Everyone has good days and bad. Sometimes, nothing seems to go right, and it’s not uncommon to react with anger, stress, irrational behavior, sadness or symptoms of depression.
For most people, this is just a part of life and nothing to worry about. However, for others, ongoing challenges with emotions or reactions to both normal and abnormal circumstances can be a sign of a bigger issue.
Personality disorders affect over 9% of adults in the United States. As a broad category of mental illness that is represented by ongoing patterns of behaviors and experiences that are significantly outside cultural norms, personality disorders can manifest in many different ways. As such, it’s not always clear when actions are natural or a sign of something larger.
It’s easy to dismiss red flags as a response to stress or poor circumstances, but ongoing or worsening symptoms can be an indication of something larger. When there’s no longer a logical response to attribute to changing behaviors, it may be time to take action. This is how to identify when to seek help for a personality disorder.
What Is a Personality Disorder?
Personality disorders are mental disorders that result in unnatural or unusually rigid patterns of thoughts, actions, attitudes or behaviors. These disorders often arise in the teenage or young adult years, but can theoretically occur at any time. For those who have been living with a personality disorder for a prolonged period of time, symptoms may seem completely normal, making it a challenge to convince those showing signs of a disorder to get help.
Personality disorders can generally be categorized into three clusters: A, B and C.
Cluster A Personality Disorders
Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by eccentric or odd behavior that doesn’t align with normal practices.
- Paranoid personality disorder: Those with paranoid personality disorder are generally distrustful of others and often believe that others are trying to harm them, even without evidence. They may be unlikely to confide in others due to a fear that information will be used against them. Misinterpretation of benign statements or a tendency to hold grudges is also common.
- Schizoid personality disorder: Those with schizoid personality disorder often have trouble building relationships with others, showing normal emotions, picking up on social cues or finding enjoyment from popular activities. These individuals often come off as cold or impersonal in interactions with others.
- Schizotypal personality disorder: Those with schizotypal personality disorder often dress, speak or act in a peculiar or unusual manner. They may have social anxiety, struggle to bond with others, demonstrate inappropriate emotional responses or believe that normal events carry hidden messages intended for them.
Cluster B Personality Disorders
Cluster B personality disorders can be characterized by emotional extremes, including dramatic or unpredictable moods or behaviors.
- Antisocial personality disorder: Previously described using terms like sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder most often presents as a strong disregard for others’ feelings
- , ongoing legal problems due to disrespect for authority, impulsive and dangerous behavior, and a lack of remorse.
- Borderline personality disorder: Those with borderline personality disorder often engage in unsafe or dangerous behaviors with little concern for potential outcomes. This can include risky sex, inappropriate relationships and excessive gambling. They may demonstrate rapidly fluctuating moods, suicidal behaviors and a fear of abandonment.
- Histrionic personality disorder: Those with histrionic personality disorder regularly want to be at the center of attention. They may demonstrate attention-seeking behaviors, speak confidently with strong but often unsupported opinions and believe that relationships are far closer or more intimate than they actually are.
- Narcissistic personality disorder: Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder see themselves as more important than others. They act with impunity and often fantasize about power, fame and success. They may have overstated views of their achievements, expectations of praise and adoration, and strong feelings of arrogance.
Cluster C Personality Disorders
Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by unusually fearful, anxious behavior or thoughts.
- Avoidant personality disorder: Those with avoidant personality disorder commonly feel inadequate or lesser than others and fear rejection, disappointment or embarrassment. They are sensitive to criticism, socially timid, very shy and unable to make lasting connections with others.
- Dependent personality disorder: Those with dependent personality disorder feel as though they need the support and affirmation of others to survive. They may be clingy, show a strong fear of being alone, have a lack of self-confidence and can tolerate ongoing abusive behavior in order to remain in a relationship.
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Those with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are obsessed with order, neatness and details. They like to be in control of situations and may struggle to delegate tasks or break commitments out of a fear of loss of control. They may also be inflexible in areas related to morals and beliefs. It’s important to note that OCPD is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder, although there are some similarities.
The Effects of Ignoring Symptoms
To some, personality disorders may seem benign but, by and large, harmless. In general, these disorders affect those living with them most significantly, with moderate effects on friends and family.
However, ignoring symptoms and facilitating or encouraging ongoing negative behavior patterns can be very damaging for those living with personality disorders. Personality disorders can stand in the way of living a fulfilling life, including finding a long-term partner, succeeding in the workplace, maintaining family ties and finding hobbies or activities that give pleasure. Some personality disorders can lead to legal problems or harm to others.
With these potential consequences, getting help, whether therapy, medication or both, can be highly beneficial. Self-help for personality disorders may be an option eventually, but professional diagnosis and rehabilitation is the most important step.
Seeking a Diagnosis: Do I Need Therapy for a Personality Disorder?
If you believe that you or someone you love is showing signs of a personality disorder, seeking a formal diagnosis is the best way to determine the presence of a personality disorder and the best course of care to minimize circumstance and improve quality of life.
Psychiatrists and psychotherapists experienced in behavioral disorders can be an excellent resource to consult. With their training and education, these professionals can assess symptoms, conduct therapy sessions and determine a proper diagnosis if one is warranted. This can provide a framework upon which to act in the future, helping individuals and their families decide next steps.
Being diagnosed with any kind of issue, whether physical or mental, can be scary. It’s not uncommon for those with unusual symptoms to fail to seek help right away due to the fear of what the outcome may be.
This is understandable — a serious diagnosis can be life-changing — but confronting problems head-on is the best way to make progress. Getting a proper diagnosis can help you understand what you’re dealing with and best prepare for the future.
Other forms of mental illness and even physical illness can also cause symptoms similar to personality disorders, and co-occurring disorders can exacerbate side effects. For example, mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder commonly occur in conjunction with personality disorders. Seeking a diagnosis can provide a full picture that may otherwise be unavailable.
Can You Treat Personality Disorders?
For those who have received a diagnosis or who believe they have a personality disorder, treatment is an important step. There’s no true cure for personality disorders, but professional treatments can ensure the best possible outcomes. In treatment, individuals can meet with therapists, learn coping techniques, develop a medication regimen and work with others who are dealing with similar issues.
Those going through treatment can learn how to react normally to life events, discover ways to identify problematic behavior and overcome urges, and be provided with tools to live a normal life. Treatment can include inpatient rehabilitation as well as step-down outpatient programs and time spent in halfway houses to best facilitate integration into normal daily life.
It’s not easy to know when or how to seek help for a personality disorder, but meeting with a professional is the best first step. With support from residential mental health rehabilitation at FHE Health, it’s possible to learn to live a happy, healthy and productive life with a personality disorder.