What are personality disorders?

Personality disorders are mental health problems in which your personality and behaviour cause you or others distress. There are many different types and potential causes of personality disorders, and the signs and symptoms are diverse. If you think you might have a personality disorder, you can find out more information here and consider seeking professional help.

This can help if:

  • people think your behaviour is unusual

  • you don’t trust other people

  • you have problems getting along with people

  • you have problems at work and school

  • you think you may have a personality disorder.

Boy talking to counsellor

What is a personality disorder?

Everyone’s personality is unique. Personalities develop as people go through different life experiences. Most people are flexible enough to learn from past experiences and to change their behaviour when needed. Someone with a personality disorder, however, finds it much harder to control their behaviour. They experience extreme thoughts and feelings – so intense, they have trouble coping with day-to-day life. They act in ways they can’t control, and struggle to relate to situations and people. As a result of these challenges, they often experience significant problems and limitations in their relationships, social encounters, work and schooling.

What causes personality disorders?

We don’t yet know exactly what causes personality disorders. However, certain factors can make it more likely that someone develops one. They include:

  • a family history of personality disorders or other mental illnesses

  • abuse or neglect during childhood

  • an unstable or chaotic family life during childhood

  • being diagnosed with childhood conduct disorder

  • loss of parents through death, or a traumatic divorce, during childhood

  • other significant traumas.

People with a personality disorder don’t choose to feel the way they do, and are in no way responsible for developing the disorder.

Signs and symptoms of personality disorders

Some signs that a person has a personality disorder include:

  • frequent mood swings

  • extreme dependence on other people

  • narcissism (extreme vanity)

  • stormy personal relationships

  • social isolation

  • angry outbursts

  • suspicion and mistrust of others

  • difficulty making friends

  • a need for instant gratification

  • poor impulse control

  • alcohol or substance abuse.

Don’t be too alarmed if you recognise some of these personality traits in yourself. Everyone has their different personality quirks. In fact, personality disorders aren’t diagnosed until 18 years of age because our personality is in such constant development up to that age. What’s different for people with personality disorders is that their behaviour is extreme – and, usually, they’re unable to adapt to or change it.

Personality disorder types

Some of the different types of personality disorders are:

Antisocial personality disorder: Tendency to not care about others to the point of being aggressive and violent, or violating other people’s rights.

Avoidant personality disorder: Feeling hypersensitive to criticism or rejection, and experiencing extreme shyness.

Borderline personality disorder: Acting impulsively, taking huge risks, experiencing significant distress, having an explosive temper or unstable moods.

Narcissistic personality disorder: Believing that you’re better than everyone else.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Being extremely controlling, preoccupied with perfection, rules and orderliness; unable to throw away old or broken stuff.

Schizotypal personality disorder: Not really caring about other people and having unusual thoughts, such as ‘magical thinking’ – that is, believing you can influence people and events by your thoughts.

People with personality disorders don’t always realise they have a disorder because their way of thinking and behaving seems so natural to them.

Do I have a personality disorder?

To know for sure whether you have a personality disorder, it’s vital to seek professional mental health support. While you might be able to search for personality disorder tests online, these types of quizzes can’t provide you with a thorough assessment to understand whether you have a personality disorder or are experiencing something else.

How can I manage or find treatment for my personality disorder?

The best ways to manage a personality disorder include:

Personality disorders are difficult to deal with on your own, so if you’re worried about having one it’s a good idea to visit your GP. Seeking professional help is the first step to getting the proper diagnosis and creating a treatment plan that works for you.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to a professional about treatment options.

  • Seek support from family and friends.

  • Get personalised support with ReachOut NextStep.

  • Develop strategies to manage your symptoms in everyday life, including building better coping skills.