Understanding Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are a type of mental disorder that causes rigid and unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving. People who suffer from personality disorders have trouble perceiving and relating to certain situations and most other people, which can lead to problems with social encounters, relationships, work, and school.


The symptoms of personality disorders will vary depending on which type you have. There are three different clusters of personality disorders in the DSM-V that are based on similar characteristics and symptoms. These include:

  • Cluster A personality disorders: This type of personality disorder is characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior and includes paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.
  • Cluster B personality disorders: This cluster of personality disorders displays symptoms such as dramatic and overly emotional behavior, as well as unpredictable behavior and thinking. Cluster B includes antisocial personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Cluster C personality disorders: Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by anxious, fearful thinking and behaviors. This cluster includes avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

It is not necessary to exhibit all of the signs and symptoms of a specific personality disorder in order to be diagnosed. It is also possible to have at least one symptom from another personality disorder in the same cluster.


Your personality is the specific combination of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that make you unique from everyone else. It involves the way that you view, understand, and relate to the outside world, as well as how you see yourself. Much of your personality is usually shaped during childhood, as a result of two factors: your genes and your environment. Certain personality traits are passed on to you through your parents’ inherited genes. Other factors include the surroundings you grow up in, events that occur throughout your life, and the nature of your relationship with your family members and other people in your life.

Personality disorders are also a result of a combination of genetic and environmental influences—your genes may make you more vulnerable to a certain personality disorder, but life situations are usually what trigger the actual development of the condition.


If your doctor thinks your symptoms might be being caused by a personality disorder, he or she will likely order recommend certain exams and testing. These include:

  • Physical exam: Sometimes, symptoms could be linked to an underlying physical health condition. To rule this out, your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you in-depth questions about your health.
  • Lab tests: Blood work and thyroid tests can also help to determine whether a physical health problem might be causing your symptoms. Your doctor may also screen for any drugs or alcohol that could be in your system.
  • Psychological evaluation: If physical conditions are ruled out, then a psychological evaluation is the next step. This involves talking about your thoughts, feelings, and behavior with a mental health specialist and may also include a questionnaire to help narrow the diagnosis.

Since some personality disorders share similar symptoms, it can sometimes be hard to determine the exact type of personality disorder. However, finding the accurate diagnosis is the first step towards receiving the appropriate treatment, so try to be as honest with your doctor as possible.


Treatment for most mental illnesses includes psychotherapy and medications, but might also involve hospitalization depending on the severity of your symptoms. Psychotherapy helps to teach you healthy ways to manage your symptoms and reduce the behaviors that are interfering with your ability to function and maintain relationships. Medications for personality disorders often include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, and anti-anxiety medications. Finding the correct combination of medications that works the best for your symptoms may take some trial and error.

If you are completely unable to care for yourself or are in immediate danger of harming yourself or someone else, you may require psychiatric hospitalization until you become stable.

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