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Personality disorders

personality disorders

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Personality disorders is the name given to a group of mental health diagnoses. Our personality is the word that sums up our individual thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Although these tend to be fairly predictable, overtime there is a natural maturation that happens that supports most people to become flexible in their responses and able to learn from previous experiences and adapt their behaviour to cope with new challenges.

However if you have a personality disorder your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are more difficult to change which means that you have a more limited range of ways of relating with and responding to others. This can make relationships difficult and can sometimes result in people feeling isolated, unsupported and insecure. The term personality disorder only applies if this is your experience all of the time, in all areas of your life. It does not apply to people who experience personality changes because of a life event like bereavement.

Different types of disorder

In the UK personality disorders have been grouped into ten types which are then put into three categories of behaviours – suspicious, emotional and impulsive, and anxious. Within the category of suspicious there are disorders that include paranoid behaviour where a person is very wary of forming relationships and finds it hard to trust anyone else. There is also a disorder labelled antisocial personality disorder which links with adult criminal behaviour and impulsive behaviour without regard for the consequences for yourself or others.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Within the ’emotional and impulsive’ is the most well known diagnoses which is called Borderline Personality disorder. This particular disorder can cause problems in various areas of your life. It can be hard to have a clear sense of who you are and you may feel very changeable in your emotions and experience intense mood swings. There may be psychotic periods where you hear voices or see things that others can’t. At times you may behave impulsively and also want to hurt yourself. It is also common to have a history of stormy and broken relationships and to cling on to previous relationships through a fear of being alone.

personality disorders

Anxious Personality Disorder

In the last category labelled as anxious personality disorders are diagnoses that include behaviours of extreme relating, either to the point of being overly dependent on others for many aspects of your life or for being very avoidant of intimacy and relationship. A person with the label of Avoidant personality disorder feels a high degree of shame and believes that they are very inferior to others and is haunted by a feeling of being found out and rejected by others. As a way of dealing with these fears they have tendencies of avoiding social interactions and friendships. It can be hard for others to understand the degree to which an avoidant person worries. Conversely a person who has the diagnoses of dependent personality disorder feels very weak and needy and dependent on the support of others in large areas of their life. They can also put up with unreasonable behaviour just as a way of avoiding being alone. Others often describe people in this group as being submissive and passive.

Getting the correct diagnosis

At the root of most personality disorders are acute feelings of fear and shame, and the diagnoses itself can bring an extra layer of judgement as sadly, personality disorders are very misunderstood and judged in our wider culture. It is essential that a diagnosis is given by the appropriate mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. The list of symptoms includes many common every day experiences so it’s important not to make assumptions about yourself or anyone else without having a thorough assessment.

Disorder treatments

There are lots of different ways of treating personality disorders. Therapeutic communities are residential places where people live together and have access to group support and therapeutic actives. These are one treatment that has been show to be very beneficial because people are supported to build trusting relationships and contribute to community life.

Art therapies such as writing and painting offer very creative ways for people to express themselves without words and have been proved to be useful both as a therapy and a self help tool. Within counselling and psychotherapy, certain talking treatments like Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that challenge the way a person thinks about their experiences have had success in treating specific conditions like Borderline personality disorder. Group therapy can be very helpful for those disorders that affect relationships such as those in the anxious personality group. Sometimes medication is prescribed to deal with some of the symptoms such as anxiety or irritability and advocacy where an independent person helps you access support and express what you need is also a very helpful if the person feels uncomfortable or unable to contact services and help for themselves.

The Mind leaflet Understanding Personality Disorders has a lot more information about all aspects of personality disorders including a useful contacts list at the end with specialist services such as therapeutic communities. There are also links on this page to interviews with people who have been diagnosed with a personality disorder and who have experience of trying different treatment.



About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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