Personality Disorder — Types, causes, symptoms and treatment

Personality disorders are mental health conditions defined by persistent, rigid and unstable patterns of thinking, emotion and behavior that greatly depart from cultural norms and expectations. The mentioned behaviors can have a significant impact on one’s life, causing pain and limiting their ability to perform well at work, school and in relationships.

A person’s self-image and identity strongly encompass personality disorders, which frequently emerge during adolescence or early adulthood.[1] These disorders can pose challenges in terms of diagnosis and treatment because they are pervasive, and individuals may not realize that their thoughts and actions are detrimental.

Different types of personality disorder

There are 10 personality disorders recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association and are categorized into three clusters based on similar traits. [2]

Odd, eccentric

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: Characterized by an all-pervasive mistrust and suspicion of others, seeing their intentions as malign even in the absence of proof.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: People with this disease frequently prefer solitary hobbies and have little interest in establishing intimate connections. Those who suffer from this disorder experience detachment from social interactions and a narrow range of emotional expression.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder: People with this condition exhibit bizarre conduct, strange thoughts or magical thinking, and have trouble establishing strong relationships. Additionally, individuals with schizotypal personality disorder may exhibit odd speech or perceptual experiences.

Erratic, dramatic, and emotional

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: Individuals with this condition frequently display dishonest and manipulative conduct, impulsivity, a lack of remorse for their acts and disrespect for the rights and feelings of others.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Unstable relationships, high emotions, impulsivity, and a fear of abandonment are characteristics of this illness. People with borderline personality disorder may experience recurring suicide thoughts or self-harming activities.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder: Individuals with this illness have a great desire for acceptance and may act dramatically or inappropriately to get attention. This disorder involves excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: This condition manifests a grandiose feeling of self-importance, a desire for praise, and a lack of empathy for others. Those who have it may take advantage of people for their own benefit and struggle to handle criticism.

Anxious, fearful

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: Someone with APD avoids social situations and have trouble building deep connections because of severe social inhibition, inadequacy emotions, and rejection anxiety.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder: This condition causes an all-consuming need to be looked after, leading to clingy and humble behavior and a fear of being alone or making decisions alone.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: People with OCPD exhibit an excessive concentration on orderliness, perfectionism and control. They have strict standards, are overly focused on their job, and have trouble turning over duties.
Different Types of Personality Disorder
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Causes of personality disorder

The exact causes of personality disorders are not entirely understood, it is believed that a complex interplay between genetic, physiological, psychological, and environmental factors causes these illnesses.

Here are some elements that might support the emergence of personality disorders:

Genetic factors

The relationship between genetics and mental health disorders is complex and not fully comprehended but there is a possibility that genetic factors play a role in the development of personality disorders. Personality disorders tend to run in families, according to studies, indicating that genetic factors may play a role in how they develop. [3]

These studies have found some genetic factors for a number of personality disorders. According to research, these factors contribute between 40 and 60 percent of the variation in borderline and antisocial personality disorders, respectively.

It is important to keep in mind that there are other elements that can contribute to the development of a personality disorder. The interaction between traits and environmental, psychological, and social factors determines a person’s personality and likelihood of having a personality disorder.

Brain structure and function

Personality disorders may emerge due to brain chemistry, structure, or functioning variations. It has been shown that people with borderline personality disorder may differ in the brain regions in charge of controlling their emotions and impulses.

Decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation are all executive processes that are mediated by the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. According to research, prefrontal cortex structural and functional abnormalities may contribute to impulsivity, aggression, and emotional instability being worsened in people with borderline and antisocial personality disorders.

Childhood experiences

Adverse childhood experiences like abuse, neglect, parent loss, or exposure to violence, can raise a person’s chance of developing a personality disorder. In addition to these traumatic events, other childhood experiences also have an impact on the development of various personality disorders.[4]

Inconsistent, overly protective and critical parenting have an effect on a child’s self-esteem, ability to regulate their emotions, and coping mechanisms, perhaps cause the development of a personality disorder.

On the other hand, borderline or narcissistic personality disorder may, however, emerge in children who do not receive their parents’ affection, support, or reinforcement.

