‘Personality Disorder’ is a catch-all term for a number behaviour or attitudes which don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for a known mental condition. It’s estimated around 10% of the population are affected by personality disorders and common symptoms include difficulty with relationships and social interaction.

A personality disorder describes a problem with a person’s character traits or behaviours. Although these vary from person to person a personality disorder is marked by traits that constantly stand out from what most would consider ‘normal’. As ‘normal’ can vary according to culture this is seen by some as vague criteria to base a diagnosis on and there is some controversy surrounding personality disorders. As mentioned, personality disorders describe conditions that don’t fall into the boundaries of existing mental disorders such as anxious. Sufferers may display overlapping symptoms from several known conditions or unique symptoms peculiar to them.

Although there’s a variety of different personality disorders they all share some common features;

The first signs of the disorder occur in early adolescence or late childhood and remain through to adulthood
Difficulty in making friends and other relationship problems
Feelings of alienation
Behaviours and attitudes which consistently cause problems for themselves and others
Being stubborn in respect to attitudes and behaviours

Although research is ongoing no single cause of personality disorders has been discovered. There may be many factors such as upbringing, development and genetics which can trigger personality disorders. Biological problems such as chemical imbalances and neurological disorders may also play a part. Similarly it may be a combination of these factors coupled with a period of increased stress or big life events such as the death of a loved one or employment troubles which lead to the disorder. Personality disorders rarely occur alone, there are usually other mental health problems which accompany the disorder like panic attacks, substance abuse and anxiety. As these symptoms can ‘hide’ the problem diagnosing a personality disorder can be difficult. And at the other end of the scale it’s possible to misdiagnose someone as having a personality disorder when they have a condition with similar symptoms.

Although those with personality disorders can have many different symptoms and may show signs of more than one personality disorder, in general disorders are put into three main groups;

Cluster A

Paranoid – This is marked by a sensitivity to failure or rejection. Sufferers will often be very suspicious of others and may misinterpret peoples behaviour as being hostile. May be suspicious about partners being unfaithful and are often self centred.
Schizoid – May appear cold and detached. Sufferers can be introspective or and may become preoccupied with fantasy.
Schizotypal – Difficulty in making friends and maintaining relationships. May think obsessively about certain subjects, sometimes of a violent or sexual nature. May hear voices or experience hallucinations.

Cluster B

Anti-Social – May appear indifferent about how their behaviours is making other feel. Can act in an irresponsible manner and may be prone to agression or violence
Emotionally unstable – Tendency to act impulsively, may be unable to plan ahead, little self control, mood swings or aggression
Histrionic – Suggestibility, easily influenced. May become obsessed with physical attractiveness, may act in a sexually inappropriate way
Narcissistic – Delusions of grandeur, self importance. Lack of empathy, manipulating or exploiting others for their own ends

Cluster C

Anxious – Feelings of insecurity or shyness, difficulty socialising
Dependant – Feelings of dispair or discomfort when left alone. May depend on others to make important decisions for them
Obsessive – Need to strictly follow rules or orders. Difficulty making friends or maintaining relationships

Due to their varied nature there is no one treatment for personality disorders. Research has shown that, while personality disorders are treatable, it has not yet found a standard treatment for all types. Several types of therapies are widely used however, including; family, group and cognitive-behavioural therapy. For some types of personality disorders drug treatments have had some success, antipsychotic drugs can treat delusions or irritability whereas anti-anxiety drugs can be used in treating depressive or anxious symptoms