What Is a Personality Disorder?

Robert Ferguson

Personality disorders are psychological disorders involving maladaptive personality traits and/or behavioral patterns that cause impairments in an individual’s daily life. The DSM-IV®, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition® characterizes personality disorders. This manual acknowledges ten types of personality disorders and classifies them into three categories: Clusters A, B, and C.

Social isolation is one symptom of a potential personality disorder.
Social isolation is one symptom of a potential personality disorder.

Cluster A is characterized by odd or eccentric behaviors, and includes the paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal disorders. People with paranoid personality disorders are distrusting of others including family members, friends, or strangers and can be suspicious of these individuals as well. They often expect to be exploited or abused and believe someone is going to harm them. Frequently, those with this disorder display hostile behaviors and are considered to have severe anger displacement.

Narcissistic disorders are when people have an overly high opinion of themselves.
Narcissistic disorders are when people have an overly high opinion of themselves.

People with schizoid personality disorder show disinterest and detachment from social relationships and lack strong emotional expression. Someone who is considered schizoid is avoidant and seeks activities that are solitary. Schizotypal and schizoid personality disorders share similar traits due to the individual’s preference for social isolation. Those with schizotypal disorder demonstrate eccentric behavior, like a clouded sense of reality, inaccurate sensory perceptions called illusions, or unclear speech patterns.

Histrionic personality disorder is one of the Cluster B personality disorders.
Histrionic personality disorder is one of the Cluster B personality disorders.

Personality disorders in which dramatic or erratic behaviors are displayed are listed in Cluster B. This group includes antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic disorders. Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by the sufferer's total disregard and disrespect for other individuals' rights and well-being. Individuals who are antisocial can be physically aggressive, irritable or impulsive.

Being overly competitive is one sign of a person with a narcissistic personality disorder.
Being overly competitive is one sign of a person with a narcissistic personality disorder.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) causes unpredictable behavior, impulsive moods and unstable relationships. In order to receive a diagnosis of BPD, one must experience a dramatic shift in attitude and emotions. The impulsive behavior and erratic mood swings can cause chronic depression, substance abuse, fears of abandonment and suicidal thoughts.

An individual with avoidant personality disorder is usually isolated and has little social contact due to anxiety.
An individual with avoidant personality disorder is usually isolated and has little social contact due to anxiety.

Individuals diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder (HPD) are attention-seeking and emotionally shallow with abnormal obsessions about their physical appearance. They are usually self-centered and uncomfortable if they are not the center of attention. Similar to HPD, narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by self-centered and attention-seeking behaviors. These individuals have a grandiose idea of themselves and are obsessed with succeeding in everything. They often have severe feelings of envy and lack empathy for others.

Bipolar disorder was once commonly referred to as manic depression.
Bipolar disorder was once commonly referred to as manic depression.

Cluster C contains anxious and fearful personality disorders: avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive. Those with avoidant and dependent disorders display submissive behaviors, feelings of inadequacy, and social inhibition. Individuals with either diagnosis are highly sensitive to criticism and rejection, lack self-confidence, and are usually very dependent and passive. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD) produces individuals who are perfectionists, detail-oriented, and preoccupied with order and structure. Often inflexible and rigid, those with OCD may be unable to complete tasks due to their obsessive attention to detail.

Emotional trauma in childhood can cause the development of a personality disorder.
Emotional trauma in childhood can cause the development of a personality disorder.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is often associated with perfectionism.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is often associated with perfectionism.

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