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Overview of Personality Disorders


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Sep 2022
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What are personality disorders?

Your personality is your unique way of thinking, understanding, reacting, and relating to people. Many people might seem to have an unusual personality. But they're considered to have a personality disorder only if their personality:

  • Causes significant trouble at work or school

  • Keeps them from relating normally to others

  • Isn't something they are able to change or adjust even though it causes problems

People with a personality disorder usually think they're just fine. They may be upset by consequences of having a personality disorder, such as divorce or losing a job. However, they usually think these problems are other people's fault and not theirs. Other people usually have difficulty dealing with someone with a personality disorder.

Many people with a personality disorder also have other problems such as:

What causes personality disorders?

Personality disorders are caused by both of the following:

  • Genes (traits inherited from parents)

  • Environment (including family life and social experiences)

What are symptoms of a personality disorder?

Symptoms usually begin in adolescence. Sometimes symptoms get better as people get older. Some people have problems throughout life.

There are different personality disorders. Each one has different symptoms. But in most of them, people have relationship problems, for example:

  • They may not be able to form close, stable relationships

  • They may act in ways that seem rude or cold

  • Family members and others may find them upsetting, confusing, or frustrating

Relationship problems can make it difficult for people to:

  • Get married and stay married

  • Raise children

  • Keep a job

People with a personality disorder aren’t usually aware of their own role in creating their problems.

What are the types of personality disorders?

There are 10 different personality disorders that fit into 3 general categories depending on the person's overall personality style:

Odd or eccentric

Overly dramatic and unpredictable

Anxious or fearful

Some personality disorders start to cause problems earlier in life than others. Some are more common in men or women.

Although most people with personality disorders may be able to get along in the world, some get into serious trouble. They may have problems with alcohol or drugs, unsafe sex, or crime. They may even attempt to hurt or kill themselves.

How can doctors tell if someone has a personality disorder?

People usually don't realize they have a personality disorder. Often people don’t get help on their own. Instead, friends, family, or a social agency may refer them for help when their behavior causes problems.

To tell for sure, doctors usually try to talk with the person's family members. After they get the full picture, they can see which personality disorder the person has.

How do doctors treat personality disorders?

Doctors treat different types of personality disorders differently. Counseling or talk therapy is a very important part of treatment. Different kinds of counseling may be better for different personality disorders.

Medicines may help relieve some of the symptoms of some personality disorders, such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, or bizarre thinking. But medicines don't cure the disorder.

Having family members involved in treatment helps. Psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers working as part of a team help support people with more severe problems.

Change is slow. Although behaviors can change within a year, personality traits may be harder to change.

Sometimes, dangerous behaviors may need treatment in a hospital for a few days.

Treatments can help people:

  • Lower stress, anxiety, or depression

  • Understand that their problems aren't caused by other people or situations

  • Avoid risky or harmful behaviors

  • Try to change the personality traits that are causing problems

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