Environmental factors

The development of personality disorders can be greatly influenced by environmental circumstances. They influence a person’s personality and susceptibility to various illnesses through their interactions with genetic, biochemical and psychological variables. These are some of the main environmental elements that might affect personality disorders:

  1. Family environment: Personality disorders can arise in families that are dysfunctional and are characterized by conflict, substance misuse, or mental health problems. 
  2. Parenting styles: A child’s self-esteem, ability to control their emotions, and coping mechanisms might be negatively affected by inconsistent, harsh, or excessively protective parenting.
  3. Socioeconomic factors: Being poor, lacking resources, and living in high-crime or high-stress environments can all increase the risk of developing personality disorders.
  4. Cultural factors: Cultural norms and values can have an impact on personality and coping mechanisms. Sometimes cultural expectations might cause personality disorders develop.
  5. Traumatic experiences: Traumatic situations like accidents, war, or natural catastrophes might make people more likely to acquire personality disorders. 
  6. Peer relationships: A person’s sense of self-worth and belonging can be negatively impacted by peer interactions like bullying, exclusion, or peer pressure.
  7. Psychological factors: An individual’s temperament, coping mechanisms, resilience, and other characteristics of their psychological make-up are all influenced by psychological factors. Some significant psychological factors that may have an impact on the emergence of personality disorders include:
  8. Temperament: A person may be more likely to develop borderline or antisocial personality disorder if they have a naturally nervous or impulsive disposition.
  9. Coping skills: Maladaptive cognition and behavior patterns can result from ineffective coping mechanisms such avoidance, denial, or hostility, which are traits of personality disorders. [5]
  10. Emotional regulation: Excessive mood swings or heightened sensitivity to unpleasant emotions are emotional regulation problems that can lead to personality disorders.
  11. Self-esteem: People who have low self-esteem and a negative view of themselves have high risks of developing personality disorders like dependent or avoidant personality disorder because they may feel undeserving of affection and support or fear rejection.
  12. Early attachment experiences: In instance, personality disorders like borderline or avoidant personality disorder, which are marked by issues with interpersonal connections, may be more likely to develop in children who suffer disturbed attachment or who have emotionally unavailable parents.
  13. Cognitive distortions: Unhelpful cognitive patterns like catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, or thinking in black-and-white terms can lead to personality disorders.

Symptoms of personality disorder

Characterized by persistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions that dramatically diverge from societal norms and expectations, personality disorders cause a person to experience severe suffering or impairment in a variety of spheres of their life. [6]

Symptoms may differ depending on the particular form of personality disorder. Some of the common forms include:

Cluster A:

Odd, quirky actions and thinking are hallmarks of Cluster A personality disorders. Schizotypal personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, and schizoid personality disorder are all part of this cluster. The symptoms of each condition are as follow:

1. Paranoid Personality Disorder

  • Widespread mistrust and suspicion of others, thinking that they have evil intentions
  • Unfounded worry that someone is taking advantage of, injuring, or misleading them
  • Refusal to open out to others out of concern that their information would be misused
  • Interpretation of seemingly benign statements or situations to have secret, ominous implications
  • Retaining resentment and refusing to pardon perceived slights or insults
  • Detecting subtle attacks on one’s reputation or integrity and responding aggressively or defensively as a result
  • Persistent, unfounded doubts about the commitment or reliability of friends or partners

2. Schizoid Personality Disorder

  • A preference for solitude and a lack of enthusiasm for establishing intimate relationships
  • Lack of emotional expressiveness, emotional coldness, and flattened affect
  • Little to no desire in engaging in sexual relations with others
  • Few or no close acquaintances or confidants, save from blood relatives
  • Disregard for compliments or criticism from others
  • Aloofness and a lack of desire to communicate or socialize with people
  • A propensity to come out as unconcerned with other people’s sentiments

3. Schizotypal Personality Disorder: 

  • Unusual ideas or magical thinking that affects behavior and goes against conventional standards (such as superstition or the belief in telepathy)
  • Unusual perceptions, such sensing someone’s presence while they aren’t present
  • Strange thought and speech habits, such as hazy or inferential language suspicion or paranoid thoughts
  • A restricted or inappropriate affective expression odd, eccentric, or strange look and conduct
  • Lacking close friends or confidants outside of one’s family
  • Social anxiety that doesn’t get better with practice and that’s more often linked to paranoid concerns than to negative self-evaluation

Cluster B:

