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    A quick guide to understanding some of the most common conditions

    Understanding Personality Disorder

    People with personality disorders have on-going patterns of intense, rigid thinking, and they react to situations in ways that are considered abnormal. An estimated 10 to 13 percent of the world’s population has some type of personality disorder, according to American Psychological Association. No one knows why personality disorders develop, but scientists believe both genetics and environment play a role.

    There are several broad categories of personality disorders, and within those categories, individual personality disorder conditions:

    • Eccentric Personality Disorders: Characterized by odd or peculiar behavior. Examples of personality disorders within this broad category are schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder.

    • Dramatic Personality Disorders: Characterized by intense, unstable emotions and impulsive behaviors. Examples of personality disorders within this broad category are borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and multiple personality disorder now called dissociative identity disorder.

    • Anxious Personality Disorders: Characterized by nervous, avoidant and fearful reactions, often in social situations. Examples of personality disorders within this broad category are antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

    Some personality disorders share similar symptoms with others—and a person may suffer from two or more personality disorders at once. Sometimes, a person with a personality disorder has another type of mental health disorder too, like depression, anxiety or substance abuse. Because of this, it can be hard to diagnose a personality disorder.

    People with personality disorders generally do not know or believe they have a problem and typically do not seek treatment on their own. If you are trying to help someone you believe may have a personality disorder, these resources may help:

    • National Alliance on Mental Illness: Resources for Family Members and Caregivers

    • American Psychiatric Association (APA): Helping a Loved One Cope with Mental Illness


    Personality Disorder Symptoms

    If you notice any of the symptoms listed here in a child, family member or friend, they may have a personality disorder. Talk to your doctor or mental health profession about how you can support that person in getting the help they may need.

    Examples of Eccentric Personality Disorder Symptoms

    • Hold strange beliefs or are superstitious

    • Introverted and obsessed with their own thoughts

    • Prefer to be alone and express few emotions

    • Suspicious of people and believe they will be harmed


    Examples of Dramatic Personality Disorder Symptoms

    • Aggressive and do not feel guilt for destructive actions

    • Belief that they are better than others

    • Dramatic mood swings

    • Seek constant attention

    • Sexually promiscuous


    Examples of Anxious Personality Disorder Symptoms

    • Avoid social situations for fear of embarrassment

    • Feeling or acting helpless

    • Sensitive to criticism, feeling inadequate

    • Perfectionism


    Treating Personality Disorders

    People with personality disorders usually need long-term, professional attention and treatment from a mental health provider. With that support, they can learn to manage and improve their inappropriate behavior and destructive thought patterns.


    Self-care strategies and healthy lifestyle behaviors such as getting exercise and avoiding alcohol can be helpful for someone with a personality disorder. It’s also important that a patient takes any medications exactly as prescribed by their care provider—at the right times of day and in the right dosages.


    People with personality disorders are often treated through psychotherapy. During psychotherapy a patient can discuss issues they are having, then work with the therapist to find effective ways to manage their personality disorder.

    Prescription Medications

    A mental health provider may treat a patient with a personality disorder using a prescription medication. There are several categories of psychiatric medications that may help such as:

    • Anti-Anxiety Medications: Can help manage fears and may be helpful if insomnia is a problem.

    • Antidepressants: Can help people experiencing feelings of hopelessness or depression, anger, impulsivity or irritability.

    • Antipsychotic Medications: If an individual is experiencing hallucinations or delusions these medications can help.

    • Mood Stabilizers: Can help even out mood swings or reduce irritability, impulsivity and aggression.


    Using DNA Testing for Individuals with Personality Disorders

    Not everyone reacts to medications in the same way, and finding the right medication to treat a personality disorder may take some trial and error. In fact, up to half of all patients do not respond as desired (and some even experience adverse reactions) to the first psychiatric medication they are prescribed. This is due in part to their individual genetic makeup (their DNA).

    In very recent years, however, scientists have identified innovative ways to use genetic testing to help personalize medicine, so it better meets the needs of individual patients—and helps get them targeted medications with doses tailored to them. This science is now available to health care professionals to help them treat patients who have personality disorders.

    The information revealed by a patient’s DNA can also help a doctor better understand if a patient might experience negative side effects or adverse drug reactions, and avoid those options.

    This remarkable science is already helping people with a wide range of personality disorders, helping them gain better control of the lives. 


    American Psychological Association, What causes personality disorders? 6/12/2018, https://www.apa.org/topics/personality/disorders-causes



    With good information, you can better understand how these conditions may affect you, your loved one or your patient. The better informed you are, the better you can advocate. Learn more by clicking the topics below: