Small Peek at Personality Disorders

At The Price Group, we work with clients and families with many different persepctive, issues, and situations. In our opinion, the issues connected with personality disorders often have a negative stigma or association with it. We’d love to share with you some information from a program that we have worked with repeatedly. It provides a great overview to personalitiy disorders. Please keep in mind that it is not an exhaustive list of information, and it is not meant to idenfity specific casuation or symptons.

We all have personalities. Some of us are told we have “strong” personalities while others may be considered more timid. We can all think of someone we know who is “high strung” and someone who is “laid back.” Personalities are the combination of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that make us each unique. It is the way we view, understand, and relate to the outside world as well as how we see ourselves. It is consistent across settings and situations and fairly consistent throughout our lives. Personality begins forming during childhood, shaped through an interaction of two factors:

Genetics: This is sometimes referred to as temperament. We can see the differences in individuals’ temperaments when we compare our children. One may have been a really active baby who was difficult to soothe, while another may have been quite, shy, and docile. This aspect of our personality is inherited and lays a framework for all of our interactions.
Environment: These are our life situations, the surroundings we grew up in, events that occurred in our lives, relationships with family members, and relationships with others. We are influenced by every interaction we have, including the type of parenting we experience.

Personalities are thus shaped by the interaction of our temperament and everything we experience throughout our lives. There are numerous pieces to each of our unique personalities; many are helpful to our everyday interactions while some may cause problems. In practice, I often explain personalities as similar to 1000 piece puzzles to provide a visual for the multitude of thought patterns, behavioral cycles, and emotional aspects of our personalities.

What is a Personality Disorder?
A Personality Disorder is sometimes a misleading phrase as it does not mean that an individual’s personality is broken. Rather, all it means is that the personality characteristics that an individual develops are more problematic than helpful in a person’s day to day life; a greater amount of the personality puzzle pieces cause the individual distress and conflict. It does not mean that the individual lacks personality or any positive personality qualities. On the contrary, individuals with personality disorders often have numerous likeable qualities. Unfortunately, the challenging aspects of their personality shine through more frequently or with greater “volume” causing problems in their lives. Since personalities are comprised of our thought patterns, behavioral cycles, and emotional reactions towards others and ourselves across settings, having a personality disorder means that an individual has a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving no matter what the situation. This leads to significant problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, work and school. Many individuals may not recognize that they have a personality disorder because this has developed over time, it is the only way they have ever known to interact with the world, and because their way of thinking and behaving seem natural to them. It can be common to then blame others for the challenges they face.

Where does a Personality Disorder come from?
Personality Disorders develop the same way as all personalities: through genetics and environment. An individual may have a genetic vulnerability (a certain temperament) that combined with their particular life experiences leads to the development of maladaptive thought distortions, behavioral patterns, and emotional reactivity. For some individuals it is easy to reflect back on their lives and conceptualize how their personality was developed while for others, it can be quite challenging as there does not have to be anything traumatic or catastrophic for a maladaptive personality to develop.

Different types of Personality Disorders
Although we all have different and unique personalities (no one has the same 1000 pieces to their puzzle), many of us have traits in common. Think back to the example of the “high strung” or “laid back” person. Similarly, the mental health field has outlined common patterns of maladaptive personality features. They have then provided diagnostic titles simply to help guide treatment and determine best practice in helping an individual alter the problematic aspects of their personality.

Currently there are three “clusters” of personality disorders that are organized by what they have in common. It is often common for an individual to meet criteria for one full personality disorder, while also possessing features or traits of others within the same cluster. As humans are each unique, diagnostic titles can never be 100% precise in describing how a disorder presents in the person. Even within the medical world, your flu may not have the same symptoms as my flu or we may have exactly the same symptoms but you have the flu and I have strep throat. There is more to providing a diagnosis than simply looking at a list of symptoms so it is important for any individual attempting to understand a new diagnosis of a personality disorder to engage in conversation with their therapist or doctor over time. This can help to identify the thought, behavioral, and emotional patterns that have caused difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, academic problems, and work related issues and how these have developed throughout one’s life.

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