Disorder
These are the signs:
- Find it hard to confide in people, even your friends.
- Find it very difficult to trust other people, believing they will use you or take advantage of you.
- Watch others closely, looking for signs of betrayal or hostility.
- Read threats and danger – which others don’t see – into everyday situations.
Schizotypal personality disorder
- Find making close relationships extremely difficult.
- Think and express yourself in ways that others find odd, using unusual words or phrases.
- Behave in ways that others find eccentric.
- Believe that you can read minds or that you have special powers such as a sixth sense.
- Feel anxious and tense with others who do not share these beliefs.
- Feel very anxious and paranoid in social situations.
Narcissistic personality disorder
- Believe that there are special reasons that make you different, better or more deserving than others.
- Have fragile self-esteem, so that you rely on others to recognise your worth and your needs.
- Feel upset if others ignore you and don’t give you what you feel you deserve.
- Resent other people’s successes.
- Put your own needs above other people’s and demand they do, too.
- Be seen as selfish and above yourself.
- Take advantage of other people.
Schizoid personality disorder
- Be uninterested in forming close relationships with other people, including your family.
- Feel that relationships interfere with your freedom and tend to cause problems.
- Prefer to be alone with your own thoughts.
- Choose to live your life without interference from others.
- Get little pleasure from life.
- Have little interest in sex or intimacy.
- Be emotionally cold towards others.
Histrionic personality disorder
- Feel very uncomfortable if you are not the centre of attention.
- Feel much more at ease as the life and soul of the party.
- Feel that you have to entertain people.
- Flirt or behave provocatively to ensure that you remain the centre of attention.
- Get a reputation for being dramatic and overemotional.
- Feel dependent on the approval of others.
- Be easily influenced by others.
Avoidant (or anxious) personality disorder
- Avoid work or social activities that mean being with others.
- Expect disapproval and criticism and be very sensitive to it.
- Worry constantly about being found out and rejected.
- Worry about being ridiculed or shamed by others.
- Avoid relationships, friendships and intimacy – you fear rejection.
- Feel lonely, isolated, and inferior to others.
- Reluctant to try new activities in case you embarrass yourself.
Dependent personality disorder
- Feel needy, weak and unable to make decisions or function properly without help or support.
- Allow others to assume responsibility for many areas of your life.
- Agree to things you feel are wrong or you dislike to avoid being alone or losing support.
- Be afraid of being left to fend for yourself.
- Have low self-confidence.
- See other people as being much more capable than you are.
- Be seen by others as much too submissive and passive
Obsessive compulsive personality disorder
- Need to keep everything in order and under control.
- Set unrealistically high standards for yourself and others.
- Think yours is the best way of making things happen.
- Worry when you or others might make mistakes.
- Expect catastrophes if things aren’t perfect.
- Be reluctant to spend money on yourself or others.
- Have a tendency to hang on to items with no obvious value.
Antisocial personality disorder
- Put yourself in dangerous or risky situations, often without considering the consequences. Behave dangerously and sometimes illegally.
- Behave in ways that are unpleasant for others.
- Feel very easily bored and act on impulse – you may find it difficult to hold down a job for long.
- Behave aggressively and get into fights easily.
- Do things to get what you want – even though they may hurt people – putting your needs above theirs.
- Have a criminal record.
- Feel no sense of guilt if you have mistreated others.
- Believe that only the strongest survive and that you must do whatever it takes to lead a successful life because if you don’t grab opportunities, others will.
- Have had a diagnosis of conduct disorder before the age of 15.