Understanding Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are a class of mental health disorders characterized by maladaptive patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that deviate from societal norms and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, and other areas of functioning. These disorders typically manifest in early adulthood and continue throughout the individual’s life.

Personality disorders are classified into three different clusters based on their characteristics and symptoms. Cluster A disorders include paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders. Individuals with these disorders are often perceived as odd or eccentric and may display symptoms of social detachment, suspiciousness, and unusual perceptual experiences. Cluster B disorders include borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorders. These disorders are characterized by dramatic, erratic, and emotional behavior and may involve impulsivity, manipulativeness, and a lack of empathy. Cluster C disorders include avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. Individuals with these disorders may be anxious, fearful, and preoccupied with details and may have difficulty making decisions and forming relationships.

Symptoms of personality disorders can vary widely depending on the specific disorder and individual, but generally include difficulty in social and occupational situations, emotional instability, impulse control issues, and difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Individuals with personality disorders may struggle with self-identity and may be prone to self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

Effective treatment options for personality disorders may include psychotherapy, medication, and in severe cases, hospitalization. Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), are often used to help individuals with personality disorders develop coping skills and improve their interpersonal relationships. Medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics may also be used to manage specific symptoms of personality disorders. Hospitalization may be necessary in cases where individuals are a danger to themselves or others.

Personality disorders can develop due to a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and life experiences. Some studies suggest that genetic factors play a role in the development of personality disorders, as certain traits may be inherited from parents. Environmental factors such as childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse may also contribute to the development of personality disorders. Life experiences such as substance abuse, trauma, and chronic stress may exacerbate symptoms of personality disorders.

Cluster A disorders are characterized by odd, eccentric, and unusual behavior. There are three types of Cluster A disorders: paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal.

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD): People with PPD are suspicious and distrustful of others, believing that others are out to harm or deceive them. They often interpret other people’s motives as malevolent, and are hyper-vigilant for signs of betrayal or treachery. They may hold grudges and be unforgiving, and may be easily angered or provoked. PPD can make it difficult for people to form and maintain relationships with others, as their suspicious and mistrustful nature can lead them to be very guarded and defensive. They may also have difficulty accepting constructive criticism, and may feel that others are trying to undermine them.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD): People with SPD have a disinterest in forming close relationships with others, and often prefer solitary activities. They may have few close friends, and may seem indifferent to praise or criticism from others. They may also have little interest in sexual relationships, and may appear emotionally cold or distant to others. People with SPD may have a rich inner world, but have difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings to others.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder (STPD): People with STPD may have unusual beliefs or behaviors, and may be superstitious or have magical thinking. They may have difficulty forming close relationships with others, and may have a tendency to withdraw from social situations. They may also have difficulty with communication, including unusual speech patterns or unusual or paranoid ideas. STPD can make it difficult for people to function in daily life, as they may have difficulty with personal hygiene, work, or other activities of daily living.

It is important to note that these disorders are relatively rare, and only affect a small percentage of the population. Additionally, individuals with these disorders may not necessarily exhibit all of the symptoms associated with them, and each person’s experience with the disorder may be unique.

Treatment for Cluster A disorders typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful for people with PPD, as it can help them challenge their mistrustful and suspicious thoughts and develop more positive relationships with others. For people with SPD, social skills training and group therapy can be helpful in developing the skills necessary for building and maintaining relationships with others. STPD can be particularly challenging to treat, but therapy can help individuals learn to manage their symptoms and develop coping strategies to manage their daily lives.

While medication is not typically used as a primary treatment for Cluster A disorders, certain medications may be helpful in managing specific symptoms associated with these disorders. For example, antidepressants may be helpful in managing depressive symptoms associated with SPD, while antipsychotic medications may be helpful in managing delusions or hallucinations associated with STPD.

Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by emotional dysregulation and dramatic or erratic behavior. Individuals with Cluster B personality disorders may struggle with impulse control, lack empathy for others, and experience intense emotional reactions.

There are four types of Cluster B personality disorders, including:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Individuals with BPD may struggle with intense and unstable relationships, impulsivity, identity disturbances, and affective instability. They may also engage in self-harm and suicidal behaviors. According to research, BPD affects approximately 1.4% of the population.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): Individuals with NPD may have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. They may struggle with arrogance, entitlement, and exploitative behavior. Research suggests that NPD affects approximately 0.5-5% of the population.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD): Individuals with HPD may engage in attention-seeking behaviors, have an exaggerated emotional expression, and be overly concerned with physical appearance. They may also struggle with impulsivity, suggestibility, and the need for immediate gratification. According to research, HPD affects approximately 2-3% of the population.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD): Individuals with ASPD may engage in criminal behavior, disregard for the rights of others, and lack empathy or remorse for their actions. They may also struggle with impulsivity, aggression, and deceitfulness. Research suggests that ASPD affects approximately 0.2-3.3% of the population.

The etiology of Cluster B personality disorders is multifactorial, with a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributing to their development. Childhood trauma and neglect, as well as certain parenting styles (e.g., overindulgence or neglect), have been linked to the development of Cluster B personality disorders. Additionally, individuals with Cluster B personality disorders may have experienced a lack of emotional validation and support during childhood, leading to a heightened need for attention and validation in adulthood.

Effective treatment for Cluster B personality disorders typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that has been shown to be effective in treating BPD. DBT emphasizes skills training in emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has also been found to be helpful in treating NPD and ASPD. Pharmacotherapy, such as mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medications, may also be used in conjunction with psychotherapy to manage symptoms of Cluster B personality disorders.

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Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.