Personality disorders are a class of mental disorders that involve the maladaptive way a person acts, feels, thinks, and perceives things which often deviate from normal norms. These abnormal patterns of cognition and perception are enduring and disrupt an individual’s personal, social, and career lives.
A personality disorder may be diagnosed as such if it falls under the criteria outlined in the mental and behavioural disorders section of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), published by the World Health Organization. The ICD is the international “standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management, and clinical purposes.”
Normal Personalities vs. Personality Disorders
Although normal people do behave differently from one another, they still have a set pattern of behaviour and thinking which are fairly predictable and conform to the general accepted criteria. Normal healthy personalities are flexible enough to adapt to life changes or mistakes. People with personality disorders on the other hand have limited coping mechanisms and are therefore more inflexible in the face of stress. Because of the curtailed range of emotions, attitudes, and behaviours, people with personality disorders often find life changes, whether minor or major, difficult to manage and so that daily life becomes a constant struggle. Consequently it also becomes difficult for other people to adequately relate to them.
Personality disorders become markedly distinct in adolescence or early adulthood, although these illnesses may have begun in childhood. Because the affliction distorts perceptions and behaviour, it often makes working with or relating to other people, difficult. Unstable personalities often feel isolated or alienated because people may seem scary, threatening, or simply not very understanding of the way they see things, for the most part.
Types of Personality Disorders
As the term personality disorder refers to an umbrella malady, there exist many types of mental illnesses under this broad category which are further divided into three sub-categories:
- Cluster A
This group tends to exhibit more eccentric or strange behaviours as its constituents seem to exist in a world of their own. Disorders under this sub-category are:
- Paranoid personality disorder — characterized by suspicion and distrust. Paranoid people tend to:
- read threats where none exists
- be constantly watchful of signs of hostility and betrayal in other people
- be mistrustful even of close friends or family
- often think they are being fooled or being taken advantage of
- Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) — characterized by an absence of consideration for other people because these types behave for themselves without regard for other people’s feelings or situations. Antisocial people may show the following behaviour:
- reckless and impulsive actions without thought about consequences to self and other people
- may be aggressive, constantly irritable, and may pick fights with others
- may engage in criminal or illegal actions
- may truly believe in the survival of the fittest philosophy in which he grabs every opportunity to the detriment of others and even to himself
- may have had a misdemeanour or disorderly conduct charge before the age of 15.
- possess no guilt or regret for hurting others and therefore would put his needs over anyone else’s always
- Schizoid personality disorder — typified by the following characteristics:
- uninterested in forming close relationships with anyone, including family
- cold and emotionally distant
- wants to live alone away from the company of others
- have little interest in sex or intimacy
- has a very negative outlook or perception about life
- Schizotypal personality disorder — manifests weird or aberrant behaviour. People with this disorder tend to:
- express themselves unusually like using their own language or vocabulary for certain things
- believe they have extraordinary powers or gifts such as a sixth sense or future forecasting
- have extreme difficulty in forming any social relationship, even with a family member
- behave oddly
- exhibit paranoia and anxiety in social situations
- feel tense and nervous around anyone who do not share their beliefs
- Cluster B
The Cluster B personality disorder group struggles to control their emotions which often swing erratically between positive and negative moods. Behaviour from this group is often unpredictable, exaggerated, and disturbing. Disorders that fall under this group are:
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) — characterized by severe emotional instability, confused sense of identity, and may include psychotic episodes
- Narcissistic personality disorder — symptomised by:
- an extreme and pervading feeling of entitlement that puts the individual in a rank above others
- having low self-esteem that needs to be fed by recognition of one’s worth and needs by others
- resentment of other people’s achievements and successes
- having the capacity to take advantage of other people
- Histrionic personality disorder — A person with this disorder always needs to be the centre of attention and is very needy about getting the approval of others. A histrionic personality will flirt, seduce, or “put on a show” to get the attention and focus he craves.
- Cluster C
This third group struggles with chronic anxiety and fear and therefore manifests antisocial behaviour that is more withdrawn than hostile. This group includes:
- Avoidant personality disorder — People in this group are often extremely shy and inhibited because of overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Rejection is often a very sensitive spot for people in this category.
- Dependent personality disorder — typified by extreme passiveness and submissiveness stemming from very low self confidence and severe neediness. People with a dependency disorder may not be able make their own decisions or function well without help or support. These people view themselves as so much less capable than others in many aspects.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) — characterized by the obsessive need for perfectionism. OCPD is different from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is a form of behaviour rather than a personality type.
People with a personality disorder may find hope in recovery over time. What is needed is adequate support and professional help. Mild to moderate personality disorders may improve with psychotherapy alone.