Personality disorders

Every one of us has a unique personality, a way of thinking, behaving and identifying ourselves from the world around us. We will all have a range of emotions and behaviours that make us who we are. We may be an excitable person, we may be more shy or withdrawn, we will have many characteristics, and while they are what make us unique and individual, they will usually fall under what is generally accepted as 'expected' or 'normal' behaviour.

A person with a personality disorder (PD) may have limited ways of feeling, behaving or thinking. This can have major impact on relationships, in dealing with others and life itself. 

Personality disorders affect around 10% of the UK population, with Borderline Personality disorder (BPD) being the most commonly diagnosed of all PD.

Identifying a personality disorder

While selfishness, anger, irritability and other more negative traits can be experienced by us all, and while we may all experience more self-centredness, anxiety or other negative characteristics at times of stress, a personality disorder will affect the every day life of a sufferer, all of the time, not just at times of trauma.

A personality disorder can present in different ways, however if you have a personality disorder you are likely to suffer some of the following:

  • Difficulty forming or sustaining relationships
  • Difficulty getting on with people around you 
  • Difficulty controlling your emotions
  • Difficulty controlling your behaviours
  • Your thoughts and opinions may differ from those around you and appear 'unusual' to other people
  • Find it hard to change negative patterns of behaviour
  • Find difficult emotions hard to express and may behave in unhelpful ways as a result
  • Find it hard to learn new helpful ways of behaving despite experiencing difficulty with your behaviour
  • Find your thoughts, feelings and/or behaviours are harming yourself or others

The cause of personality disorder is not completely clear, however incidence of abuse, trauma and/or difficult family circumstance in childhood or adolescence is high in sufferers of PD. 

Genetic, social and circumstantial factors have all been linked to personality disorders. Personality disorders usually start to present themselves in adolescence or early into adulthood, but can start earlier. Often personality disorders can improve with age, however if you are struggling with a personality disorder there are treatments that can help and we strongly suggest you seek professional help.

Types of personality disorder

Personality disorders tend to fall into three groups or 'clusters' 

  • Cluster A - Suspicious
  • Cluster B - Emotional and Impulsive
  • Cluster C - Anxious

Within these clusters there are distinct and complex sub-groups. Please see our feature on types of personality disorder for more on each type.

Suspicious      |      Emotional and impulsive     |     Anxious

  • Paranoid             
  • Schizoid 
  • Schizotypal
  • Antisocial                             
  • Borderline
  • Histrionic 
  • Narcissistic
  • Obsessive compulsive
  • Avoidant 
  • Dependent

Some personality disorders share similarities and some people may meet criteria for more than one.

Treatment for personality disorders

Treatment for personality disorders is improving although services vary across the country. Since the introduction of the Knowledge and Understanding Framework (KUF) training for staff dealing with personality disorders has greatly improved.

Each disorder will present it's own unique roads to recovery and different things work for different individuals. Stigma is still a barrier to proper diagnosis and treatment and unfortunately we hear of many cases of discrimination against people with personality disorder, even from the medical profession. This can be due to the fact these conditions are seen as difficult to treat as thoughts and behaviours are deeply ingrained and many sufferers take a few attempts at change before finding a treatment plan right for them.

You may be offered one or more of the following:

  • Individual therapy - such as counselling, psychotherapy, CBT or DBT
  • Group therapy - group therapy in the community or in a therapeutic community has been proven useful in reengaging the social aspects of community life in patients with PD
  • Medication - if paranoia, hallucinations or delusions are present antipsychotic medication can be used to treat these symptoms. Mood stabilisers such as lithium may be used to treat aggression or compulsiveness. Antidepressants may also be an option depending on your disorder.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) has been proven very affective in treating borderline personality disorder as well as helping with self-harming and suicidal behaviour. DBT is available in some parts of the country, your local GP should have details of what is available in your locality.

Your healthcare provider will be able to assess your individual symptoms and advise accordingly. 

Creative arts such as writing, drama or painting can be a really great way of expressing negative emotions and reordering and reevaluating the way we express ourselves, it is also a way of getting involved in a social group. This type of art therapy has been found helpful in treating some personality disorders.

If you have other conditions or are struggling with addiction you may require treatment for these in addition to the therapy you receive for PD.

Find a therapist

Personality disorder therapists

Please see our guides below for further information and resources.

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