What is a Personality Disorder?
For some people it seems that parts of their personality develops in a way that sometimes makes it difficult to get on with other people or even to feel as though they can live with themselves.
Some people don’t seem to be able to learn from the things that happen to them, and that they can’t change the parts of themselves that seem to cause the problems.
Other people may have noticed this since the person’s childhood or early teens.
People who have been diagnosed with a Personality Disorder may have difficulties with:
This can lead them to feel unhappy or distressed and/or often upset or harm other people. It can lead to other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or drug and alcohol problems.
How common are personality disorders?
The difficulties in clearly defining personality disorders have meant that previous research studies have suggested that up to 1 in 5 people might have a personality disorder. However, a larger and more rigorous UK study in 2006 suggested that, at any given time, about 1 in 20 people will have personality disorder.
Other studies indicate a prevalence of >10-13% of the adult population in the community, and show that personality disorders are more common in younger age groups (25-44 years) and equally distributed between males and females.
Types of Personality Disorder
Three main groups of personality disorders have been identified by studying the patterns of personality traits, or characteristics, shared by a number of people.
Most people will recognise aspects of their own personality when they read through the descriptions of each type. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a personality disorder. Some of these characteristics can be helpful in some areas of life. For people who do have a personality disorder, some of these traits will be spoiling life for them – and often the lives of those around them.
A person can have the characteristics of more than one personality disorder.
The general characteristics associated with different diagnostic labels for personality disorders are summarised below.
Borderline, or Emotionally Unstable
Your symptoms and difficulties may not fit exactly into any one of these categories.
You may see aspects of yourself in more than one category.
Professionals, too, may find it hard to give you a single diagnosis.
This is not unusual. It is pretty hard to describe any personality clearly, and so it can be difficult to make a clear diagnosis of personality disorder. It may be more helpful to think of these as exaggerations of normal, overlapping personality types instead of as diagnoses or categories.
The answer is not clear, but it seems likely that a number of factors can play a part.
Sometimes, but not always, people with personality disorder have experienced
If children are taken out of this sort of difficult environment, they are less likely to develop a personality disorder. For these children their early experiences can make it difficult to develop a good understanding of themselves and how their emotions work in relation to other people.
Some people with antisocial personality disorder have very slight differences in the structure of their brains, and in the way some chemicals work in their brains. However, there is no brain scan or blood test for a personality disorder.
With help, many people with personality disorder can start to lead a normal and fulfilling life. Most can, at least, cope more effectively with their difficulties.
Different treatments can help, including medication in some instances, and psychological therapies in others.
Psychological therapies based around recognising and changing unhelpful patterns in relationships or thinking patterns can help people with personality disorders find more comfortable and safe ways of managing what can be disruptive emotions and behaviours. They can also help address any other associated mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.
There are a number of things you can do in order to help yourself feel better at times that feel difficult:
Living with someone who has a personality disorder
If you are living with someone who has been diagnosed with a personality disorder this can also be very difficult. You may worry about the effects the personality disorder is having on them, and perhaps on your life too. How would they react if you talked to them about it?
If he or she is happy to talk about it, get some more information. Even if they don’t see a problem at the present time, they may do in the future.
Day-to-day living with someone who has a personality disorder can be difficult – but it isn’t always. Giving people their own space, listening to and acknowledging their concerns, and involving others (friends, relatives and, at times, mental health professionals – nurses, therapists or doctors) can all be useful. It is also important to look after your own physical and mental health.
If you are becoming stressed, depressed or are suffering with your own mental health problem then it is important that you pay attention to this and get any help that you might also need.
Emergence: This is a service user-led organisation supporting all people affected by a diagnosis of personality disorder, whether you are a service user, carer (which is a family member or friend of a service user) or a professional in the field.
Mind: a leading mental health charity in England and Wales which has extensive information on personality and personality disorder.
Personality disorder: no longer a diagnosis of exclusion: This provides information, resources and learning opportunities for those with a personality disorder and their carers.
Samaritans: Helpline: 08457 90 90 90. Samaritans is available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. The website has helpful information about stress and self-harm.
Rethink Mental Illness: Rethink is a leading national mental health membership charity and works to help everyone affected by severe mental illness recover a better quality of life. This has information on personality and personality disorder.
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