Psychiatrists tend to use a system of diagnosis which identifies 10 types of personality disorder:
The types are grouped into three categories:
- Suspicious – paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal and antisocial.
- Emotional and impulsive – borderline, histrionic and narcissistic.
- Anxious – avoidant, dependent and obsessive compulsive.
For each type, a diagnosis will not be made if you have only one or two of the characteristics.
You may find that you meet the criteria for several different types of personality disorder. It can also be the case that a wide range of people meet the criteria for the same disorder, despite having very different personalities and different individual experiences.
Different professional approches
Personality disorder can show itself in different ways, and specialists take varying approaches to diagnose and understand personality disorders. Here are some of the approaches you may come across:
- You may be given a medical diagnosis, when you are told you have a type of personality disorder.
- Some specialists may focus on the aspects of your personality which cause you most difficulty.
- Some specialists try to understand the problems you experience, by working with you to identify the individual patterns and experiences in your life.
Paranoid personality disorder
- find it hard to confide in people, even your friends
- find it very difficult to trust other people, believing they will use you or take advantage of you
- watch others closely, looking for signs of betrayal or hostility
- read threats and danger – which others don’t see – into everyday situations.
Schizoid personality disorder
- be uninterested in forming close relationships with other people, including your family
- feel that relationships interfere with your freedom and tend to cause problems
- prefer to be alone with your own thoughts
- choose to live your life without interference from others
- get little pleasure from life
- have little interest in sex or intimacy
- be emotionally cold towards others
Schizotypal personality disorder
- find making close relationships extremely difficult
- think and express yourself in ways that others find ‘odd’, using unusual words or phrases
- behave in ways that others find eccentric
- believe that you can read minds or that you have special powers such as a ‘sixth sense’
- feel anxious and tense with others who do not share these beliefs
- feel very anxious and paranoid in social situations.
Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
You will be at least 18 years old. You may:
- put yourself in dangerous or risky situations, often without considering the consequences for yourself or for other people
- behave dangerously and sometimes illegally
- behave in ways that are unpleasant for others
- feel very easily bored and act on impulse – you may find it difficult to hold down a job for long
- behave aggressively and get into fights easily
- do things – even though they may hurt people – to get what you want, putting your needs above theirs
- have a criminal record
- feel no sense of guilt if you have mistreated others
- believe that only the strongest survive and that you must do whatever it takes to lead a successful life because if you don’t grab opportunities, others will
- have had a diagnosis of conduct disorder before the age of 15.
This diagnosis includes ‘psychopathy’. This term is no longer used in the Mental Health Act but a ‘psychopathy checklist’ questionnaire may be used in your assessment.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- feel very worried about people abandoning you, and would do anything to stop that happening
- have very intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly (for example, from feeling very happy and confident in the morning to feeling low and sad in the afternoon)
- not have a strong sense of who you are, and it can change depending on who you're with
- find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships
- act impulsively and do things that could harm you (such as binge eating, using drugs or driving dangerously)
- have suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour
- feel empty and lonely a lot of the time
- get very angry, and struggle to control your anger.
When very stressed, sometimes you might:
- feel paranoid
- have psychotic experiences, such as seeing or hearing things that other people don't
- feel numb or 'checked out' and not remember things properly after they've happened.
BPD is like having no emotional buffer. I can go from nothing to suddenly extremely overwhelming emotions and I struggle with expressing them healthily.
See our in-depth section on borderline personality disorder (BPD) to find out more.
Histrionic personality disorder
- feel very uncomfortable if you are not the centre of attention
- feel much more at ease as the ‘life and soul of the party’
- feel that you have to entertain people
- flirt or behave provocatively to ensure that you remain the centre of attention
- get a reputation for being dramatic and overemotional
- feel dependent on the approval of others
- be easily influenced by others.
Narcissistic personality disorder
- believe that there are special reasons that make you different, better or more deserving than others
- have fragile self-esteem, so that you rely on others to recognise your worth and your needs
- feel upset if others ignore you and don’t give you what you feel you deserve
- resent other people’s successes
- put your own needs above other people’s, and demand they do too
- be seen as selfish and ‘above yourself’
- take advantage of other people.
Avoidant (or anxious) personality disorder
- avoid work or social activities that mean you must be with others
- expect disapproval and criticism and be very sensitive to it
- worry constantly about being ‘found out’ and rejected
- worry about being ridiculed or shamed by others
- avoid relationships, friendships and intimacy because you fear rejection
- feel lonely and isolated, and inferior to others
- be reluctant to try new activities in case you embarrass yourself.
Dependent personality disorder
- feel needy, weak and unable to make decisions or function properly without help or support
- allow others to assume responsibility for many areas of your life
- agree to things you feel are wrong or you dislike to avoid being alone or losing someone's support
- be afraid of being left to fend for yourself
- have low self-confidence
- see other people as being much more capable than you are
- be seen by others as much too submissive and passive.
Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)
- need to keep everything in order and under control
- set unrealistically high standards for yourself and others
- think yours is the best way of making things happen
- worry when you or others might make mistakes
- expect catastrophes if things aren’t perfect
- be reluctant to spend money on yourself or others
- have a tendency to hang onto items with no obvious value.
OCPD is separate from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which describes a form of behaviour rather than a type of personality.
This information was published in August 2016. We will revise it in 2019.