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Personality Disorders – Types, Risk Factors and Help

During informal discussions, the word “personality” is often used to describe behavior. A person who is kind to animals, for example, might be called a “gentle personality.” In other words, it’s common to think of the way the person behaves as an adequate description of that individual’s personality. In 1987, researchers published an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, hoping to clearly define what the word “personality” meant in a health care setting.

They wrote that personality goes beyond the way the person might act or seem to others. Instead, personality describes a person’s mental processes, their reactions to outside stimuli, and the way they think about themselves and the world around them. In short, “personality” could be used to describe what it’s like to be that person.

Describing someone’s personality means describing what it’s like to think, feel and act like that person.

Understanding this word is key to understanding personality disorders. People who have personality disorders don’t simply have problems with behavior. Their issues go beyond simple acts. Instead, people with personality disorders have a rigid and inflexible way of thinking and viewing the world around them, and these thoughts and views lead people with personality disorders to act in inappropriate ways. They may face significant disruptions in their social lives as a result.

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Types of Personality Disorders

People with personality disorders have unhealthy ways of thinking that persist, no matter what the situation is. These disorders run so deep that the people believe that they are normal and those around them are abnormal. They may not believe they have any problems whatsoever. People with personality disorders tend to fall into one of three categories, based on their symptoms.

People with Type A personality disorders tend to show odd or eccentric behaviors some or most of the time. Specific disorders in the Type A group include:
  • Paranoid personality disorder. These people remain convinced that those around them are lying or cheating in some way. They interpret every action as some sort of betrayal, and they may act out in hostile and angry ways, as they believe their rights are always being violated in some way.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder. Acting, dressing and talking in strange ways are common, and these people may also believe that they have magical powers. They may be extremely anxious in social situations, and they may retreat to their own worlds for protection.
  • Schizoid personality disorder. These people are distrustful of others, so they keep their own council. They may seem cold, distant and logical with few social connections. In fact, they’re fearful of other people and they avoid sharing their thoughts. They may prefer to daydream instead.

These descriptions may seem overly negative. In fact, it might be easy to wonder why anyone would choose to spend time with someone who has a personality disorder. It’s important to remember that these people have a true and definable illness that makes them act the way they do. They don’t choose to be hurtful or mean. They simply cannot act any other way due to the influence of the diseases they have. Only through getting help can they put these behaviors behind. Blaming them or isolating them will not help them get better. Only therapy will do that.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 9.1 percent of adults have some form of personality disorder.

Personality disorders don’t seem to discriminate based on sex, as equal amounts of women and men are affected. NIMH goes on to say that less than 40 percent of people with personality disorders are currently receiving treatment for their condition. In other words, more than half of people with personality disorders are untreated and struggling with their conditions on their own. It’s unclear why so many people are not getting the help that they need, but it’s possible that these conditions are so isolating that those affected live without any outside influence that could provide needed assistance.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, these factors increase the risk of developing a personality disorder:

  • Being Native American or of African ancestry
  • Having a low income group
  • Being a young adult
  • Being divorced, widowed or never married

It’s possible that chaotic childhoods contribute to personality disorders. Living through a significant amount of abuse or neglect could allow a person to develop a distorted personality, as the person learns to develop abnormal modes of thinking and behaving in order to live through the situation. Children are rarely diagnosed with a personality disorder, however, as many children experiment with personality as they grow. It can be difficult for experts to determine what is basic experimentation and what is true dysfunction. For this reason, most cases of childhood personality disorders go undiagnosed, and when the child becomes an adult, the problems truly come to light.

Hazards of Personality Disorders

People who have personality disorders have serious difficulty in their relationships. They often simply cannot understand other people, and other people cannot understand them. They may become incredibly isolated as a result, unable to form meaningful relationships and succeed in their lives.

People who develop psychotic behaviors as a result of their personality disorders may face imprisonment. Some people are arrested over and over for their behaviors, and they may be unable or unwilling to stop the actions that cause the arrest. They may be true losers in the judicial system, as they may seem unable to change and unwilling to show remorse for their actions.

According to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, people who have personality disorders are at increased risk for alcohol and marijuana addiction. In addition, of those studied, more than half were addicted to nicotine. Alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes can all be incredibly detrimental to health, and some people can even die from their addictions.

Living with someone who has a personality disorder can also be very distressing. Often, these people can be cruel and manipulative, likely to distort situations and be abusive. Their moods can change quickly. They can say and do things that are confusing at best and dangerous at worst. It’s not the sort of living situation that is beneficial for anyone.

Help Is Available

It can be easy to judge people with personality disorders as damaged and beyond hope. In fact, the opposite is true. Personality disorders can often be treated through a combination of medications and therapies designed to correct the rigid thinking and help the person understand the needs of others. Therapies may take years to complete, but they can be helpful. Reading up on personality disorders is a good first step. Scheduling an appointment with a qualified mental health counselor is an excellent next step to take. Make the call today.