Being human means having emotions and moods, and sometimes, there isn’t a rational explanation for the way we feel. Everyone experiences mood swings from time to time. This is often due to stressors or life changes, but it can also be related to hormone changes in the body, the weather and the time of year. Feeling moody every once in a while or when you’re tired, stressed, hungry or otherwise experiencing difficulties is normal. 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.
Identifying a Personality Disorder
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.
In this guide, we explain how to tell the difference between normal life and a personality disorder, when to seek help if you think you may have a personality disorder and what the process is for getting formally diagnosed.
Symptoms and Signs of 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.
There are many personality disorders, and each one has its own set of potential symptoms as well as criteria that must be met for an official diagnosis. Some of the more common personality disorders in the United States include:
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder
Personality disorders are divided into three categories: Cluster A, Cluster B and Cluster C.
Cluster A Personality Disorders
Cluster A disorders, such as paranoid personality disorder, involve thoughts and behaviors that would best be described as eccentric or odd. This could include symptoms such as hearing voices, feeling very suspicious or untrusting of others—even though there’s no reason for these feelings—and difficulty navigating social situations or picking up on social cues.
- 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, which include borderline personality disorder, generally involve very dramatic behaviors and often include dangerous risk-taking behaviors. People with this type of personality disorder may abuse alcohol or drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviors, seem overly dramatic and engage in attention-seeking 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 those where the main presenting emotion is one of anxiety or fear. These include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and dependent personality disorder. Symptoms of disorders that fall into this category may include being overly sensitive to rejection, being clingy when it comes to relationships, having a strong fear of rejection or abandonment and obsessing over details or needing things to be “perfect.”
- 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 Problem With 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.
The symptoms of personality disorders are incredibly varied, which makes them very difficult to self-diagnose. Signs that point to a personality disorder may actually be symptoms of another mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, so it’s important to only pursue a diagnosis from a trained mental health professional. Some mental health symptoms can also be from underlying physical issues, which is why a proper mental health diagnosis always includes a thorough physical screening to rule out the possibility of a medical issue. A mental health diagnosis doesn’t define you; it’s a guide for treatment.
One of the main problems with ignoring symptoms that may be in line with a personality disorder is that these disorders often get worse over time. What may only be a minor inconvenience or cause for pause now can turn into a major problem that affects your relationships, your work and even your ability to care for yourself later on.
If you’re concerned that you may have a personality disorder, it’s important to reach out as soon as possible so you can get the correct diagnosis and start exploring possible treatment plans that can help you take back control of your life.
If you’ve looked at lists of symptoms and taken online questionnaires and believe that you may have a personality disorder, one of the first questions is often “should I get diagnosed?” While a formal diagnosis can be a huge step forward in getting the help you need, many people are hesitant to take that step because of fear of what happens next or not wanting to tell friends and family or deal with the perceived stigma associated with mental health disorders.
While it’s true that some people who don’t understand how personality disorders work may talk negatively about you or try to blame you for your condition, in most cases, the benefits of getting diagnosed far outweigh the potential negatives. These include a better understanding of yourself and what drives your thoughts and behaviors and a clear path forward when it comes to trying different treatments and taking back control of your life.
What Does Getting Diagnosed Entail?
To see if you meet the criteria of a personality disorder, you will need to talk with a trained mental health professional. It is possible to start the process by discussing your concerns with your regular doctor. He or she will likely run tests to ensure that there isn’t a physical explanation for your symptoms; then, your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist for further diagnosis. That person will likely ask you a lot of questions about your thoughts, behaviors and relationships. While some of these questions will be quite personal and may be uncomfortable, it’s important to be totally honest and remember that this person is trying to help you and needs as much information as possible to be able to do that.
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.
Signs It’s Time to Seek Help
Personality disorders are classified as ego-syntonic. This means the individual is often unaware anything is wrong, as the characteristics of the disorder are often aligned with their personality and personal worldview.
As a result, individuals with personality disorders are often reluctant to seek help. This can lead to a lot of unnecessary silent suffering and perpetuate problems related to the disorder. Contrastingly, getting diagnosed and understanding how personality disorders affect life can help you manage the secondary effects of the disorder.
Cluster B personality disorders include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Each of these disorders poses threats to the individual’s quality of life. They have the potential to harm interpersonal relationships, cause stress and anxiety and can disrupt a person’s professional life.
Paying attention to Cluster B red flags and knowing when it’s time to seek help is paramount to managing the disorder and living as well as possible. Here are some signs it might be time to get professional help:
Conflict in Relationships
Experiencing conflict in your interpersonal relationships is normal, and everyone will experience this at some stage in their lives. However, individuals with personality disorders are more liable to have serious conflicts with loved ones.
Knowing what’s normal and what isn’t is key to understanding when it’s time to seek personality disorder help. Here are some signs you might be approaching a tipping point:
- You’re constantly engaging in conflict with someone
- Your loved ones are telling you that you need to get help
- You react aggressively towards people on a regular basis
- The conflict is causing significant stress in your life and the lives of those around you
Having an untreated personality disorder can be the cause of seriously high levels of stress in life. Symptoms of stress can affect your physical health and impair your ability to function properly. Symptoms of stress can include:
- Physical pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased heart rate
- Agitation or irritability
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Reduced libido
- Stomach problems
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms and have an underlying sense that your stress is becoming unmanageable, it might be time to seek help. Techniques for coping with stress might include relaxation techniques, yoga, finding an outlet or having somebody to talk to.
Severe anxiety is another one of the Cluster B red flags, and these disorders often coincide with an underlying anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Overwhelming worry
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to sleep
- Feeling restless
- Muscular tension
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling overwhelmed
Neglecting to get personality disorder help and ignoring the Cluster B red flags can lead to difficulties in life. These difficulties can often cause you to feel depressed and in severe cases, suicidal. Signs you might be dealing with depression include:
- Frequent or constant low or sad mood
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling fatigued and lethargic
- Changes in eating habits (overeating/undereating)
- A sense of emptiness or hopelessness
- Sleep disturbances
- Unexplained physical symptoms
Symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe. When they start to negatively influence your ability to function normally, it’s time to seek help.
Understanding your personality disorder alongside the common Cluster B red flags can help you know when it’s time to get professional help. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
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.
A Better Life Is Possible
While admitting that you may have an issue and reaching out for help can be daunting, it’s almost always better than continuing to try to ignore problem behaviors or attempting to address them on their own. Whether your unique treatment plan involves therapy, medication or both, taking that first step and reaching out to a medical professional about your concerns is how you get started toward a better, healthier life.
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.
At FHE Health, we have the knowledge and experience to be able to treat a variety of personality disorders, and we offer several treatment paths and choices depending on your specific issues. If you’re concerned that you may have a personality disorder or are concerned that someone you love might need treatment, contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help.