Dramatic, emotional, or unpredictable actions and ideas are traits of cluster B personality disorders. This cluster includes antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders as well as histrionic and borderline personality disorders. [6]

Each condition has the following symptoms:

1. Borderline Personality Disorder:

  • Mood swings that are extreme and mental instability
  • Fear of abandonment, which results in frantically attempting to prevent actual or imagined separation
  • Relationships that are unstable and intense, swinging between idealization and depreciation
  • Unstable self-perception or self-image
  • Impulsive and dangerous actions, such abusing drugs, driving carelessly, or binge eating
  • Recurrent suicidal thoughts, actions, or behaviors, like making threats or injuring oneself
  • Feelings of emptiness that persist
  • Excessive, unwarranted, or difficult to manage fury
  • Paranoid thoughts that are fleetingly brought on by stress or acute signs of dissociation
Borderline Personality Disorder
Photograph: halfpoint/Envato

2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • Overinflated feeling of self-importance and exaggeration of abilities
  • Obsession with idealized visions of unending power, prosperity, beauty, or love
  • Belief that they are “special” and that high-status people or organizations are the only ones who can comprehend them or relate to them
  • Overwhelming need for approval and adoration
  • Feelings of entitlement, expecting favors or unquestioning obedience with their demands
  • Exploitative behavior
  • Lack of empathy, a refusal or an inability to acknowledge and take into account the needs and feelings of others
  • Having or thinking that someone else has your envy
  • Arrogant, conceited actions or attitudes

3. Histrionic Personality Disorder:

  • Excessive attention requirements and a propensity to demand attention
  • Inappropriate flirting or aggressive actions in public
  • Frequently changing and brief emotional expression
  • Using one’s looks to attract attention
  • Exaggerated, dramatic, and dramatic representation of emotion
  • Easily swayed by persons or other factors
  • Partnerships may seem more personal than they truly are

4. Antisocial Personality Disorder:

  • Disregard and infringement of others’ rights
  • Repeated criminal activity or legal issues
  • Dishonesty, lying, or coercion for one’s own benefit or amusement
  • Impulsivity and a lack of preparation
  • Anger and irritability that results in violent altercations or attacks
  • Reckless disregard for their own or others’ safety
  • Consistent failure to be responsible, maintain a constant work ethic or respect financial obligations
  • Lack of regret, apathy, or justification for harming, mistreating, or stealing from someone else

Cluster C:

Anxious, scared actions and thoughts are hallmarks of Cluster C personality disorders. This group of disorders includes obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and avoidant personality disorder and has the following symptoms: 

1. Avoidant Personality Disorder:

  • Social interactions out of a sense of inadequacy and a fear of being rejected or criticized
  • Unwillingness to participate in activities demanding a lot of human touch
  • Feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness and low self-esteem
  • Fear of seeming foolish or foolish in front of others
  • Concern about receiving criticism or rejection in social situations
  • Inferiority complex resulting in reluctant engagement in new interpersonal interactions
  • Believing that you are socially awkward, unattractive, or beneath other people

2. Dependent Personality Disorder:

  • Excessive demand for attention, which results in clingy and subservient behavior
  • Having trouble making judgments without support or guidance from others
  • Need for others to take up key responsibilities in their lives
  • Has trouble disagreeing with people out of fear of losing their support or acceptance
  • Lack of confidence
  • Going above and beyond the call of duty to win someone else’s affection and support, even at the cost of one’s own principles or self-respect
  • Irrational worries resulting in feeling uneasy or powerless while alone and inability to take are of self
  • Looks for new ways to get care and support when a close connection ends,

3. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD):

  • Preoccupation with accuracy, control, and orderliness, frequently at the sacrifice of adaptability, transparency, and effectiveness
  • Excessive commitment to productivity and work, at the expense of relationships and fun activities
  • Rigidity when it comes to moral, ethical, or value issues
  • Unwillingness to assign tasks or collaborate with others until they perform them exactly how the person with OCPD desires.
  • Rigidity and obstinacy
  • Excessive attention to detail that makes it difficult to finish activities since the focus is on perfect results
  • Unwillingness to throw away outdated or useless goods, especially those without sentimental significance
  • Being very frugal with money, which frequently results in excessive saving and a refusal to spend money on oneself or others

How many people suffer from personality disorder?

