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Personality Disorders - Cluster C

Definition

Personality Disorders describe a wide range of illnesses that have unique symptoms, signs and impacts on a person’s life. They are generally broken down into three groups or “Clusters” (A, B and C), and each cluster has a few personality disorders that fall within it. The differences between each “cluster” are significant, and every person experiences mental health issues a little differently.

It’s important to remember that identifying mental health issues, like Personality Disorders, can be tricky. Most of the time, people don’t neatly into “categories”, “clusters” or “definitions”. Everyone has “personality”, so you may see behaviours and feelings described here that everyone has at times, but it doesn’t mean they have a disorder.

People with Cluster C Personality Disorders are typically very cautious and fearful, especially in personal relationships. Cluster C Personality Disorders include:

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: Someone experiencing this might experience extreme shyness, constant feelings of being ‘not good enough’, and feeling very sensitive to criticism. They might struggle with having close relationships because of this.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder: Someone experiencing this might have a strong feeling of needing to be taken care of. This might lead them to be afraid or reluctant to be apart from the people in their lives and be submissive or overly “eager to please” to those around them.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: Someone experiencing this might feel a strong need for things to be orderly and to feel productive and “in control”. 
Causes

Like all mental health issues, Personality Disorders are complicated. A mixture of biological and environmental factors can cause some people to develop a personality disorder.

There is some evidence that suggests that genetics may play a role, but environment and life experience also seem to be a factor. People who experience trauma, abuse or have unhealthy relationships as children are at a higher risk of developing a personality disorder. People who have aggressive, anxious or impulsive personalities may also be more likely to develop a personality disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms

Personality disorders are diagnosed when the way a person thinks, feels, or behaves impairs their ability to live a healthy life, or when it causes extreme distress for them or the people around them.

The signs and symptoms of Personality Disorders can be explained by a number of factors or other illnesses, and anyone at some point or another may feel or behave in these ways whether they have a mental health issue or not. Everyone has “personality”, so you may see behaviours and feelings described here that everyone has at times.

The difference between experiencing these symptoms and having a personality disorder is how extreme the symptoms are, how often they happen, and how much they affect your life or the lives of those around you.

Because most personality disorders are defined by how one relates to the people around them, the signs and symptoms are usually about how a person’s behaviours are affecting their relationships. Symptoms usually emerge when a person is in their teens or early adulthood.

Some symptoms experienced by people with a Cluster C disorder may include:

  • A pattern of avoiding new activities or taking personal risks for fear of embarrassing oneself.
  • A strong fear of disapproval and rejection.
  • A pattern of overthinking things and finding it difficult to make everyday decisions without a lot of reassurance.
  • Feeling an intense need to be taken care of or directed.
  • An intense need for order, neatness, and control.
  • A pattern of being very focused on working and being productive.

Important: Because there are many types of Personality Disorders, the signs and symptoms vary widely.

Note: Substance use/abuse can commonly occur alongside Personality Disorders, as well as mood, anxiety and eating disorders.

Help

Personality Disorders are treatable. For Personality Disorders or any other mental health concern, if signs or symptoms are interfering with your life in any way, it’s time to seek help. 

For instance, if sleep patterns, eating, relationships, school, work, or enjoyment of life is being affected, it’s a good idea to talk to someone. That someone could be a friend you trust, a teacher, your family doctor, a crisis line, or counsellor.

Because of the nature of Personality Disorders and how much they can affect one’s ability to interact with, trust and/or relate to others, it may be particularly difficult to recognize when help is needed and for a person to take the required steps to seek help.

If it is a friend you are concerned about, they may resist help or not even recognize that they need it. They might need you to make the first step.

As always, if you feel like you or a friend might hurt him/herself or someone else, it’s time to call emergency services. 

Visit the Help Section to find out how to get help for yourself or a friend.

Treatment

The term “Personality Disorder” describes a number of different types of issues. How they are experienced will differ from person to person. Because each case is unique, the treatment will likely be unique for each individual.

In the case of Personality Disorders, getting help may include group or individual counselling or psychotherapy, learning coping strategies and/or ways to have more healthy and productive interactions and relationships with others. Medication may be prescribed to help treat other symptoms or complications of a personality disorder, like Depression, Anxiety or psychotic symptoms.

It may take time to find the right mental health professional and treatment strategy because of the nature of personality disorders and how they affect relationships and how one interacts with others.

Family members of someone who has a personality disorder may participate in therapy, support groups or benefit from learning about it and ways to support their loved one at home.

A person living with a personality disorder, like any other person, will benefit from maintaining wellness and having good supports in their life. 

Support

Supporting someone with any type of serious illness can be challenging, but some of the behaviours and symptoms of Personality Disorders can be particularly hard to understand and cope with.

Ways to help and support a friend or loved one who is living with a Personality Disorder:

  • Avoid the temptation to isolate yourself.
  • Practice good self care, and set some boundaries for yourself.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of Personality Disorders so you know what to expect and look for.
  • Encourage professional help for your friend when needed (see Help Section)
  • Remember treatment is a process for Personality Disorders and it takes time.
  • Be a sounding board, and listen carefully to the emotions someone is displaying over their choice of words.  Try to really make them feel heard.
  • Stay calm and don’t take things personally. Sometimes Personality Disorders can really distort how someone perceives conversations or situations. How someone reacts or communicates when they have a Personality Disorder may be confusing, distressing or even hurtful at times. They may be feeling overwhelmed and acting out, and it’s probably not about you.
  • Ask your friend how else you can help.
  • Provide simple distractions. Doing something simple or relaxing together can help build relationships, trust and create calm.

See the Help Section for more info about helping a friend and self care. 

Resources

The information on this page is a simple overview of a complicated health issue. The content has been taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and CMHA British Columbia. For more in-depth information, please visit these sources or speak to a medical professional.

Ontario – call ConnexOntario to find out where there are mental health supports in your community.

Crisis – in any situation where someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or a local crisis line.

Please see the Help Section for more information and resources.