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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.

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg. This link will take you to a Welsh translation of this page.

How can I help myself?

If you experience a personality disorder, every day might feel like a struggle and there may be times when everything seems too much to cope with. There are coping strategies that can help though. Below are some ideas of things you can do to help yourself both now and in the longer-term.

Different things work for different people at different times so try to be kind to yourself if some things don't work for you. We are all unique so things you find helpful when you are struggling may be really personal to you, and may change over time.

What can I do now?

If you're experiencing lots of difficult feelings and are particularly overwhelmed it can be useful to break things down and focus on one thing at a time. Below is a list of tips and techniques which might help you through difficult periods and over time you might develop your own techniques to add to this list.

What you could do to get through it:

  • try a breathing exercise
  • turn up your favourite music, and dance or sing
  • do something with your hands, like fixing something or making something
  • do something creative like colouring, drawing, creative writing or making music
  • write in a journal
  • take a shower - some people find trying a cold shower in particular can help.

See our page on how to manage anger for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • get comfy and watch your favourite TV show
  • read a favourite book
  • write all your negative feelings on a piece of paper and scrunch or tear it up
  • listen to a song or watch a video you find uplifting
  • write a comforting letter to the part of yourself that is feeling sad or alone
  • cuddle a pet or a soft toy.

See our page on self-care for depression for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • make yourself a hot drink and drink it slowly, noticing the taste and smell, the shape of the mug and its weight in your hand
  • take ten deep breaths, counting each one out loud
  • write down everything you can think of about where you are right now, such as the time, date, colour of the walls and the furniture in the room
  • take a warm bath or shower – this can help change your mood by creating a soothing atmosphere and a distracting physical sensation.

See our page on self-care for anxiety and panic attacks for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • breathe slowly
  • listen to sounds around you
  • walk barefoot
  • wrap yourself in a blanket and feel it around you
  • eat or sniff something with a strong taste or smell.

See our page on self-care for dissociative disorders for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • stick sellotape or a plaster on your skin and peel it off
  • hold ice cubes where you want to hurt yourself
  • have a very cold shower.

See our page on helping yourself cope with self-harm for more tips.

Not everyone finds the same things helpful. It's possible for people to find their own coping methods. Using techniques I don't find helpful is actually very distressing, as is being told I have to do them.

What can I do in the longer-term?

Taking some time to make your wellbeing a priority can make a big difference to how you're feeling. Here are some ideas:

It can be hard to reach out to people when you are not feeling well, but sharing difficult thoughts can often make them seem a little easier to handle. If you don't feel comfortable talking to people around you, you could try contacting a helpline.

For example, you can talk to Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email [email protected] about anything that's upsetting you. See our page on telephone support for more information about different helplines.

Monitoring your moods will help you understand more about yourself and your mood patterns, and to recognise changes which might be hard to spot otherwise. Many people use mood diaries to do this. 

It's also helpful to identify the good things that you've done or have happened to you. It's important to be practise being kind to yourself and note the positive steps you've taken or techniques that help.

Sometimes I have good periods where my symptoms don't really trouble me – at other times, they can be overwhelming. It's sometimes hard not to beat myself up for the relapses, but that's something I need to keep working on. It's ok to struggle sometimes.

You might not always feel able to tell people how you're feeling or what help you need so it's a good idea to create a crisis plan that explains what you would like to happen in an emergency.

This could include:

  • who to contact
  • what treatments you would like to have or avoid
  • at what point you would like people to consider hospital treatment as an option.

There are many different types of crisis plan. See our information on planning for a crisis and making a support plan for more information.

If you feel like you're not being listened to or treated fairly (such as when talking to doctors or accessing treatment) an advocate can help you have your voice heard. See our pages on advocacy for more information.

For more ideas about caring for yourself when you're feeling unwell, see our pages on self-care for a mental health problem.

You might find it helpful to have some things that help you when you're struggling that you can access easily – a bit like making a first-aid kit for your mental health.

For example:

  • favourite books, films or CDs
  • a stress ball or fiddle toy for releasing agitation
  • helpful quotes or notes of encouragement
  • pictures or photos you find comforting
  • a soft blanket or cuddly toy
  • a nice-smelling candle or lavender bag.

I learned distraction techniques. My favourite one was my Positivity Book, which is kind of like a scrap book filled with things which make me happy.

If you have a personality disorder, you may be self-harming as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings or overwhelming situations and experiences.

See our pages on self-harm for other ways to help yourself cope.

This could help you to feel calmer and manage unhelpful thoughts. See our pages on mindfulness and relaxation tips for more information.

I learnt to be kind to myself and that life can be different if I put the work in. Some days I forget what it feels like to be positive and hopeful for the future, but I know it won't last. I deserve to be happy and live a fulfilled life and I'm not about to let an illness take that away from me.

Talking to others with similar experiences to you can be helpful. Peer support gives people a chance to share their experience, give and receive support and hear and learn from others.

There are lots of ways to find peer support. You could:

Your physical health can make a difference to how you feel emotionally so it's important to look after it wherever possible. For example, it can help to:

  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can help give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. Try to get to know and respect where your limits are and how much rest you need to feel well - take lots of extra rest if you need it. See our pages on coping with sleep problems for more information.
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and healthily can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. See our pages on food and mood for more information.
  • Try to do some physical activity. Exercise, including gentle exercise, can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. It doesn't have to be anything vigorous, try a short walk or even some chair-based exercises. See our pages on physical activity for more information.
  • Spend time outside. Spending time in green space can have lots of positive effects on your wellbeing. See our pages on nature and mental health for more information and ideas to try in nature.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might want to use drugs or alcohol as a distraction from difficult feelings, in the long run they can make you feel a lot worse and can prevent you from dealing with any underlying problems that the drug or alcohol use may have been masking. See our pages on recreational drugs and alcohol or the Talk to Frank website for more information.

Some people with personality disorders have had very difficult experiences which have contributed to their distress, such as abuse, bullying or discrimination. If you've experienced issues like these, it could be helpful to explore any help out there for these too.

For example, if you have been abused in childhood, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) has some support services, and our pages on abuse and PTSD list many other organisations that could help.

This information was published in January 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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