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What is a Personality Disorder?

Visit the BPhoenix Personality Disorders Message Board.

According to the DSM-IV, personality disorders are "enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself" that "are exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts," and "are inflexible and maladaptive, and cause either significant impairment or subjective distress."

Personality disorders are found in 10%-13% of the general population. They are thought to originate in childhood and continue into the adult years and to be so ingrained that it is difficult to pinpoint an onset. Maladaptive personality characteristics develop over time into the maladaptive behavior patterns that create distress for the affected person and draw the attention of others.

At this time the DSM-IV divides the personality disorders into three groups of "clusters." This method will probably continue until there is a strong scientific basis for viewing them differently. Cluster A is called the "odd" or "eccentric" cluster, cluster B is the "dramatic," "emotional," or "erratic" cluster, and C is the "anxious" or "fearful" cluster.

Cluster A Disorders:

Paranoid Personality Disorder:
People with Paranoid Personality Disorder are excessively mistrustful and suspicious of others, without any justification. They tend not to confide in others and to think other people want to harm them. People with this disorder may be argumentative, may complain, or may be quiet, but they are obviously hostile towards others. They often appear tense and are very sensitive to criticism and have an excessive need for autonomy.

Schizoid Personality Disorder:
People with this Personality Disorder show a pattern of detachment from social relationships and a very limited range of emotions in interpersonal situations. They seem aloof, cold, and indifferent to other people. Individuals with Schizoid Personality Disorder seem neither to desire or enjoy closeness with others, including romantic or sexual relationships.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder:
People with Schizotypal Personality Disorder are typically socially isolated, like those with Schizoid Personality Disorder. In addition, however, they also behave in ways that would seem unusually to many of us, and they tend to be suspicious and to have odd beliefs. They often have ideas of reference, which means they think insignificant events relate directly to them. They often report unusual perceptual experiences, including such illusions as feeling the presence of another person when they are alone. Those with this disorder tend to have paranoid thoughts and express little emotion.

Cluster B Disorders:

Antisocial Personality Disorder:
People with this disorder have a history of failing to comply with social norms. They tend to be irresponsible, impulsive, and deceitful, and they perform actions most of us would find unacceptable such as stealing from friends and family. Completely lacking in conscience and empathy, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social rules and expectations without showing any concern or remorse. Those with this personality disorder are usually superficially charming, intelligent, insincere, and normally show a pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love.

Borderline Personality Disorder:
Those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder lead tumultuous lives. Their moods and relationships are unstable, and usually they have a very poor self-image. These people often feel empty and are at a great risk of dying by their own hands. Borderlines fear abandonment and lack control over their emotions. They frequently engage in suicidal and/or self-mutilative behaviors, cutting or burning or punching themselves. Those with this disorder are often very intense, going from anger to deep depression in a short time, and are in one of the highest risk groups for substance abuse. They also are characterized by impulsivity, which can be seen in their drug abuse and self-mutilation.

Histrionic Personality Disorder:
These individuals tend to be overly dramatic and often seem almost to be acting. People with this personality disorder are inclined to express their emotions in an exaggerated fashion. They also tend to be vain and self-centered, and to be uncomfortable when they are not in the limelight. They are often seductive in appearance and behavior, and they are typically very concerned about their looks. In addition, they seek reassurance and approval constantly and may become upset or angry when others do not attend to them or praise them. Cognitively they tend to view situations in very global, black-and-white terms. Speech is often vague, lacking in detail, and characterized by hyperbole.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
People with this disorder show an exaggerated sense of self-importance and are preoccupied with receiving attention. They lack sensitivity and compassion for others due to their unreasonable self-absorption. They are not comfortable unless someone is admiring them. They are often grandiose and also tend to use or exploit others for their own interests and show little empathy. They can be extremely envious and arrogant when confronted with other successful people, and are frequently depressed because they often fail to live up to their own expectations.

Cluster C Disorders:

Avoidant Personality Disorder:
As the name suggests, people with Avoidant Personality Disorder are extremely sensitive to the opinions of others and therefore avoid most relationships. Their extremely low self-esteem, coupled with a fear of rejection, causes them to be limited in their friendships and very dependent on those they feel comfortable with. Care must be taken not to confuse individuals who are asocial because they are apathetic, affectively flat, and relatively uninterested in interpersonal relationships (as in schizoid personality disorder) with those suffering from Avoidant Personality Disorder, who are asocial because they are anxious and fearful of rejection.

Dependent Personality Disorder:
People with this personality disorder rely on others to make ordinary decisions as well as important ones, which results in an unreasonable fear of abandonment. These individuals sometimes agree with other people when their own opinions differ, so as not to be rejected. Their desire to obtain and maintain supportive and nurturing relationships may lead to their other behavioral characteristics, including submissiveness, timidity, and passivity. They feel inadequate, are very sensitive to criticism, and have a constant need for reassurance.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder:
Those who have Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder are characterized by a fixation on things being done "the right way." Although many might envy their persistence and dedication, this preoccupation with details prevents them from actually completing much of anything. People with this personality disorder are very work-oriented, spending little time on leisure activities. Because of their general rigidity, these people tend to have poor interpersonal relationships.


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This Site Updated 04/09/11