Personality disorders

Explains personality disorders, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

Having a BPD diagnosis - my reality

Rebecca's account of being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

Posted on 21/11/2014

A disordered personality?

Debbie talks about her experience of borderline personality disorder.

Posted on 30/07/2014

"What are you like when you're well?"

Louise talks about how her response when she was asked this question.

Posted on 27/04/2015

What causes personality disorder?

There's no clear reason why some people develop a personality disorder and others don't. Most researchers think that a complex mix of factors is involved, such as:

What about the environment I grew up in?

The environment we grow up in and the quality of care we receive can affect the way our personality develops. You may be more likely to develop personality disorder if you've experienced:

  • an unstable or chaotic family life, such as living with a parent who is an alcoholic or who struggles to manage a mental health problem
  • little or no support from your caregiver – this may be especially hard if you experienced a traumatic event or situation
  • a lack of support or bad experiences during your school life, in your peer group or wider community

If you had a difficult childhood or experiences like these, you might have developed certain beliefs about how people think and how relationships work. You might have developed certain strategies for coping which aren't helpful in your adult life.

How might my early experiences cause personality disorder?

Our experiences growing up can affect our personality in later life. Difficult or traumatic experiences may lead to personality disorder, such as:

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic situation will develop these problems. The way you and others reacted to it, alongside the support and care you received to help you cope, will have made a lot of difference.

Similarly, not everyone who develops a personality disorder will have had a traumatic experience.

I have narcissistic borderline personality disorder. At first it was difficult to accept that the problem was essentially me, my personality. But then being able to put it into perspective as a developmental flaw was much easier to accept – that it was simply the way I'd developed in response to my environment and the situations I'd experienced.

Could it be genetic?

Some elements of our personality are inherited. We are born with different temperaments – for example, babies vary in how active they are, their attention span and how they adapt to change.

Some experts believe inheritance may play a part in the development of personality disorder.

This information was published in August 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

Mental Health A-Z

Information and advice on a huge range of mental health topics

> Read our A-Z


Helping you to better understand and support people with mental health problems

> Find out more

Special offers

Check out our promotional offers on print and digital booklets, for a limited time only

> Visit our shop today