Personality refers to a distinctive set of traits, behavior styles, and patterns that make up our character or individuality. How we perceive the world, our attitudes, thoughts, and feelings are all part of our personality. People with healthy personalities are able to cope with normal stresses and have no trouble forming relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.
Those who struggle with a personality disorder have great difficulty dealing with other people. They tend to be inflexible, rigid, and unable to respond to the changes and demands of life. Although they feel that their behavior patterns are “normal” or “right,” people with personality disorders tend to have a narrow view of the world and find it difficult to participate in social activities.
A personality disorder must fulfill several criteria. A deeply ingrained, inflexible pattern of relating, perceiving, and thinking serious enough to cause distress or impaired functioning is a personality disorder. Personality disorders are usually recognizable by adolescence or earlier, continue throughout adulthood, and become less obvious throughout middle age.
Some experts believe that events occurring in early childhood exert a powerful influence upon behavior later in life. Others indicate that people are genetically predisposed to personality disorders. In some cases, however, environmental facts may cause a person who is already genetically vulnerable to develop a personality disorder.
There are many formally identified personality disorders, each with their own set of behaviors and symptoms. Many of these fall into three different categories or clusters:
- Cluster A: Odd or eccentric behavior
- Cluster B: Dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior
- Cluster C: Anxious fearful behavior
When these characteristics are carried to an extreme, when they endure over time and when they interfere with healthy functioning, a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or mental health professional is recommended.
There are many types of help available for the different personality disorders. Treatment may include individual, group, or family psychotherapy. Medications, prescribed by a patient’s physician, may also be helpful in relieving some of the symptoms of personality disorders, including problems with anxiety and perceptions.
Psychotherapy for patients with personality disorders focuses on helping them see the unconscious conflicts that are contributing to or causing their symptoms. It also helps people become more flexible and is aimed at reducing the behavior patterns that interfere with everyday living.
In psychotherapy, people with personality disorders can better recognize the effects of their behavior on others. Behavior and cognitive therapies focus on resolving symptoms or traits that are characteristic of the disorder, such as the inability to make important life decisions or the inability to initiate relationships.
The more you learn about personality disorders the more you will understand that they are illnesses, with causes and treatments. People can improve with proper care. By seeking out information you can recognize the signs and symptoms of a personality disorder and help yourself or someone you know live a healthier more fulfilling life.
Center for Mental Health Services
National Mental Health Information Center
PO Box 42557
Washington, DC 20015