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Part Two: What Are Personality Disorders? 

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Previously, we’ve covered what personality disorders are – the cluster types, the subtypes, and the criteria for each. 

Understanding personality disorders, however, is not as simple as being able to define them – we must also understand causes, risk factors, and treatment for these types of disorders. 

Causes of Personality Disorders

Psychologists still are not entirely sure what causes each different personality disorder. However, they do have some ideas on factors that could contribute.

Researchers have found specific genes linked to various personality disorders, including a malfunctioning gene that is a potential factor in obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Multiple genes are also responsible for aggression, fear, and anxiety that could play a role in other personality disorders.

Trauma, especially childhood trauma, may cause mental health disorders due to its effects on neurobiology. This is also true for personality disorders. Studies have found that those with borderline personality disorder have higher rates of childhood sexual trauma. 

People who experienced childhood verbal abuse were more likely to be diagnosed with narcissistic, borderline, paranoid, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.

When Do Personality Disorders Develop? 

Many potential causes for personality disorders take place in early childhood to adolescence, including trauma. However, receiving a diagnosis for a personality disorder usually does not happen until someone is a young adult –  if they ever receive a diagnosis at all.

Treatment for Personality Disorders

Treatment for personality disorders varies significantly with each individual and their most distressing symptoms. Frequently, treatment for personality disorders involves managing these symptoms. 

For example, suppose someone with an avoidant personality disorder is most upset by their difficulty forming intimate relationships. In that case, a therapist could work with the person to develop skills that ease fear and anxiety when forming these close relationships. 

There are several ways to accomplish this, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Group Therapy, or Psychoeducation.

Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication to assist patients with personality disorders. 

However, there is no current “cure” for any of the ten personality disorders. A regiment of therapy and medication can prove to be very beneficial for patients.


Medical professionals will complete evaluations for individuals with suspected personality disorders. These include medical histories, physical examinations, and mental evaluations. Sometimes, physical illness can cause personality disorders or other mental health disorders.

Mental health professionals will thoroughly examine the distressing symptoms of someone with a suspected personality disorder. Please remember that only qualified mental healthcare professionals can make an accurate diagnosis for any mental health disorder, including personality disorders. 

DSM-5 Criteria 

Each personality disorder has a specific set of criteria that must be met before a mental health professional can diagnose. An accurate diagnosis might take several sessions of assessments and talk therapy. 

Most personality disorders require persistent symptoms across several facets of an individual’s life. These symptoms are most appropriately assessed by a trained mental health professional. Additionally, the DSM-5 requires that the cause of the symptoms are not other health conditions or the use of substances.

Dual Diagnosis: Personality Disorders and Substance Use Disorders

A dual diagnosis is when more than one mental health disorder occurs within an individual. If someone is diagnosed with a personality disorder and a substance use disorder, they will require tailored treatment that fits their specific symptoms, conditions, and goals.

Substance use disorders are relatively common throughout the population. Substance use disorders within the population treated for personality disorders range from 34.8% to 73%. Borderline and antisocial personality disorders are the most common to co-occur with substance use disorders.

Having a mental health disorder can be extremely difficult, but a dual diagnosis can present specific challenges to the individuals suffering. Adverse effects stemming from trauma or difficulties related to a personality disorder might lead someone to use substances to numb some of their emotional pain. 

Thankfully, several evidence-based treatments can help those suffering from a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and personality disorder and those suffering from just one of those mental health disorders.

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Treatment Modalities 

Evidence-based treatments for personality disorders include Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Group Therapy, and Psychoeducation.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is the theory that those suffering from mental health disorders struggle with emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation can stem from childhood trauma, genetics, or a combination of both. This dysregulation makes it very hard for a person to live a stable, healthy life.

DBT seeks to teach individuals skills that can help decrease symptoms of personality disorders, such as conflict management for relationships, mindfulness for impulsivity, and distress tolerance skills. DBT can also include group therapy as a part of its intervention.


Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) has also been very effective in treating personality disorders. CBT believes that those with personality disorders are suffering from maladaptive beliefs about themself and others. 

With the help of a therapist, the person learns how to restructure some of these negative beliefs and thoughts, cultivate skills to assist in emotional regulation, and modify negative behaviors.

Group Therapy 

Group therapy uses groups of people with similar mental health disorders and facilitators, who are therapists, to come together to discuss issues and healing. 

Talking about experiences in a safe space can be very therapeutic for people with personality disorders. Frequently, they might feel alone or isolated with their condition, but group therapy provides an environment where they are not ‘the odd one out.’ 

Using various techniques, group therapy facilitators can lead participants in meditations, skill-building, and guided conversations to help foster a sense of community and support.


A combination of psychoeducation with any of the treatments mentioned above for personality disorder can help immensely. 

Psychoeducation is teaching a person about mental health disorders: their causes, their symptoms, and their treatment. 

Helping an individual suffering from a personality disorder understand what is happening to them can be very therapeutic and enable them to move forward in the healing process. 


While there are no medications available solely for people with personality disorders, research has shown that other psychiatric medications can help ease symptoms. 

For example, if someone has a borderline personality disorder and is experiencing intense mood swings, a mood stabilizer could influence a more safe and stable feeling. 

Other medications that can ease symptoms of personality disorders include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications. 

Coping Strategies 

Coping strategies for those with personality disorders vary widely. In combination with therapy, a vast array of options exist that can help in the healing process.

For example, some people find journaling or meditating helpful to ease feelings of anxiousness. 

Others find comfort in kick-boxing or horse riding to help with anger. Supportive, connecting relationships can help all people with personality disorders.

A mental health professional at Integrative Life Center can help anyone with a personality disorder find specific coping strategies for them, including different therapy types. 

Contact ILC today to get started on a healing journey explicitly tailored to you and your mental health.


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