This information is for people who have, or think they may have, a diagnosis of personality disorder, their friends and family. It discusses what the diagnosis means, possible causes and treatment approaches.
(Note: this does not include multiple personality disorder, which is a dissociative disorder, and covered in Understanding dissociative disorders).
What is personality disorder?
The word ‘personality’ refers to the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour that makes each of us the individuals that we are. We don’t always think, feel and behave in exactly the same way – it depends on the situation we are in, the people with us, and many other things. But mostly we do tend to behave in fairly predictable ways or patterns. And so we can be described, as shy, selfish, lively, and so on. We each have a set of these patterns, and this set makes up our personality.
Generally speaking, personality doesn’t change very much, but it does develop as we go through different experiences in life, and as our circumstances change. So, as we mature with time, our thinking, feelings and behaviour all change. We are usually flexible enough to learn from past experiences and to change our behaviour to cope with life more effectively.
However, if you have a personality disorder, you are likely to find this more difficult. Your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are more difficult to change and you will have a more limited range of emotions, attitudes and behaviours with which to cope with everyday life. This can make things difficult for you or for other people.
If you have a personality disorder, you may find that your beliefs and attitudes are different from most other people’s. They may find your behaviour unusual or unexpected, and may find it difficult to spend time with you. This, of course, can make you feel very hurt and insecure; you may end up avoiding the company of others.
I always felt different from others and had no sense of belonging anywhere. My life was always chaotic, as were my feelings – never consistent or stable, but changeable and unpredictable. I felt like an outcast of society – undeserving of anything. I secretly longed for a better way of life, but didn’t know how to achieve it and lacked confidence that I could change.
The diagnosis applies if you have personality difficulties which affect all aspects of your life, all the time, and make life difficult for you and for those around you. The diagnosis does not include personality changes caused by a life event such as a sudden traumatic incident, or physical injury.
Personality disorders usually become noticeable in adolescence or early adulthood, but sometimes start in childhood. They can make it difficult for you to start and keep friendships or other relationships, and you may find it hard to work effectively with others. You may find other people very scary, and feel very alienated and alone.
However, with the right help you can learn to understand other people better, and cope better with social situations and relationships with other people.