Personality disorders

Personality disorders tend to appear during the late teens or early twenties. There are a lot of misconceptions about them, mainly that they're untreatable. This isn't true. The Mix answers your questions.

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All of us, in some way, have disordered personalities.

What is a personality disorder?

We guess we could start by asking, ‘what’s a personality?‘ It’s inherently ‘you’ isn’t it? How you think, how you feel about stuff, how you behave. This develops and adapts as you grow up and have different relationships and experiences.

A personality ‘disorder’ is a relatively new diagnosis in the world of mental health – and there’s ongoing confusion and debate about it. But, generally, it means your personality doesn’t evolve and you find it really hard to change the ‘bad’ bits about what you’re like.

This means it’s hard for you to form relationships with people, to stay out of trouble, to control how you’re feeling or behaving, and to listen. If this is making you – and the people around you – upset and distressed, then you may have a personality disorder.

Do I have a personality disorder? What different types are there?

There’s an extensive list of all the different types of personality disorders you can have – from narcissistic to obsessive compulsive. The problem with this list is, any given person can have a look and instantly freak out and diagnose themselves with four or five different disorders. This is because – if we want to get all philosophical about it – all of us, to some degree, have disordered personalities. We can all be a bit self-obsessed, over-emotional, make bad decisions and get really nervous about silly things. Human beings are ultimately flawed, no matter how hard we try. This doesn’t mean we all have personality disorders.

However – there are some people who do have personality disorders and need support and treatment with these. The best indicator is to ask these questions: Is the way you behave making you very unhappy and distressed? And/or: is the way you behave often upsetting and harming the people around you?

If this is the case, it’s worth going to talk to your GP about what’s going on.

Are personality disorders untreatable?

This is the biggest misconception about them – that they’re a life sentence and can’t be treated. This is completely untrue. With the right treatment and support, you can live a satisfying and happy life. It’s important to get diagnosed first and then you’ll be directed to the help you need.

A diagnosis of a personality disorder can be very upsetting and feel like it’s a personal attack on who you are – that you’re ‘wrong’. Remember though that the way you are isn’t your fault, and there is support out there if you want and need it.

What help is available for people with personality disorders?

There isn’t an instant fix. Our personalities are usually quite deeply entrenched into our being. But, usually a combination of talking therapies and medication can help challenge your thoughts and behaviour so you eventually feel happier and more in control.

Talking therapies – will vary, depending on the type of personality disorder you’re diagnosed with. But common types of therapy include: mentalisation and cognitive analytical therapy (CAT). Lots of the therapies involve group work, which can be great for meeting other people going through the same thing.

Medication – this varies too, again depending on your diagnosis. Though medication won’t ‘cure’ your personality disorder, they can help control some of the symptoms and issues. Antidepressants and mood stabilisers can both help get your brain in check so you’re more receptive to the talking therapies. And in some cases, anti-psychotics are prescribed when you have symptoms of psychosis.

Where can I find out more about personality disorder?

We recommend this free booklet from the charity Fixers, written by a young person who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015