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Personality Disorders - an Overview
First, let’s start with what “personality” is: personality is made up of your life experience, how you interact with others, how you cope, your genetic make-up etc. It develops over your lifetime. It is what makes you who you are. It affects your relationships, actions, communication, choices and outlook on life.
Even though personalities vary widely, some people have what is called a “personality disorder”. This means that there is an ongoing pattern of experiences and behaviours that are disruptive or distressing, and interfere with the person’s ability to live a comfortable life.
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 fit 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.
There’s more about each group or “cluster” on the individual personality disorder cluster pages, but here’s a brief description of each:
- Cluster A: The disorders in this group can make it difficult to relate to others.
- Cluster B: The disorders in this group can make it difficult to regulate emotions or behaviour.
- Cluster C: The disorders in this group are centered around anxious or fearful feelings and behaviours.
Personality disorders are very distinct from one another- even ones in the same group. Two people with different personality disorders will likely behave very differently, and show very different symptoms.
Personality disorders are not:
- The result of any actions or personal failures of the individual.
- A sign or result of low intelligence or weakness.
- All the same or even similar. Symptoms differ WIDELY between disorders and people.
Personality disorders are misunderstood by many, perhaps in part because of the fact that the thoughts, actions and behaviours associated with them can be hard to relate to for someone who does not have this type of illness.
Myth: People with mental illnesses like personality disorders are unpredictable and violent.
Fact: Statistically, people living with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be victims of violence. Some personality disorders can make it difficult for a person to feel empathy (e.g. Antisocial Personality Disorder), but this doesn’t mean that they are automatically violent. There are a wide range of personality disorders, with a wide range of symptoms, challenges and behaviours. Violence is not typical.
Myth: Childhood abuse always causes personality disorders.
Fact: Experiencing trauma or abuse as a child can certainly put someone at a higher risk of developing a personality disorder or other mental illness, but it is not the only factor. Not all people who experience abuse end up with a personality disorder, and not all people who have a personality disorder have experienced abuse.
Myth: People with personality disorders aren’t trying hard enough to get better.
Fact: Personality disorders are real mental illnesses, and require support and treatment to cope with. The behaviours and symptoms someone experiences when they have a personality disorder may be hard to understand, but no one chooses to have a personality disorder or other illness.
Myth: People with personality disorders are untreatable.
Fact: Plenty of research has shown that, while there are no absolute cures for personality disorders, many symptoms can be effectively managed to make for a healthier and more successful life through combinations of medications, therapy and support.
Myth: All personality disorders are the same, and individuals who share a diagnosis act the same way.
Fact: There are 10 kinds of distinct personality disorders (and remember, not everyone fits neatly into one category), and they each have multiple symptoms or criteria. Even with the same diagnosis, people can experience or exhibit a disorder in different ways.
Myth: Sometimes, I experience some thoughts and behaviors that are symptoms of a personality disorder. This mean I must have a disorder!
Fact: The signs and symptoms of a personality disorder can be, and often are, experienced by anyone. Most people have felt anxious, had trouble relating to people, or controlling their behaviour at times. The difference between experiencing the symptoms sometimes vs. having a personality disorder are the frequency, length of time, and severity of the symptoms, and the degree to which it is affecting your life. If you think you or someone you know has a personality disorder, it’s important to talk to a doctor!
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.
Facts about mental health issues and illnesses. It is not meant to replace a doctor’s advice. Please consult a medical professional.