In general, people tend to behave and think in fairly predictable ways. But people with personality disorders tend to have beliefs and attitudes which differ from most people's and the way they relate to others is unusual.
What are the symptoms of personality disorder?
Someone may be described as having a 'personality disorder' if their personal characteristics cause regular and long term problems in the way they cope with life, interact with other people and in the way in which they can respond emotionally.
They may have a narrow range of attitudes, behaviours and coping mechanisms which they can't change easily, if at all. They may not understand why they need to change, as they do not feel they have a problem.
The symptoms depend on the disorder one is suffering with, with the common theme of impaired functioning and difficulties in inter-personal relationships. In general reported symptoms can include being overwhelmed by negative feelings such as distress, anxiety, worthlessness or anger, avoiding other people and feeling empty and emotionally disconnected, difficulty managing negative feelings without self-harming (for example, abusing drugs and alcohol or taking overdoses) or, in rare cases, threatening other people, odd behaviour, difficulty maintaining stable and close relationships (especially with partners, children and professional carers) and sometimes, periods of losing contact with reality.
What are the different types of personality disorder?
Personality disorders tend to fall into three groups: suspicious, emotional and impulsive, and anxious.
Suspicious personalities tend to have difficulty relating to others and behave in ways most people would regard as odd and eccentric and perhaps seem as though they are living in a fantasy world of their own. An example is paranoid personality disorder, where the person is extremely distrustful and suspicious.
Emotional and impulsive personalities struggle to regulate their feelings and often swing between positive and negative views of others. This can lead to patterns of behaviour others describe as dramatic, unpredictable and disturbing.
An example is borderline personality disorder, where the person finds it difficult to control their emotions and has unstable relationships with others. They may also have impulses to self-harm and feel empty inside.
Anxious personalities struggle with persistent and overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear. They may show patterns of behaviour most people would regard as unsocial and withdrawn. An example is avoidant personality disorder, characterized by strong feelings of inadequacy and sensitivity to what others think about you. This leads to the person being socially inhibited and inept leading them to avoid work and other social gatherings.
Can personality disorders be treated?
There are a number of different treatment options for personality disorders, including both medication, talking therapies and support. What works best will depend on the type and severity of the personality disorder.
There are no drugs specifically known to treat personality disorder. However medications are prescribed to treat symptoms. For example Semisodium Valproate is known to assist with the management of mood changes in Borderline personality disorder, anti depressants can also help in the anxious and avoidant personality patient groups. Talking treatments though are the mainstay.
Counselling & Therapy.
There are a number of talking treatments which can help people with personality disorders to focus on the way they think and behave, to control their emotions, develop successful relationships and achieve more out of life. These include cognitive behaviour therapy (which helps people to change the way they think), dialectical behaviour therapy (which works towards changing how people think as well as accepting who they are) and psychodynamic therapy (which tries to get the patient to bring to the surface their true feelings and with the help of the therapist, better manage them).
Group therapy can be helpful for anyone who prefers to avoid social situations, or who usually depends too much on another person. The groups may have very practical aims, with the emphasis on practicing social skills and assertiveness training. If you tend to form intense, 'special', one-to-one relationships, a group can let you try out different relationships and broaden your range of attachments to other people.
Group therapy may include social problem-solving therapy which aims specifically to boost soial confidence and help reduce impulsive behaviour by teaching people how to stop and think and plan their actions.
Treatment in a therapeutic community where you can stay for several weeks or months can be very beneficial. Most of the work is done in groups and gives people the opportunity to learn from being with others and provides guidance from staff, as well as a safe environment to work through differences of opinion.