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Part One: What Are Personality Disorders?

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What are personality disorders? Notoriously difficult to treat, personality disorders could potentially arise from trauma or genetics. Specific causes for each personality disorder have yet to be identified.

The 10 Personality Disorders

Being able to answer the question, “What are personality disorders?” begins by understanding the types, subtypes, and criteria associated with each. 

Personality Disorders: Cluster Types 

Professionals have sorted the ten personality disorders into three different clusters. The disorders within each category make people behave in similar ways, even though they may have different conditions. 

Cluster A

Cluster A personality disorders include paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders and are often characterized by “odd, eccentric thinking or behavior.”

Paranoid Personality Disorder

A person must meet specific criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (referred to as the DSM-5) to qualify for a diagnosis of paranoid personality disorder.

 Four or more characterized behaviors that contribute to a substantial mistrust of those around them must be present. 

Some of these symptoms from the American Psychological Association (APA, 2013) include: 

  • suspecting that “others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her”
  • being “preoccupied with unjustified doubts about loyalty.”
  • not confiding in people for fear that somebody will use the information against them
  • understanding remarks as “hidden demeaning or threatening messages.”
  • holding grudges, or consistently suspecting infidelity of partners

The DSM-5 specifies that others’ suspiciousness cannot occur during other disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or another disorder with psychotic features.

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Schizoid Personality Disorder

A person diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder is usually socially withdrawn, expresses little to no emotion, chooses a more solitary existence, and does not tend to let praise or criticism from others affect them. 

Often, those with schizoid personality disorder do not seek out or maintain close personal relationships. 

Other symptoms include:

  • an absorption in introspection or fantasy
  • ignoring or seeming not to care about the norms and customs of their society 
  • tending not to experience pleasure from leisure activities
  • expressing an overall air of coldness and disinterest.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Those diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder share some similar traits with schizoid personality disorder; however, often also experience

  • Flat emotional responses
  • Peculiar and odd mannerisms and thinking
  • A belief that they have supernatural abilities
  • Dressing in a manner that is different than the norm
  • Unusual perceptions
  • A strange way of speaking

Cluster B

Those experiencing personality disorders within the Cluster B group share similar traits of overly dramatic, unpredictable, or extreme emotional reactions to events.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder can culminate into some frightening aspects. Those with an antisocial personality disorder may violate other people’s rights without regard for how their actions affect others. 

Other symptoms could include:

  • Lying, stealing, or conning others
  • Legal problems due to violence towards others
  • Impulsivity
  • Lack of regret and remorse for actions

Borderline Personality Disorder

Those who have borderline personality disorders suffer from impulsivity in relationships, dramatic emotional swings, as well as:

  • A fear of being abandoned in relationships and going to desperate lengths to avoid potentially abandonment
  • Suicidal behavior
  • A self-image that remains fragile or fragmented
  • Moods that hinge upon interpersonal relationships, often being elated or extremely distressed

Histrionic Personality Disorder

People diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder display characterization such as seeking attention; they “may be uncomfortable when they are not the center of attention.” 

Additionally, they may:

  • Experience emotions that switch rapidly
  • Have constant concerns about their physical appearance
  • Uses emotions, drama, or sexuality to gain attention from others
  • Easily influenced by others

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

At the core of their disorder, those with narcissistic personality disorder lack empathy for those around them. Additionally, they:

  • Desire admiration from others
  • Feel entitled, better than those around them, or have an inflated sense of self-importance
  • Have a hard time recognizing the feelings and needs of others
  • Exaggerate their accomplishments and accolades
  • Take advantage of others to work towards fantasies of power and influence

Cluster C 

Those with a diagnosed Cluster C personality disorder share some characteristics, including “anxious, fearful thinking or behavior.” 

The three personality disorders that fall under this category are avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.

Avoidant Personality Disorder 

The American Psychological Association (2013) characterizes avoidant personality disorder with the following symptoms:

  • Avoidance of occupational activities involving interpersonal contact due to fear of rejection or criticism 
  • Unwilling to be involved with people unless there is a guarantee they will like them
  • Fears being shamed or ridiculed, avoids intimate relationships, interpersonal situations, new activities due to this fear
  • Sees self as socially inept or inferior to others

Dependent Personality Disorder

The APA characterizes those diagnosed with a dependent personality disorder as presenting an “excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation” (2013, p. 675). 

This personality disorder can present in several different ways, including:

  • Needing advice, reassurance for day-to-day life decisions
  • Difficulty in disagreeing with others for fear of loss of approval/support
  • Difficulty in initiating tasks/projects on their own because they lack self-confidence
  • Going to excessive lengths to gain acceptance, nurturance, and support from others
  • Dislikes being alone due to feelings of discomfort, helplessness, or that they are unable to care for themselves

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder 

People who are experiencing obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (different from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) experience “pervasive patterns of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency” (APA, 2013, p. 678). 

These patterns could be present in several different contexts, including:

  • Being preoccupied with details, so much so that the point of the tasks is moot 
  • Inability to complete tasks/projects due to perfectionism
  • Excludes leisure activities for the sake of work and productivity
  • Inflexibility in matters of cultural or religious values, ethics, or morals
  • Difficulty in delegating tasks as they want them done a certain way
  • Overall qualities of rigidity and stubbornness 

Key Takeaways

Understanding what personality disorders are and the criteria that define them is only part of the information you need. The causes, risk factors, and treatment modalities are the other half of the puzzle. 

In part two of this series we will discuss these crucial elements that help us answer the question, “What are personality disorders”?. 

At Integrative Life Center, we dedicate ourselves to ensuring that our clients receive tailored, relevant, and heart-focused care. 


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