What is a Personality Disorder?

The term Personality Disorder is a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behaviour of a specific kind, typically apparent by the time of adolescence, causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society.

People with a Personality disorder differ significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others.

If you have a Personality Disorder, you may find that your beliefs and attitudes are different from most other peoples.  Other people may find it difficult to spent time with you due to your behaviour. This can make you feel very hurt and insecure; you may end up avoiding the company of other.

What Causes a Personality Disorder?

Personality disorders are incredibly complex mental health conditions and the cause is still not fully known. It is thought that they relate to incidents or traumas in childhood such as sexual or physical abuse, accidents, sudden bereavement or difficulties in parenting including neglect. 80% of people diagnosed with a personality disorder have had a childhood trauma.

Some of our personalities are inherited, some people are born with different temperaments for example, babies vary in how sociable they are, in the intensity of their reactions, and in the length of their attention span. Some experts believe that inheritance may play a relatively big part in the development of personality disorders.

People with personality disorders often experience other mental health problems, especially depression and substance abuse.

The Symptoms

Types of Personality Disorders and Symptoms

There are 10 different disorders psychiatrics have grouped them into 3 clusters, these are:

Cluster A - Features odd or eccentric behaviour

Paranoid Personality Disorder - you may:

  • be very distant and detached

  • difficulty forming relationships

  • find it difficult to trust other people

  • watch others closely looking for signs of betrayal

Schizoid Personality Disorder - you may:

  • cold, distant and reclusive

  • caught up in your own thoughts

  • be uninterested in forming relationships even with family members

  • not get any pleasure from life

  • have no sex drive

Schizotypal Personality Disorder - (symptoms are very similar to schizoid personality disorder) you may:

  • very eccentric

  • believe you have special powers

  • feel anxious with people who don't share your beliefs

  • anxious and paranoid in social situations

Cluster B - includes dramatic emotional or erratic behaviour

Borderline Personality Disorder - you may:

  • moody and see things in black and white

  • be very needy as an adult and stay in a relationship because you don't want to be alone.

  • feel empty , angry and abandoned

  • suffer from self harm and may have suicidal thoughts

  • have brief psychotic episodes, hearing voices or seeing things that others don't

Antisocial Personality Disorder- you may:

  • disregard the feelings, property and authority of others

  • show violent and aggressive behaviour

  • show lack of remorse

  • behave in a way that is unpleasant  for others and sometimes illegal

  • have a criminal record

  • put your own needs first and often hurt people

  • very easily bored

  • be irritated very easily and get into fights

Narcissistic Personality Disorder - you may:

  • show a very high opinion of yourself

  • oversensitive to criticism

  • resent other peoples success

  • put your own needs above others

  • take advantage of other people

  • feel upset if others ignore you

Histrionic Personality Disorder - you may be:

  • obsessive about your appearance

  • feel you have to make people happy

  • enjoy being  the life and soul of the party

  • demand attention

  • gain a reputation for being dramatic and over the top

Cluster C - represents anxiety or fearful behaviour

Dependant Personality Disorder - you may be:

  • unable to make decisions

  • be afraid to look after yourself

  • depend on other people's opinions and judgments

  • have low confidence and low self esteem

  • see yourself not as capable as others

Avoidance Personality Disorder - you may be:

  • avoid conflict

  • avoid forming relationships

  • worry constantly about being rejected

  • avoid social situations where you have to talk to others

  • lonely and isolated

  • unable to try new activities through fear of embarrassing yourself

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder - you may be:

  • very ridged in your approach to things

  • anxious and indecisive

  • like to have everything in order and be in control

  • have very high standards of yourself and others

  • hang on to items that have no obvious value

  • difficulty in sustaining a relationship

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder is separate from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which describes a form of behaviour rather than a type of personality.

Self Help

Many people learn to cope in their own way and just get on with things. There are some things you can do that can help these are:

  • relaxation methods

  • enable yourself to do things that make you feel good

  • reading about other people's experience may also help

  • look after yourself i.e. eat healthy, drink alcohol in moderation and be active

  • learn new skills (this can also help you to feel good)

  • join clubs and make new friends


GP's are not experts in personality disorders after an assessment by your GP there are a few specialists you could be referred to such as a psychologist, counselling or Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN). This form of treatment can take up to 6 months or more depending on the severity of the condition and other existing problems.

A type of cognitive behavioural therapy called dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) has proved successful in helping people reduce impulsive self harming behaviours, especially in Borderline personality disorder. DBT is designed to help you cope better with emotional instability, while at the same time encouraging you to behave in a more positive way.

No medication is currently licensed for the treatment of any personality disorders. However, medications maybe prescribed to teat associated problems such as depression, anxiety or psychotic symptoms. Some people with Borderline personality disorder have found mood-stabilising medication helpful.

Social workers can also help by advising on benefits, employment and also supported living if needed.


For long time it was thought that there was no treatment for personality disorders however there have been advances made over the last few years. A combination of psychological, biological and theory based treatments offer hope for many people with personality disorders.

When a suitable treatment is found that suits you and your needs a good recovery can be made and you can live a healthy happy life.

NHS Choices - Personality Disorders