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Personality disorders are a group of mental health conditions that are characterized by inflexible and unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. These inner experiences and behaviors often differ from the expectations of the culture in which someone lives.
People with personality disorders usually have a hard time getting along with others and dealing with everyday problems in the ways that are expected by a cultural group. They commonly believe that their way of thinking and behaving is completely normal. However, they tend to have a view of the world that is quite different than others. As a result, they may find it difficult to participate in social, educational, and family activities. They also place blame on others for their challenges. These behaviors and attitudes often cause problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, and work or school settings. They may also make people with personality disorders feel isolated, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.
The cause of personality disorders isn’t known. However, it is believed that they may be triggered by genetic and environmental influences, most prominently childhood trauma.
Personality disorders tend to emerge in the teenage years or early adulthood. The symptoms vary depending on the specific type of personality disorder. Treatment typically includes talk therapy and medication.
There are numerous different types of personality disorders. They are grouped into three clusters based on similar characteristics and symptoms. Some people may have signs and symptoms of multiple personality disorders.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is a reference doctors and mental health professionals use to help diagnose mental health conditions. Each personality disorder has criteria that must be met for a diagnosis. A primary care or mental health provider will ask you questions based on these criteria to determine the type of personality disorder. In order for a diagnosis to be made, the behaviors and feelings must be consistent across many life circumstances. They should also cause significant distress and impairment in at least two of the following areas:
In some cases, your primary care or mental health provider may perform blood tests to determine whether a medical problem is causing your symptoms. They may also order a screening test for alcohol and drugs.
Treatment can vary depending on the type and severity of your personality disorder. It may include psychotherapy and medications.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, may help in managing personality disorders. During psychotherapy, you and a therapist can discuss your condition, as well as your feelings and thoughts. This can provide you with insight on how to manage your symptoms and behaviors that interfere with your daily life.
There are many different types of psychotherapy. Dialectical behavior therapy can include group and individual sessions where people learn how to tolerate stress and improve relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to teach people how to change negative thinking patterns so they can better cope with everyday challenges.
There aren’t any drugs approved for the treatment of personality disorders. However, certain types of prescription medications might be helpful in reducing various personality disorder symptoms:
The most important aspect of treating a personality disorder is the recognition that the problem exists in the first place. People with these types of disorders believe that their personality traits are normal, so they can become quite upset when someone suggests that they may have a personality disorder.
If someone recognizes that they have a personality disorder and engages in treatment, they should see an improvement in their symptoms. It’s beneficial for friends or family members to be involved in their therapy sessions as well. It’s also important for someone with a personality disorder to avoid drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs. These substances can have a negative impact on emotions and interfere with treatment.
If you are close to someone you suspect might have a personality disorder, you should encourage them to seek help. They may get angry or defensive, but it’s important to avoid arguing with them. Instead, focus on expressing your feelings and voicing your concerns about their behaviors.
Call 911 if you ever feel that the other person intends to cause harm to themselves or others. It is also beneficial to tell your friend or loved one about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This free, 24-hour phone line takes calls from anyone feeling depressed or anxious. A friendly, supportive voice can help them work through a difficult time or crisis.
Written by: Elea Carey
Medically reviewed on: Jan 27, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PMHNP-BC
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