Personality Disorders | Symptoms & Treatment Options | Zencare — Zencare

Personality Disorders

Personality is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes us unique and individual. It is generally thought that our unique personality develops through a combination of genetics, our environment and interactions between the two. Our personality usually stays pretty much the same throughout our lives.

Some people find that their personality characteristics create challenges and cause distress. A personality disorder is when personality differs to cultural expectations, causes distress, interferes with participation in normal daily activities like work or relationships, and remains that way over time (1). The problematic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are characteristic of personality disorders usually start by late adolescence or early adulthood.

Without treatment, personality disorders can impact on a person’s life over the long-term. It’s common for people with personality disorders to also experience other challenges like depression, anxiety or substance abuse. However, with the appropriate therapy, many people can change these problematic patterns and engage more fully in life.

Types of personality disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is what mental health professionals use to diagnose personality disorders. The DSM-5 groups personality disorders into several different clusters which share some characteristics. The 10 specific personality disorders are (1):

Cluster A: Odd or eccentric characteristics

Cluster B: Dramatic, emotional or erratic characteristics

Cluster C: Anxious or fearful characteristics

Many of us will notice some of these characteristics in ourselves. This does not necessarily mean that we have a personality disorder.

How common are personality disorders?

One study found that in the United States around 9% of adults were diagnosed with a personality disorder (2). Of the 9% of adults diagnosed:

This data also shows that it’s not uncommon for a person to experience more than one personality disorder.

Symptoms of personality disorders

The symptoms vary depending on the specific disorder. However, there are features common to all personality disorders that distinguishes them from other mental health problems. The patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving in personality disorders are present over the long-term and in more than one context. For example, this might mean that you experience challenges both at work and in your relationships.

Some signs to look out for include having difficulty:

In addition, you might notice that these things cause you distress and interfere with your ability to participate or engage in work or relationships (3).

Ways to heal from a personality disorder

There are many resources available to help people to recover from a personality disorder. Consider one or more of these options:

Personality disorders: Therapy types to consider  

The particular approach taken depends on your individual circumstances and therapist. Some common approaches to treating personality disorders include:

What should I look for in a therapist for personality disorders?

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a mental health professional, including:

Education and credentials

Look for a licensed mental health professional who has specialized training in personality disorders and related therapies. For example, if you are looking for help with Borderline Personality Disorder, you might want to look for therapists with certification from the DBT-Linehan Board of Certification. It can be helpful to take a look at therapists’ biographies. This is often where they note their experience and specializations.

Personal fit

It’s important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working with and trust. The trusting working relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy. As therapy for personality disorders is often longer-term, it’s particularly important to make sure you find a therapist you can build a strong relationship with.

Talk in advance

The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call (you can do this with our vetted Zencare therapists). Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.

Sources and references

(1) American Psychiatric Association, “What are personality disorders?

(2) DSM-IV personality disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication

(3) Royal College of Psychiatrists, “Personality disorder"