What is “Personality?”
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.
What is a “Personality Disorder?”
Those who struggle with a personality disorder may have great difficulty in their relationships with others. They tend to struggle with flexibility and responding to the changes and demands that life brings.
The term “personality disorder” refers to a diagnostic category of psychiatric disorders that are characterized by a chronic, inflexible, and maladaptive pattern of relating to the world. This maladaptive pattern is evident in the ways a person thinks, feels, and behaves. The most noticeable and significant feature of these disorders is their negative effect on interpersonal relationships. A person with an untreated personality disorder may have extreme challenges with cultivating or sustaining meaningful and rewarding relationships with others. The relationships they form are often turbulent and fraught with problems and difficulties.
What Causes a Personality Disorder?
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.
To be diagnosed with a “personality disorder” does not mean that someone’s personality is fatally flawed. In fact, these disorders are not uncommon and are deeply troubling and painful to those who are diagnosed, as well as those with whom they have a relationship.
Core Defining Features of Personality Disorders:
(1) Distorted Thinking Patterns:
People with personality disorders tend to exhibit distortions in the way they interpret and think about the world, and in the way they think about themselves. Not surprisingly, people with personality disorders think about things quite differently than people with healthy personalities. They may have thinking patterns that are very extreme and somewhat distorted. These dysfunctional patterns are most evident when someone attempts to understand their interactions with others. Examples of these problematic interpretations of the self-in-the-world include:
— extreme black-or-white thinking patterns;
— patterns of idealizing then devaluing other people or themselves;
— patterns of distrustful, suspicious thoughts;
— patterns that frequently include unusual or odd beliefs that are contrary to cultural standards;
— patterns of thoughts that include perceptual distortions and bodily illusions.
(2) Problematic Emotional Response Patterns
People with personality disorders exhibit characteristic, emotional response patterns that can become problematic. Generally, each of the personality disorders has an emotional response pattern that is associated with that particular disorder. This inflexible pattern of emotional response often creates difficulty. Some personality disorders are characterized by emotional sensitivity and a tendency to experience feelings with great intensity. Other personality disorders are characterized by little or no emotional response, regardless of the circumstance or situation. Yet another set of disorders are characterized by bouncing back and forth between these two extremes: from being overwhelmed with intense emotions one moment, to feeling numb and disconnected in the next.
(3) Impulse Control Difficulties:
These problems can manifest as either over-controlled or under-controlled impulses. A lack of impulse control can manifest itself as failure to plan ahead or to think about the long-term consequences. A lack of impulse control may be indicated by impulsive spending, risky sexual behavior, combative and assaultive behaviors, substance abuse, recklessness and excessive risk-taking, gambling, and/or binge eating. Over controlling impulses may appear as holding back, being excessively controlled and constricted, avoiding situations or topics that may inherently generate strong emotional responses, and/or lacking spontaneity entirely.
(4) Interpersonal Relationship Problems:
Problems with interpersonal relationships are common to all personality disorders. Experts consider interpersonal difficulties to be the most significant and defining feature that all personality disorders share.
Quite logically, the three defining features described above (problems with thinking, emotional regulation, and impulse regulation) cause significant interpersonal difficulties. These problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors converge to create a very negative impact on people’s ability to fulfill social roles, and their ability to form and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships.
Ten different personality disorders are grouped into three “clusters”
Cluster A (the “odd, eccentric” cluster) – includes Paranoid, Schizoid, and Schizotypal Personality Disorders. The common features in this cluster are social awkwardness and social withdrawal and are dominated by distorted thinking.
Cluster B (the “dramatic, emotional, erratic” cluster) – includes Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Disorders in this cluster share problems with impulse control and emotional regulation.
Cluster C (the “anxious, fearful” cluster) – includes Avoidant, Dependent, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorders. These three personality disorders share a high level of anxiety.
Now that I understand something about personality disorder features and what they look like, what’s next?
References – the information on this page are excerpted from the following: