Personality disorders often develop in childhood or adolescence. The reasons for personality disorders are diverse: hereditary factors, pregnancy, childhood experiences and trauma. Personality disorders are quite common, affecting 5–15% of the population.
Symptoms of personality disorders
Personality disorders essentially involve a stubbornly rigid way of behaving or experiencing things, causing suffering or other harm to the person.
In different personality disorders, the person misinterprets the emotions or thoughts of others and, therefore, finds social relationships difficult. Intense or changeable emotional expression, susceptibility to impulsive behaviour or difficulties with interaction may also cause problems.
Drawing a line between a personality disorder and normal behaviour is difficult. However, when the person’s behavioural patterns, ways of experiencing things, observing their surroundings and themselves and interacting with others is quite permanent and unchanging, they are likely to suffer from a personality disorder.
Personality disorders are divided into three categories.
Paranoid and schizoid personality disorders cause fearfulness and strong distrust towards other people and their intentions. The person often isolates themselves from other people and is restricted in their emotional expression.
Antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders cause dramatic and emotional behaviour or extensive instability of emotional states and self-image. The person often withdraws from social relationships or engages in them extremely intensely.
Avoidant, dependent and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders often cause anxiety and fearfulness. The person suffers from a strong feeling of inadequacy and inhibitions, a heightened need to be cared for and clingy behaviour or an elevated need for order and control and incapacity for flexibility.
Characteristics of several different personality disorders often manifest themselves simultaneously in the same person. Paranoid, narcissistic, antisocial and obsessive-compulsive disorders are more common in men, whereas borderline, dependent and histrionic personality disorders are more commonly found in women.
Treating personality disorders
Behaviour related to personality disorders is the person’s natural way of reacting and behaving and it is difficult to change. However, it is possible. Psychotherapy can often offer effective help.
Psychotherapy aims to identify and manage the distressing emotional memories behind the rigid behaviour. By learning to recognise your characteristics and behavioural patterns, you can learn to live with them. Over time, the symptoms may also become milder.
If the personality disorder involves severe symptoms of depression or anxiety, appropriate medication is needed. Severely self-destructive or psychotic behaviour requires medication and, possibly, hospital treatment.
Various psychiatric illnesses may involve behaviour similar to personality disorders. However, such illnesses differ from actual personality disorders as the behaviour only occurs during the illness.