Estimates of the prevalence of personality disorders may vary depending on the specific illness and the community being studied. However, the general consensus is that 10% to 15% of individuals may be affected by a personality disorder.[7] Geographical location, cultural considerations, and variations in research study methodology can all affect these figures. It’s important to remember that the prevalence is greater because many people with personality disorders do not seek treatment or obtain a formal diagnosis.

The prevalence of particular personality disorders varies, for example:

  • According to estimates, the prevalence of borderline personality disorder in the general population is from 1% to 2%. 
  • The prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder is thought to be between 0.5% and 1%.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder rates are greater in men, with estimates for the general population ranging from 1% to 4%.

These figures are only broad approximations, and actual prevalence rates can change depending on a variety of variables.

Treatments you can undergo

Psychotherapy, medication, and self-help or support groups are frequently used in the treatment of personality disorders. The kind of personality disorder, the intensity of the symptoms, and the particular requirements and circumstances of the patient will all affect the treatment strategy. 

Typical forms of therapy include:

1. Psychotherapy

The main form of treatment for personality problems is frequent psychotherapy. Various forms of psychotherapy may be beneficial depending on the particular problem and needs of the individual. [8] These may consist of:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Focuses on recognizing and altering unwholesome thought and behavior patterns.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT emphasizes emotion control, interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, and distress tolerance and is especially beneficial for those with borderline personality disorder.
  • Schema Therapy: Aims to recognize and change ingrained, dysfunctional beliefs (schemas) that fuel personality disorders.
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: examines how unconscious habits, previous events, and internal tensions contribute to the symptoms of personality disorders.
  • Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT): Helps people with personality disorders have a deeper knowledge of their own and other people’s mental states.
Personality Disorder- Types, causes, symptoms and treatment
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2. Medication

There are no particular drugs for personality disorders, however certain medications can assist with co-occurring symptoms or illnesses including anxiety, sadness, or mood swings. The following medicines may be prescribed:

  • Antidepressants: To help with depression, anxiety, or mood swings.
  • Mood stabilizers: To control mental instability or mood swings.
  • Antipsychotics: Help address signs like impulsivity, anger, or paranoia.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: To alleviate anxiety or agitation.

3. Self-help and support groups

Individuals with personality disorders may benefit from joining self-help or support groups. These groups offer a secure setting for developing coping mechanisms, learning from others, and exchanging experiences. Online forums and a variety of organizations provide support groups for various personality disorders.

4. Family therapy

Participating the family in the healing process can assist with communication, interpersonal problems, and disorder education.

5. Residential treatment programs or day programs

Severe personality disorder sufferers may occasionally require more intense therapy. Individual and group counseling, a structured atmosphere, help with drugs and other areas of daily living are frequently provided by these programs.

When to seek treatment?

Personality disorder symptoms have a detrimental effect on a person’s daily life, relationships, or general well-being that’s why it is imperative that they seek therapy. Here are several indicators that it might be time to get support:

  • Inability to establish and maintain healthy connections with friends, family, and romantic partners: If a person continuously has trouble establishing close friendships or keeping relationships with these groups of people, it may be a sign that they are suffering from a personality disorder.
  • Impaired functioning at work, school, or in daily activities: When a person’s behavior or thinking patterns have a major negative impact on their ability to operate at work, school, or in everyday activities, it may be time to get treatment.
  • Emotional suffering: The presence of a personality disorder may be indicated by a person’s persistent emotional distress, which may include emptiness, severe mood swings, acute rage, or worry.
  • Self-destructive or dangerous activity: People with personality disorders are more likely to engage in impulsive, risky, or self-destructive behavior. Examples include substance misuse, driving recklessly, or self-harm. However, since these actions have serious repercussions, they require expert assistance.
  • Identity or self-image problems: People with personality disorders experience self-image or identity issues and feelings of inadequacy or a lack of a stable sense of self.
  • Interpersonal difficulties: Characteristics of a personality disorder might include a tendency of manipulation and exploitation, trouble trusting people, and frequent disputes with others.
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions: If you have suicidal thoughts or actions, you should seek immediate professional assistance.


Early diagnosis, intervention, and therapy increase the likelihood of effective symptom control and promote better, more meaningful lives for people with personality disorders. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, consult with a mental health expert to address these issues immediately.


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