A personality disorder is a type of mental illness in which you have trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people — including yourself. There are many specific types of personality disorders.
In general, having a personality disorder means you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving no matter what the situation. This leads to significant problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, work and school.
In some cases, you may not realize that you have a personality disorder because your way of thinking and behaving seems natural to you, and you may blame others for the challenges you face.
General symptoms of a personality disorder
Specific types of personality disorders
Cluster A personality disorders
Paranoid personality disorder
Schizoid personality disorder
Schizotypal personality disorder
Cluster B personality disorders
Antisocial (formerly called sociopathic) personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Histrionic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Cluster C personality disorders
Avoidant personality disorder
Dependent personality disorder
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder isn't the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.
When to see a doctor
Helping a loved one
If you have a loved one who has harmed himself or herself, or is seriously considering doing so, take him or her to the hospital or call for emergency help.
Personality is the combination of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that makes you unique. It's the way you view, understand and relate to the outside world, as well as how you see yourself. Personality forms during childhood, shaped through an interaction of two factors:
Personality disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of these genetic and environmental influences. You may have a genetic vulnerability to developing a personality disorder and your life situation may trigger the actual development of a personality disorder.
Although the precise cause of personality disorders isn't known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering personality disorders, including:
Personality disorders often begin in childhood and last through adulthood. There's reluctance to diagnose personality disorders in a child, though, because the patterns of behavior and thinking could simply reflect adolescent experimentation or temporary developmental phases.
Complications and problems that personality disorders may cause or be associated with include:
Preparing for your appointment
In some cases, a health care provider or other professional may ask you about your mood, thoughts or behavior. Your doctor may bring it up during a routine medical appointment if you seem to be sad, agitated or angry, for instance. Or you may decide to schedule an appointment with your family doctor or primary care provider to talk about your concerns.
In either case, because personality disorders often require specialized care, you may be referred to a mental health provider, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, for evaluation and treatment. In other cases, you may seek out a mental health provider on your own first.
What you can do
Think about your needs and goals for treatment. Also, write down a list of questions to ask. These may include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
When doctors believe someone has a personality disorder, they typically run a series of medical and psychological tests and exams. These can help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms, pinpoint a diagnosis and also check for any related complications. These exams and tests generally include:
Pinpointing which personality disorder you have
To be diagnosed with a particular personality disorder, you must meet the criteria for that disorder listed in the DSM. Each personality disorder has its own set of diagnostic criteria.
Treatments and drugs
The treatment that's best for you depends on your particular personality disorder, its severity and your life situation. Often, a team approach is appropriate to make sure all of your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met. Because personality disorders tend to be chronic and can sometimes last much of your adult life, you may need long-term treatment.
The team involved in treatment may include your:
If you have mild symptoms that are well controlled, you may need treatment from only your family doctor, a psychiatrist or a therapist. If possible, find medical and mental health providers with experience in treating personality disorders.
Several treatments are available for personality disorders. They include:
Successful treatment depends on your active participation in your care.
Types of psychotherapy used to treat personality disorders may include:
Psychotherapy may be provided in individual sessions, in group therapy or in sessions that include family or even friends. The type of psychotherapy that's right for you depends on your individual situation.
Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
Participating in your own care
In some cases, a personality disorder may be so severe that a doctor, loved one or guardian may need to guide your care until you're well enough to participate in decision making.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can do some things for yourself that build on your professional treatment plan. Along with professional treatment, consider following these lifestyle and self-care steps for personality disorders:
Coping and support
Coping with a personality disorder can be challenging. Having a personality disorder makes it hard to engage in the behavior and activities that may help you feel better. Talk to your doctor or therapist about improving your coping skills, and consider these tips:
If you have a loved one with a personality disorder, work with his or her mental health provider to find out how you can most effectively offer support and encouragement.
You may also benefit from talking with a mental health provider about the distress you almost certainly experience from being close to a person with a personality disorder. Mental illness can significantly disrupt the lives of both the affected person and those who care about him or her, and it's normal — and healthy — to need help coping. A mental health provider also can help you develop boundaries and self-care strategies so that you're able to enjoy and succeed in your own life without guilt.
There's no sure way to prevent personality disorders. Trying to identify those most at risk, such as children living with neglect or abuse, and offering early intervention may help. Taking steps to control your stress, increase your resilience and boost low self-esteem also may offer benefits.
Getting appropriate treatment early, and sticking with it for the long term, may prevent personality disorder symptoms from worsening.
Last Updated: 2010-09-10
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