The Who, What and Why of Personality Disorders

They say Trump is a narcissist, Clinton suffers from antisocial personality disorder and Britney Spears has borderline personality disorder. Is it really true? How do we make sense of these terms being passed around and what does it actually mean to have a personality disorder?


What is a Personality Disorder?

Personality disorders are mental illness diagnoses related to experiences, behaviors, and thoughts that both deviate from what is culturally acceptable and are not adapted to the environmental surroundings. They differ from other diagnoses, such as depression or anxiety, in that they develop early and are maintained throughout a person’s life. They are a part of a person’s temperament and makeup and impact their being.


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A Little History

The Bible for psychiatric and psychological disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) from the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Their most recent publication conceptualizes personality disorders in terms of dimensions. Essentially, all people fall on a continuum, and to the extent that the personality becomes unable to adapt to the environment or goes too far, it becomes a disorder. We all have some negative personality traits, however, most of us have developed adaptive mechanisms to prevent those traits from consistently causing negative consequences in our interactions with the world. Regardless of the technical diagnosis, viewing personality disorders from a dimensional model helps for conceptualization, treatment, and destigmatization.



Three Different Clusters

Personality disorders are generally broken into three different clusters based on similarities between the disorders.


Cluster A – Those with these disorders often appear eccentric. Included here are Paranoid, Schizoid and Schizotypal personality disorders.

Cluster B – Individuals with these disorders often appear dramatic, emotional, or erratic. Included here are Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic and Narcissistic personality disorder.

Cluster C – These people often appear anxious or fearful. Avoidant, Dependent and Obsessive-compulsive personality disorders fall under this category.



Does it Ever Get Better?

In short, yes. In fact, not all people diagnosed with a personality disorder even require treatment. On the flip side, many people can benefit from treatment even if they don’t meet full criteria for a personality disorder. Treatment varies based on the classification of personality disorder. For example, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Mentalization Based Therapy have been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorders. Treatment may focus on developing coping skills or improving interpersonal relationships.


The bottom line is that these are real mental health disorders that people and their family members suffer from. They are not terms that should be thrown around lightly or used as insults. This causes increased stigma and prevents those in need from getting treatment.


For Further Information:

  • Stay tuned for future Refuat Hanefesh articles on Personality Disorders
  • Check out our Resource page for books about personality disorders
  • More educational information regarding personality disorders and other mental health issues can be found on our Learn page.



Is there anything specific you would like discussed in future articles? Have you been affected by a personality disorder? Please share your comment below or in the support room.

Avi Gordon, PsyD

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