What are Personality Disorders?
Disclaimer: The content on this webpage is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific medical advice. Reviewing the content of this webpage is not a substitute for consulting with a qualified health provider or mental health provider.
Personality disorders involve maladaptive patterns which can impact an individual’s sense of well-being. As opposed to some acute disorders, personality disorders are typically considered to be longstanding conditions (although symptoms of several personality disorders can change over time). Personality disorders can affect an individual’s ability to manage their emotions, interact productively with others, and sense their environment, among other problems. If these disorders are not well understood by a treatment provider, this can lengthen and complicate the treatment process. There are several recognized personality disorder and a few of the most notable ones are highlighted below.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition which involves instability of emotions and relationships. The disorder is broad, involving many areas of mental health, and is polythetic. This means that an individual doesn’t have to show all of the symptoms to qualify as having the disorder. Common hallmark features can include severe swings in interpersonal relationships, persistent suicidal ideation or behaviors, and a strong disturbance in self-image. At times, this condition can be linked to dissociation, intense anger, or a strong sense of emptiness. Given the complexities of the diagnosis, it is important that a mental health provider be trained and experienced in identifying this disorder. There is no simple method to identify Borderline Personality Disorder, and because of this, a thorough evaluation, one which incorporates multiple ways of looking at the symptoms, is important. It is also important for an examiner to fully assess other conditions which can sometimes resemble Borderline Personality Disorder. These other conditions may include bipolar disorder, PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, ADHD, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. As specific treatments have been developed for Borderline Personality Disorder (including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT), identifying the disorder can often represent a crucial turning point in treatment.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder involves a set of symptoms related to having a very strong level of self-importance. These individuals may appear over-confident and may struggle to fully acknowledge or recognize their weaknesses and shortcomings. Because of these features, these individuals may report additional levels of distress in their relationships. They may struggle to have, or express, empathy for others, and may be overly focused on their own needs and desires. Participating in a thorough evaluation, when the presence of this disorder is suspected, is especially important since a mental health provider may not easily see the systemic impairment of an individual in a brief meeting. If a testing client is open to the examiner interviewing other parties who are familiar with the client’s patterns (e.g., a significant other, a family member, or close friend), this can greatly enrich the data obtained in the evaluation.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial Personality Disorder involves a cluster of symptoms which can make it difficult to function productively in society. The term “antisocial” is often used to describe an individual who does not prefer the company of other people, but psychologists and psychiatrists use this term to describe someone who has great difficulty following societal norms. These individuals may have a history of breaking rules and may struggle to work productively with authority figures. A lack of empathy and a manipulative interpersonal style can be closely tied to symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder. As this disorder can co-occur with, or be mistaken for, other disorders (such as substance abuse disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder), it is important that a mental health provider obtain a full history and several additional types of data before diagnosing this disorder.
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