Personality Disorders – What is a Personality Disorder?

One of the most often misunderstood concepts in psychiatry and mental health is that of a personality disorder. Just like with many other psychological diagnoses, people tend to throw this idea around and assign it to people they don’t like or who they are trying to denigrate or condemn in some medical way. However, there have been clear guidelines developed in order to properly identify and diagnose personality disorders in constructive ways that allow for their proper treatment by medical professionals. The concept of a personality disorder itself is a category that consists of different types of disorders, each referring to a specific trait of the individual. 

What are Personality Disorders?

Personality disorders are a class of specific mental disorders with characteristic maladaptive patterns to behavior, inner experience, and cognition. That’s to say, there are specific traits that not only are more harmful than helpful, but that also contrast noticeably with the behavior or characteristics trusted by the person’s culture. These traits are exhibited across very different contexts within a person’s life. As the name implies, the behaviors that comprise personality disorders make an individual person’s experience differ from what is expected by the social norms and expectations around them. Since the patterns of behavior develop early and are inflexible, the individual’s life is often impacted from an early age.

What Comprises a Personality Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, there are six specific criteria that a personality disorder has to meet:

  • An ongoing pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates significantly from the expectations of the person’s culture. This means that the pattern manifests in two or more of these areas:
    • Cognition
    • Affectivity
    • Interpersonal functioning
    • Impulse control
  • That enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across a wide range of personal and social situations.
  • The enduring pattern leads to significant distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.
  • The pattern is stable and long withstanding with an onset that can be traced all the way back to adolescence or early adulthood.
  • There is no better explanation of the pattern as a manifestation or consequence of a different mental disorder.
  • The pattern cannot be attributed to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.

Treating Personality Disorders

There are many different types of personality disorders, and each of them will have their own consequences and impact on an individual’s life. This, along with the fact that personality disorders are inflexible, means that it is important for an individual with such a condition to seek help in navigating their everyday life. By definition, a personality disorder is most often incompatible with the culture around the people affected by one, so just living can become a significant burden on them were they not to receive help in doing so. With the help of treatment, an individual with a personality disorder can gain the necessary tools to properly deal with the obstacles and difficulties of their daily life without having to compromise on the quality of life.