Every individual has a personality. Personality is what we are, not what we have. Sometimes personality is so inflexible or marked by shortcomings that it causes ongoing problems in life. When that happens, we may call it a disorder.
There is no concrete line dividing personality type from personality disorder. We assess functioning on a continuum and call it a disorder when it causes disturbances in an individual’s life and necessitates treatment. Even those of us with well-functioning, stable personalities may have many features of the disordered personality types listed here. For example, an individual can have a narcissistic personality without having a narcissistic personality disorder.
Understanding personality disorders can be immensely helpful in gaining insight into some relationship issues.
What Is a Personality Disorder?
Truly understanding personality disorders can take years of study and practice. Personality disorders constitute a group of mental disorders characterized by enduring, inflexible patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving, and relating to others. These inner experiences, behavior patterns, and relational interactions typically deviate from the person’s culture and occur across various situations. They are inflexible and pervasive and over time cause problems in a person’s life, especially in their interactions with other people (interpersonal relationships).
The onset of this inflexible pattern of feeling, thinking, behaving, and relating to others can be traced back to late adolescence or early adulthood. For it to be diagnosed as a personality disorder, this pervasive pattern of inner experiences, behavior, and interpersonal interactions must cause significant distress or impairment in the individual’s personal, social, and/or occupational areas of life.
Personality disorders typically aren’t diagnosed until an individual is a young adult, often not until the 20s or even 30s. Individuals with personality disorders are all around us and most people can relate to some of the listed features of a personality disorder. These individuals lead pretty normal lives for the most part and often only seek therapy when they start to experience troubling mood symptoms or interpersonal relationship difficulties. We all have certain personality features. Our personality features are an integral part of who we are as people, and as such, are difficult to change. This is why treatment for personality disorders is often lengthy and extensive.
There are four key features of PDs. For a clinical diagnosis, people must experience two of the four:
- Thought patterns that are rigid, extreme, and/or distorted
- Feelings that are atypical in their intensity, range, and appropriateness
- Difficulties with impulse control
- Severe disruptions in interpersonal functioning
Understanding Personality Disorders: 10 Types
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) recognizes ten types of personality disorders. These are grouped together into three different subtypes, or clusters. Understanding the clusters helps in understanding personality disorders. Further, the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM) identifies seven additional personality disorders including Sadistic and Sadomasochistic PD, Masochistic PD, Depressive PD, Somatizing PD, Anxious PD, Dissociative PD, and Mixed/Other PD.
Below you will find a list of those PDs that are recognized by both the DSM-5 and the PDM.
Cluster A PDs
The Cluster A personality disorders are often called “odd” or “eccentric.” The thing that they have in common is distorted thinking as well as being socially awkward and/or withdrawing from others.
Paranoid Personality Disorder
This is the PD that best matches the “Cluster A” description. After all, if you have distorted thinking that makes you paranoid, it is only natural to withdraw from others. More specifically, people with this PD often assume that others are out to get them.
Schizoid Personality Disorder
People with this PD tend to have restricted emotional expression and prefer being alone. One sign is that someone seems indifferent to both praise and criticism from others. They tend to have little awareness of their social impact, which can make them seem superficial, cold, or rude.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
There are some similarities between Schizoid and Schizotypal PDs. However, a key difference is that people with this latter type also experience perceptual distortions. For example, they may see flashes of light that others do not see. Furthermore, they may experience cognitive distortions, such as thinking that they can read other people’s thoughts.
Cluster B PDs
Whereas Cluster A personality disorders are about issues with thinking and social withdrawal, Cluster B disorders are related to impulse control and regulation of emotions.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
When you hear someone on television being called a psychopath or a sociopath, what they really mean is that the person may have antisocial personality disorder.
The characteristics of this PD are:
- Complete disregard for how others feel and lack of remorse for causing harm
- Disregard for property (for example, they may set fires or vandalize other people’s property)
- Hostility, aggression, bullying, and cruelty
- Being deceptive and manipulative
- Impulsive, risky, and dangerous behavior
Borderline Personality Disorder
This personality disorder is often misdiagnosed as bipolar mood disorder (and vice versa) because the two share many mood symptoms. It is characterized by impulsive moods, unstable behavior, black-and-white thinking, and harsh judgment of self and others.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
When you call someone a drama queen, you might mean that they display some types of this personality disorder. The main feature of histrionic PD is that the individual desperately needs to be the center of attention.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
People living with narcissistic personality disorder tend to believe that they are:
- Better than others
- Deserving of more
- Endowed with special powers, skills, and talent
In other words, they feel entitled. They may have delusions of grandeur. However, on occasion, they will realize that they are not “special” and then their self-esteem will plummet to unimaginable depths.
Cluster C PDs
This is often called the “anxious” cluster. High anxiety is common across all of the PDs in this subtype.
Avoidant Personality Disorder
The anxiety present in this personality disorder has to do with interaction with others. People with Avoidant Personality Disorder are terrified of having others view them in a negative way. In fact, they will avoid social situations to prevent that possibility. A key feature of this PD is that the person doesn’t feel like they are “good enough.”
Dependent Personality Disorder
The anxiety in Dependent PD is a little bit different, although it also relates to interaction with others. In this case, the person feels that they absolutely need others. They cannot stand to be alone and have a deep fear of losing people. Therefore, they come across as clingy and needy.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
This isn’t the same as having OCD, although there are similarities between the two. People with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) tend to be perfectionists who value control, rules, and a sense of extreme order.
Learn More About Personality Disorders
Are you interested in better understanding personality disorders? Take the Personality Disorder Quiz here.
Of course, online quizzes do not constitute a diagnosis, nor are they a substitute for seeing a psychologist. A licensed clinical psychologist with experience assessing PDs is the only one who can accurately diagnose a personality disorder and distinguish it from mood disorders that share similar symptoms. Nevertheless, the information in the quiz can be a good starting point for gaining more insight into your own functioning.
After getting that information, you may wish to contact a psychologist proficient in assessing and treating personality disorders. A psychologist specializing in assessing and treating personality disorders is proficient in comprehending your psychological blueprint, which will help you understand why you may be continually vulnerable to certain types of emotional pain or difficulty.
Since personality disorders impact interpersonal relationships, you may also find that relationship therapy is helpful.