Each person possesses a unique personality composed of various traits that shape how they perceive the world and interact with others. Ideally, adaptive personality traits enable individuals to adjust flexibly to changing environments, fostering healthy relationships and effective coping mechanisms. However, maladaptive traits can lead to inflexibility and unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance misuse or anger management issues, and hinder trust and connections with others.

Personality formation occurs early in life, influenced by both genetic factors, which may manifest as temperament, and environmental factors, including life events, relationships, and family dynamics.

A personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by lifelong patterns of self-perception and interpersonal reactions that cause significant problems. Individuals with personality disorders struggle with emotional understanding and distress tolerance, leading to difficulties in relating to others and adversely affecting various aspects of life, such as family, social activities, work, and overall well-being.


Identifying a personality disorder may be challenging since affected individuals may perceive their thinking and behavior as natural and attribute their challenges to others. There are three groups, or clusters, of personality disorders, each exhibiting unique features and symptoms:

Group A Personality Disorders

These disorders involve a consistent pattern of dysfunctional thinking and behavior reflecting suspicion or disinterest in others:

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: Lack of trust and suspicion of others, difficulty confiding in others, and a tendency to interpret innocent remarks as personal insults.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: Emotional detachment, disinterest in social interactions, and limited emotional expression.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Unusual thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, social anxiety, and “magical thinking.”

Group B Personality Disorders

These disorders involve a consistent pattern of dramatic, overly emotional thinking, or unpredictable behavior:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Fear of abandonment, unstable self-perception, mood swings, and impulsive behavior.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder: Excessive attention-seeking, emotional dramatics, and shallow emotional connections.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Belief in superiority, craving admiration, lack of empathy, and manipulative behavior.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: Disregard for others’ needs, deceitful, aggressive, and impulsive behavior.

Group C Personality Disorders

These disorders involve a consistent pattern of anxious thinking or behavior:

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: Fear of criticism or rejection, low self-esteem, and avoidance of social interactions.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder: Excessive reliance on others, fear of independence, and difficulty making decisions.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Preoccupation with details, perfectionism, and a need for control.

It is possible for individuals to exhibit symptoms of more than one personality disorder.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience symptoms of a personality disorder, seeking medical or mental health attention is crucial. Untreated personality disorders can negatively impact relationships and mood, and hinder the ability to function and pursue personal goals.


Personality disorders are believed to result from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Genetic influences may increase the likelihood of developing a personality disorder, while life experiences may trigger its manifestation.

Risk Factors

While the exact causes of personality disorders remain unknown, certain factors may heighten the risk of developing one:

  • Specific personality traits, including a tendency to avoid harm or seek out high-adrenaline activities and poor impulse control.
  • Early life experiences, such as an unstable or unsupportive home environment and a history of trauma, including neglect or abuse.


Personality disorders can significantly disrupt an individual’s life and affect their loved ones. They can lead to issues in relationships, work, and school, as well as social isolation and other mental health problems, including addiction and legal complications.

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Diagnosing a personality disorder typically involves a comprehensive assessment, which may include:

  • A physical exam and health history to rule out underlying physical health issues or substance abuse.
  • A mental health evaluation with a discussion of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Questionnaires may aid in diagnosis.
  • Comparison of symptoms to guidelines in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR).
  • Neuropsychological testing to understand cognitive and personality traits.

Diagnosing personality disorders can be challenging due to overlapping symptoms and potential co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is crucial to receiving appropriate treatment.


The most suitable treatment for a personality disorder depends on its severity and the individual’s life situation. Often, a team approach involving medical, mental, and social support is necessary for several months or years. The treatment team may include:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist or therapist
  • Psychiatric nurse
  • Pharmacist
  • Social worker

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT, a form of talk therapy, is the primary treatment for personality disorders. It aims to address dangerous behaviors and improve quality of life:

  • Weekly one-on-one sessions with a therapist lasting about a year.
  • Therapists attend consultation groups to discuss treatment-related issues.
  • Therapists provide coaching outside of sessions to apply treatment strategies in real-life situations.
  • DBT includes modules on emotions control, distress management, mindfulness, and interpersonal skills.


While the FDA has not approved medicines specifically for personality disorders, certain psychiatric medications can help manage symptoms:

  • Antidepressants for depression, anger, impulsivity, and irritability.
  • Mood stabilizers to regulate mood swings and reduce irritability and impulsiveness.
  • Antipsychotic medications for psychosis, anxiety, or anger issues.
  • Anti-anxiety medications for anxiety, agitation, or sleep problems (but not suitable for all personality disorders).

Hospital and Residential Treatment Programs

In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary for proper mental health care and stabilization. Afterward, outpatient or residential treatment may be recommended.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

In addition to formal treatment, certain lifestyle practices can support the management of personality disorders:

  • Actively participate in your care, attend therapy sessions, and work towards treatment goals.
  • Take prescribed medications as directed and do not stop them abruptly.
  • Educate yourself about your condition to stay motivated in following your treatment plan.
  • Engage in physical activity to manage symptoms like depression, stress, and anxiety.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol, as they can worsen symptoms and interact with medications.
  • Attend routine medical checkups to discuss any new health concerns or medication side effects.

Coping and Support

Having a personality disorder can make it challenging to take actions that promote well-being. Mental health professionals can provide coping strategies and support.

If Your Loved One Has a Personality Disorder

If you have a loved one with a personality disorder, work with their mental health professional to offer support and encouragement. Consider seeking support from a mental health professional for yourself to learn effective ways to set limits and care for yourself.

Preparing for Your Appointment

Since personality disorders often require specialist care, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Taking a family member or friend with you can help you remember important information.

What You Can Do

Prepare for your appointment by making a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any unrelated to the appointment reason.
  • Key personal information, including major stresses and recent life changes.
  • All medications, vitamins, herbs, or supplements you take, along with their doses.
  • Questions to ask your doctor or mental health professional.

Basic questions to ask include:

  • The type of personality disorder you have.
  • Treatment options and the potential for talk therapy or medications.
  • Expected duration of treatment.
  • Major side effects of recommended medications.
  • Ways to help yourself during treatment.
  • Printed material or recommended websites for additional information.

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