Personality or Personality Disorder?

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Every one of us possess a personality, a collection of uniquely expressed characteristics that influences a person’s patterns of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and interactions (Comer & Comer, 2018). Our personalities lead us to react in predictable manner as we go through life and interact with our environment. Nevertheless, our personalities are somewhat malleable and susceptible to adjustments in response to experience. In contrast, those who suffer from a personality disorder — about 15 percent of U.S. adults — usually are not capable of adjusting their reactions in response to feedback from their surroundings. These individuals exhibit a rigid pattern of thinking and feeling as well as of behaviors that impairs their sense of self, emotional experiences, and capacity for empathy and/or intimacy (APA, 2013). Thus, their personalities can be said to be dysfunctional compared to those of most other people in their societal context. Ultimately, people with personality disorders suffer significant adaptive problems and psychological pain. Unfortunately, personality disorders are among the most difficult psychological disorders to treat. No specific medication algorithm exists for personality features — unlike internalizing symptoms of depression or anxiety, for example. However, psychotherapy has been one popular mode of treatment of personality disorders, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for borderline personality features.

Personality Disorders Explained

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies 10 personality disorders and classifies them into three clusters (APA, 2013).

Cluster A

This cluster includes disorders characterized by odd, bizarre, or eccentric behaviors.

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder

People with these disorders typically display behaviors similar to but not as pervasive as those seen in individuals with schizophrenia, namely extreme suspiciousness, social withdrawal, and odd ways of thinking and perceiving. People afflicted by these disorders seldom seek treatment as they do not acknowledge their need for help.

Cluster B

The personality disorders within the second cluster can be characterized by dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behavior (Mayo Clinic, 2016). People with these personality disorders behave so dramatically, emotionally, and erratically that it is almost impossible for them to maintain healthy relationships with others.

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorders (more commonly diagnosed)

Cluster C

The final cluster is marked by heightened levels of anxiety.

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

People with these disorders behave anxiously or fearfully. Additionally, many of the symptoms experienced by people with one of these disorders resemble symptoms found in anxiety and depressive disorders. Compared to the other personality disorders, people with one of the “anxious” personality disorders are more likely to be helped by treatment.

Further Personality Disorder Classification

The current categorical approach to personality disorders adopted by DSM-5 assumes that an individual either has or does not have a personality disorder (Clark et al., 2017). Form this categorical logic, it could also be assumed that an individual who meets the diagnostic criteria for a specific personality disorder is not significantly affected by additional symptoms not part of their diagnosis (Comer & Comer, 2018). But clinicians have difficulty distinguishing one personality disorder from another due to the high overlap of their symptoms, and oftentimes resort to diagnosing an individual with more than one personality disorder. In light of this encumbrance, many clinical researchers have argued against the current categorical classification of personality disorders, and propose that instead, personality disorders should be classified using a dimensional approach.

Shattering Stigma

Stigma associated with the diagnosis of a personality disorder is unfortunately a common occurrence within our society. In 2016, a study revealed that knowledge of these disorders among the general public and even medical professionals public is low (Sheehan et al,  2016), and can cause this population to not seek help. Individuals diagnosed living with a personality disorder can be negatively impacted due to stigma. Educating ourselves and others can allow us as a community to improve the quality of life of this population and their loved ones. After all, it is the right for all to access clinical and social resources available for well-being improvement.

To learn more about personality disorders, visit:

Mayo Clinic: https://mayocl.in/2nPLVXR

APA Podcast: https://bit.ly/339SnvL

Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Frances Morales, Andy Torres, Stephanie Arellano, and Maria Sevilla-Matos.