Many people are familiar with common mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, but they may not have heard of personality disorders. Others may have heard of the labels “narcissistic” or “antisocial,” but may not know that these fall under the category of personality disorders. So – what is a personality disorder? Personality disorders are different than other mental health disorders in that they are considered life-long and a part of oneself. Everybody has a variety of personality features (i.e., being outgoing or shy, calm or irritable, or easy-going versus high-strung). These features are generally a normal part of one’s personality and don’t interfere too much with their day-to-day lives. For about 15% of the population, however, parts of their personality can cause difficulties in their everyday lives, relationships, and functioning.
By definition, personality disorders consist of thought patterns and behaviors that are significantly different from cultural norms. As mentioned, these thoughts and behaviors have been occurring for a long period of time and are generally unchanging (unless they have done therapy). Personality disorders are typically only diagnosed in adults (over age 18) and have been the cause of impairments in one’s life. In particular, many personality disorders tend to affect relationships the most, as many of these disorders include interpersonal styles that can be problematic.
At this time, there are considered to be 10 different personality disorders, with each falling into one of three categories. The first category consists of disorders that have been considered “eccentric” or “odd.” Most of the disorders in this category feature social awkwardness or disinterest; however, these disorders are not considered to be part of the autism spectrum. The second category features personality disorders that are characterized by difficulties with controlling emotions and impulses. Disorders in this category also tend to have the biggest impact on relationships and social exchanges. Finally, the third category includes disorders that involve a high level of anxiety, either socially or in making decisions about one’s life. While many people may have a trait or two of one of these disorders, it is not considered a disorder unless many symptoms are present and one’s functioning is impacted.