Personality Disorders

  • Basics

    People with personality disorders have inflexible behaviors that interfere with their ability to function in society.

    Personality is a combination of lasting emotional and behavioral traits. Usually a person's personality is established by the end of adolescence, and persists throughout adult life. People with personality disorders—an estimated 9% to 10% of the population—have extremely rigid behavioral patterns. Their rigid behavior impairs their ability to function or get along with others, and causes them emotional distress. People with personality disorders are said to regard their behavior as being right and normal despite distressing feedback from others. People with a personality disorder often believe that other people are responsible for their problems.

    There are three types of recognized personality disorders: odd-eccentric, dramatic, and anxious-fearful. People with odd-eccentric personality disorders tend to withdraw socially and detach themselves from others. They are often suspicious, distrustful, and uncomfortable with close relationships. This group includes paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.

    People with dramatic personality disorders are emotionally intense and unstable, and exhibit impulsiveness, irritability, and aggression. They are manipulative, demanding, and self-centered in their relationships with others. Although they often lack the ability to empathize with others' concerns, they are very sensitive to slights and withdrawal of attention, and often respond with anger, anxiety, or depression that is disproportionate to the situation. Histrionic, narcissistic, antisocial,and borderline personality disorders all fall into this category.

    People with anxious-fearful type personality disorders have overwhelming fear of rejection or social disapproval. They usually deal with these concerns through avoidance, submission, or by being very self-controlled or inhibited. Avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders fall into this category.

  • Causes

    Little is understood about the causes of personality disorders. Some disorders may beheritable. Temperamental factors in childhood may also be associated with personality disorders as an adult. Certain personality disorders may occur because of temperamental differences between a child and the parents. Education, moral teachings, life experiences, and adolescent socialization may also play a role. None of these possibilities, however, have been proven in scientific studies. Other factors such as physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, neglect, loss or separation during childhood, and brain abnormalities have also been cited as possible causes for personality disorders.

    Although most personality disorders appear during the teenage years, others can appear later in life as a result of physical damage to the brain, psychiatric illness, or extreme stress.

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