The Basics of Personality Disorders

Every one of us possesses a unique personality. Our identity is shaped as a result of different life experiences. We all go through tough times and the majority of us are flexible enough to change our behaviors when we need to.

What are personality disorders?

For someone to have a personality disorder, it means that they find it much more difficult to control themselves against harmful behaviors. It also means that they either do not realize their behaviors are harmful or have an abnormally difficult time changing these behaviors. 

We can define personality disorders as a set of behaviors and thinking patterns that impact how an individual engages and interacts in the world around them. Often times these behaviors lead to concerns and distress in the people closest to the individual. This is because many of these individuals possess a very rigid pattern of thinking and behaving that is outside of what is considered normal behavior. Individuals with personality disorders find it difficult to perceive or relate to events as others do. In some cases, individuals with PD may think that their behaviors are normal and may also blame others for the challenges they face.

What can cause personality disorders?

Personality disorders can be caused by a number of reasons. Some of them are below:

  • Genetics: Some disorders can be inherited from your parents.
  • Childhood trauma: One of the most common reasons for PD is childhood trauma such as violence, abuse, neglect, etc.
  • Abuse: Going through emotional or physical pain, even verbal abuse can pause Personality disorders.
  • High reactivity: High sensitivity to light, sound, texture, or other stimuli.


How many people have personality disorders?

It is estimated that 6-9%[1] of all the general population possess some kind of personality disorder. But the authorities believe that the prevalence can be up to 15%. These disorders affect men and women equally and usually start from early childhood with the beginning of personality development.

What are the different types of personality disorders?

Personality disorders are classified into three[2] clusters depending on the behavior. These are: 

  1. Cluster A: paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.  
  2. Cluster B: antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.  
  3. Cluster C: avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.  

Let’s take a look at some of the most common personality disorders:


Narcissistic personality disorder

Belonging to Cluster B, Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is defined as an obsession with self-importance, a sense of entitlement and a constant need to be admired. A person with NPD lacks empathy and often exploits others for personal gain. Other people might look at them as selfish, arrogant, intolerable, and cruel. A person with NPD might think that their behavior is normal while it can cause pain to the people around them.

Paranoid personality disorder

A part of Cluster A, Paranoid personality disorder (PPD) is characterized by a pervasive distrust of others, even close friends, family members, or spouses. A person with PPD is extremely suspicious and on edge. They struggle to build close relationships and are extremely sensitive to setbacks. A person with PPD may also cause distress to others by projecting their paranoid thoughts onto them.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Another one of Cluster B disorders, Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is characterized by an immense unconcern for the feelings of others. A person with APD is aggressive, irritable, and impulsive and does not follow the rules of society as normal people do. They might seem charming and confident on the outside, but they often have fierce and short-lived relationships. According to a study published in 2016 approximately 40-70% of individuals in prison have antisocial personality disorder.


What are the different treatments for personality disorders?

Personality disorders are challenging to treat. Sometimes people don’t acknowledge they have one other time changing thinking patterns can take time. But with the help of certain interventions, they can be treated to a great extent. Let’s take a look at some possible treatments for personality disorders:


Certain types of psychotherapy have been found to be extremely effective in treating personality disorders. During psychotherapy sessions, an individual finds insight and knowledge related to their disorder and what is causing their symptoms in the first place. This can help a person understand their behavior and be more aware of themselves.

You focus on the delusional and harmful thinking patterns that are responsible for your illicit behavior. By working out how you think, you gain lots of understanding of your condition and how you should deal with it.

Most importantly, a person with a personality disorder can learn effective coping mechanisms that can reduce their behaviors and help them be better. The effectiveness of psychotherapy depends on the intensity of the person.

Some commonly used forms of psychotherapy for personality disorders are:

  • Psychoanalytic Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Dialectic Behavioral Therapy
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Family-Focused Therapy

There are no specific medications for treating personality disorders. However, drugs such as anti-depressants can be used as a catalyst for helping people cope with their conditions better. Relaxants can help people overcome their panic and similarly calm those who suffer from anxiety or depression.

Depending on your condition, your doctor can prescribe you medications that can be used for short or long term. Medications often work most effectively in combination with psychotherapy.



Personality disorders can severely impact the way a person spends their life. Often people deny or ignore having such conditions, but it is never advisable to do this. The sooner you become aware of them, the better it is for you to identify and fix them. Seeking professional help can have a huge impact on stabilizing your condition and embarking you on a road to living a fulfilling and happier life.

Luis is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who graduated from Long Beach State University with a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology (2015). He also has a Bachelors's degree in Child and Adolescent Development with an emphasis on Public Policy from San Francisco State University (2011). Luis has over 9 years of experience working with children and families both in education and mental health. Previously, Luis worked for a non-profit agency in San Francisco, CA providing mental health consultation in early head start programs and SFUSD pre-schools. Currently, Luis works at Kaiser in San Francisco providing mental health services.

His therapeutic interests include working with Trauma, the LGBTQ community, Children, Families, Couples, and POC. His personal interests include; Films, Reading, Writing, Art, Travelling, Disney, and Food. He is also a recipient of the California State Stipend award (2015). PsychoSocial is part of Luis' dedication to mental health and an example of his passion to educate others. Luis hopes that through PsychoSocial he will be able to help in the fight to end the stigma around mental illness.​​



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