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Understanding Personality Disorders

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD November 14, 2018

Introduction – Understanding Personality Disorders, Part 1

personality-disorder

Personality disorders are a much bigger deal than we make them. In fact, we really take mental health for granted. Your ability to cope and exist within your environment is a primary determinant of your quality of life. As a result, mental illness is commonly seen and often is severe. On the one hand, many live with psychoses: unhealthy and debilitating mental disorders that take people beyond normal function. On the other hand, many others live with personality disorders. As a result, these conditions create limitations in one’s ability to interact with the world and all within it. These patterns of behaving, thinking and functioning lead to difficulties perceiving and responding appropriately.
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This series of posts review the three categories of personality disorders (known as clusters) and treatment options. These categories of disorders were developed based on similar traits and symptoms. Remember, they are not mutually exclusive, and an individual can suffer from more than one disorder at a time.

Today, we address what puts you at risk and when personality or mental disorders require medical intervention. It is a medical fact that you are not likely to maintain a steady state of functioning with these disorders. Also, these disorders tend to progress and become worse without intervention. We want these posts to provide insight into human behavior and allow you to obtain any help you or a loved one may need.

Norms of Behavior

nature nature personality disorders

It’s fair to say that society shapes behavioral norms and judges behavior based on one’s adherence to those norms. Thus, your environment has a large role in the determination of normal or abnormal behavior. That said, there are objective standards for behavioral deviancy. You should be especially sensitive of deviancy during childhood, as this is when personality develops.

In general, your personality is a result of the interaction between genetic and environmental considerations. You start with genetic factors passed by parents (e.g. your temperament). These are combined with how your environment embraces, molds and enhances your genetic inclinations. In simple terms, that means you may be prone to certain behaviors (even abnormal personality disorders) from birth. However, expression of these behaviors likely require circumstances and/or events in your life to stimulate full development and expression.

Factors that trigger personality disorders

Anger Personal Disorders
Beyond the interaction of genetic and environment, a precise cause of personality disorders isn’t known. Fortunately, we can identify certain factors that increase the risk of developing or triggering personality disorders.

  • Family history of mental illness, including personality disorders
  • Low level of education and lower social and economic status
  • Verbal, physical or sexual abuse during childhood
  • Neglect or an unstable or chaotic family life during childhood
  • Being diagnosed with childhood conduct disorder
  • Variations in brain chemistry and structure

Know when to get help

Finally, when should you see a physician for a possible personality disorder? Basically, the short answer is always. If you have any signs or symptoms of a personality disorder, see your doctor or mental health provider ASAP. Remember, it’s better to have been evaluated and found normal than to have needed an evaluation and not have obtained it.

If you or a loved one is having personality disorder-type issues, here are considerations you’ll want to have addressed.

  • What can I do to help myself?
  • What type of personality disorder might I have?
  • How do you treat my type of personality disorder?
  • Will talk therapy (psychotherapy) help?
  • Are there medications that might help?
  • How long will I need to take medication?
  • What are the major side effects of the medication you’re recommending?
  • How long will treatment take?
  • How does my support system become empowered to best help me?
  • What other support is available?

Finally, click here for tips on mental health and happiness!

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