Personality Disorders

“Giddy up.” Kramer’s famous saying and voicemail message in “Seinfeld” – he is a good example of a Schizoid personality disorder. 

Personality disorders are an interesting phenomenon in psychology and psychiatry. Mental health professionals have been struggling to characterize and classify people with these “disorders” for the past 100 years or so. Back then, psychiatric conditions were labeled either “psychotic” or “neurotic”. Those who were labeled ‘psychotic’ were thought to have a “misperception” of reality and a lack of awareness of their misperception. If you were neurotic, you had some kind of “internal conflict” and the cause was assumed to be your bad childhood. Psychoanalysis was the predominant treatment. And we now know personality disorders are more prevalent than originally thought, some 15-20% of the general population may have one, and most of them go untreated.

So, for most of the 20th Century we had this dichotomy in mental illness, and psychiatrists and psychologist struggled to define and treat them. Often, the two classifications would get mixed up and neurotics would wide up in a mental hospital. Remember “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” Not everyone in there should have been in there.

“He Who Marches Out Of Step Hears Another Drum” 
― Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Defining Personality Disorders – So what are these so-called personality disorders? They seem to be enduring patterns of behavior that deviate significantly from socially accepted norms. They show up in childhood or adolescence. You don’t just “become” a narcissist” at 35 or 55. And people with a PD have a predominant trait that they use over and over, often to their detriment. They are unaware of this trait and its negative impact on their life. Personality disorders affect how one feels, thinks, deals with others and controls oneself. They are unique mental health conditions and are often mistaken for other mental health problems like ADHD or PTSD.

What are the personality disorders? See the chart below, showing the current personality disorders along with the dominant trait or issue that contributes to the disorder.

Why is it important to know about personality disorders? Be careful throwing these diagnostic labels around. They are serious mental conditions and the people who have them truly suffer. Their well-being and quality of life is seriously impaired. These people are not aware of their disorder and a little compassion and understanding is called for. We all exhibit some of these traits, just not to the extreme of having a personality disorder. Therefore, I would urge you to avoid casually labeling people with these PD terms.