Personality Disorders

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Personality Disorders

What Are Personality Disorders?

People with personality disorders have long-standing thinking patterns and acting that differ from what society considers usual or customary. They are often unaware that they have a problem and do not believe they have anything to control. They have trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. It causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social activities, work and school. In some cases, you may not realise 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. Personality disorders usually begin in the teenage years or early adulthood.


Personality disorders all have four standard features:

  1. Distorted thinking patterns,
  2. Problematic emotional responses,
  3. Over- or under-regulated impulse control
  4. Interpersonal difficulties.

These four key features combine in various ways to form ten specific personality disorders identified in DSM-5 (APA, 2013). Each condition lists asset criteria reflecting observable characteristics associated with that disorder.

To be diagnosed with a specific personality disorder, a person must meet the minimum number of criteria established for that disorder. Furthermore, to meet the diagnostic requirements for a psychiatric disorder, the symptoms must cause functional impairment and subjective distress. This means the symptoms are distressing to the person with the condition, and the signs make it difficult for them to function well in society.


Ten types of personality disorders

The ten various personality disorders can be grouped into three clusters based on descriptive similarities within each cluster. These clusters are:

Cluster A is the “odd, eccentric” cluster. (They are dominated by distorted thinking.)

In her book, Abnormal Psychology Susan Nolen-Hoeksema stated that ”people with these disorders have symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, including inappropriate or flat affect, odd thought and speech patterns, and paranoia.” She adds that people with these disorders maintain their grasp on reality, however.


Cluster B is called the dramatic, emotional, and erratic cluster: (They share problems with impulse control and emotional regulation.)

In her book Abnormal Psychology, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema states that ”people with these disorders tend to be manipulative, volatile and uncaring in social relationships. They are prone to impulsive, sometimes violent behaviours that show little regard for their safety or the safety or needs of others.”


Cluster C is the “anxious, fearful” cluster: (They all share a high level of anxiety)

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder
  • Dependent Personality Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Hoeksema states that people with these disorders are ”extremely concerned about being criticised or abandoned by others and therefore have dysfunctional relationships with others.

Source: Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan. Abnormal Psychology, 6th Edition. 2014. Chapter 9: 252- 253


More about personality & personality disorders

What is personality?

Personality is long-standing patterns of perceiving, feelings, thinking about and relating to oneself and the environment.

What is a personality trait?

A personality trait is a prominent aspect of personality that is consistent across time – for example, someone is outgoing, caring, disorganised or impulsive.


The five factors that define your personality

According to McCrae & Costa, everyone’s personality is composed of 5 different factors, often referred to as the Big 5, namely:

Negative emotionality vs Emotional stability

Individuals high on this facet are:

Fearful, apprehensive
Angry, bitter
Pessimistic, glum
Timid, embarrassed
Tempted, urgent
Helpless, fragile

Individuals low on this facet are:

Relaxed, unconcerned, cool
Even-tempered
Optimistic
Self-assured, glib, shameless
Controlled, restrained
Clear-thinking, fearless, unflappable


Extraversion vs Introversion

Individuals high on this facet are:

Cordial, affectionate, attached
Sociable, outgoing
Dominant, forceful
Unassuming, quiet, resigned
Reckless, daring
High-spirited

Individuals low on this facet are:

Cold, aloof, indifferent
Withdraw, isolated
Unassuming, quiet, resigned
Passive, lethargic
Cautious, monotonous, dull
Placid, anhedonic


Openness vs Closedness ( to one’s own experience)

Individuals high on this facet are:

Dreamers, unrealistic, imaginative
Aberrant interests, aesthetic
Self-aware
Unconventional, eccentric
Unusual, creative
Permissive, broad-minded

Individuals low on this facet are:

Practical, concrete
Uninvolved, no aesthetic interests
Constricted, unaware
Routine, predictable, habitual, stubborn
Pragmatic, rigid
Traditional, inflexible, dogmatic


Agreeableness vs Antagonism

Individuals high on this facet are:

Gullible, naïve, trusting
Confiding, honest
Sacrificial, giving
Docile, cooperative
Meek, self-effacing, humble
Soft, empathetic

Individuals low on this facet are:

Sceptical, cynical, disorganised, suspicious, paranoid
Cunning, manipulative, deceptive
Stingy, selfish, greedy, exploitative
Op-positional, combative, aggressive
Confident, boastful, arrogant
Tough, callous, ruthless


Conscientiousness vs Antagonism

Individuals high on this facet are:

Perfectionist, efficient
Ordered, methodical, organised
Rigid, reliable, dependable
Workaholic, ambitious
Dogged, devoted
Cautious, meditative, reflective

Individuals low on this facet are:

Lax, negligent
Haphazard, disorganised, sloppy
Casual, undependable, unethical
Aimless, desultory
Hedonistic, negligent
Hasty careless, rash

Source: Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan. Abnormal Psychology, 6th Edition. 2014. Chapter 9: 252- 253


Get help

When to see a doctor
If you have any signs or symptoms of a personality disorder, see your doctor or other primary care professional or a mental health professional. Untreated personality disorders can cause significant problems in your life that may get worse without treatment.

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