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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.

This section is for friends and family who want to support someone with a diagnosis of personality disorder.

If somebody you know is diagnosed with a personality disorder, their thoughts, feelings and behaviour might make it hard for them to always maintain a good relationship with you.

Sometimes you may find it hard to know what to say or how to help. But there are lots of positive things you can do to support them:

  • Try to be patient – if your loved one is struggling to deal with their emotions, try not to get involved in an argument in the heat of the moment. It could be better to wait until you both feel calmer to talk things through.

"I have become very aware of my feelings and emotions but I often find it really hard to control them, like someone’s taken over my head for a short time I then feel overwhelmingly embarrassed of my actions, and push people away to try and make myself feel better."

  • Talk to them compassionately and calmly – when someone is experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings, their behaviour may be unexpected or upsetting, and you may feel unsettled. Try to understand what they're experiencing and what's affecting their thoughts, feelings and behaviour – this can help you to stay calm.
  • Don't judge themtry to listen to them without telling them they should feel the way they do or that they're being overly sensitive. You may not understand why they feel like this, but it can mean a lot to acknowledge and value how they're feeling.

"Validate and try to be understanding – don’t question my thoughts or views. Put yourself in my shoes. If those were the thoughts and feelings you were experiencing, how would they make you feel?"

  • Remind them of other aspects of their personality – a diagnosis of personality disorder doesn't stop someone being likeable, intelligent, funny, kind, highly motivated or creative. It can be reassuring to remind them of the other things you see in them, particularly if they struggle to see these themselves.
  • Try to both set clear boundaries and expectations – it can be helpful to make sure you both know where the boundaries of your relationship are, and what you expect from each other. This can help you both manage difficult feelings and situations. Agreeing how you expect to speak to each other, be spoken to or what you are or aren't able to help with could be useful things to clarify.

"Tell me a problem you’re having, let me be there for you for a change. Don’t hold back sharing difficulties in your life, I am your friend after all. It will make me feel valuable and useful."

  • Plan ahead – it can be scary if you're worried someone you care about is hurting themselves, or is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Ask them how you could help when things are difficult. See our pages on supporting someone who is self-harming and supporting someone who feels suicidal for more information.
  • Learn their triggers - talk to your loved one and try to work out what situations or conversations make them think or feel negative thoughts and emotions.
  • Learn more about personality disorder, and help to challenge stigma – personality disorder is a complicated diagnosis, and your loved one may have to deal with other people's misconceptions on top of coping with their own mental health problem. Our pages about personality disorders and different types of personality disorder contain more information.
  • Help them seek treatment and support – see our pages on how to support someone to seek help for more information.
  • Help them find an advocate – see our pages on advocacy for more information.
  • Take care of yourself – supporting a loved one who is struggling can be really difficult. Try to remember that your own mental health is important as well. See our pages on coping when supporting someone else, managing stress and maintaining your wellbeing for more information on how to look after yourself.

"Sometimes, when we don’t know who we are, we don’t know why we are doing what we are doing, it just takes a person with hope to see something behind those eyes, something we cannot see ourselves, to save us and tell us that we can be okay."

This information was published in January 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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