What is a Personality Disorder?

Approximately 15% of U.S. adults have at least one personality disorder. But what does that mean? What is a personality disorder exactly?

A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that are quite different than what is expected in a person’s culture. Because it’s an “enduring pattern,” it doesn’t just quickly come and go. You don’t suddenly have a personality disorder because you had a bad mood one day. Disorders like these generally begin during adolescence or young adulthood, and they remain very consistent over time. They are ongoing personality traits.

However, just thinking or acting differently than others isn’t enough to be diagnosed as a personality disorder. The individual must also experience some sort of distress or impairment — in other words, it must cause problems in the individual’s life. It could be that the personality disorder causes the person to feel badly, or it might cause problems for them in relationships or at school or work. They might have legal or financial issues.

Additionally, it is not considered a personality disorder if the symptoms can be attributed to another mental disorder such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, or any other mental heath diagnosis. And it is not considered a personality disorder if the symptoms are due to a medical condition, use of a drug, or an injury, such as a head trauma. However, it is possible to have both a personality disorder and a mental health disorder or medical condition at the same time. And it is also possible to have more than one personality disorder.

There are several types of personality disorders, and I will be writing a series of articles explaining each one in greater detail. Below is a general overview of the different categories (“clusters”) and the specific personality disorders listed in each.

Cluster A includes:

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder, and
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Individuals with Cluster A personality disorders may seem odd or eccentric.

Cluster B includes:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder, and
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Individuals with Cluster B personality disorders often seem overly dramatic, emotional, or erratic.

Cluster C includes:

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder
  • Dependent Personality Disorder, and
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Individuals with Cluster C personality disorders often seem anxious or fearful.

All of the above are diagnosable conditions in the DSM-V — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Each disorder has a specific set of diagnostic criteria. In my upcoming posts, I will explain what the symptoms are for each disorder and how they can affect the way a person thinks and acts.

What is a personality disorder? Image of misty lake and mountain scenery.
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Published by Julie Bailey, LCPC

I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the state of Illinois. I hold a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I'm an author and a clinical manager and my life goal is to help you live your best life possible. I get excited about the daffodils in the spring and the colorful leaves in the fall (I mean like ridiculously excited). I enjoy genealogy, old cemeteries, loud music, and trivia, and I refuse to ever outgrow Harry Potter. I am an empath, which means that I literally feel the pain of others, and from time to time, this requires a visit to a quiet beach so that the wind and waves can soothe my soul.

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