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Personality Disorders

16 February, 2016 - 09:24


  1. Categorize the different types of personality disorders and differentiate antisocial personality disorder from borderline personality disorder.
  2. Outline the biological and environmental factors that may contribute to a person developing a personality disorder.

To this point in the chapter we have considered the psychological disorders that fall on Axis I of the Diagnosticand Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM) categorization system. In comparison to the Axis I disorders, which may frequently be severe a nd dysfunctional and are often brought on by stress, the disorders that fall on Axis II are longer-term disorders that are less likely to be severely incapacitating. Axis II consists primarily of personalitydisorders. Apersonality disorder is a disorder characterizeby inflexible patterns of thinking, feeling, or relating to others that causeproblems in personal, social, and worksituations. Personality disorders tend to emerge during late childhood or adolescence and usually continue throughout adulthood (Widiger, 2006). 1 The disorders can be problematic for the people who have them, but they are less likely to bring people to a therapist for treatment than are Axis I disorders. The personality disorders are summarized in Table 12.6. They are categorized into three types: those characterized by odd or eccentricbehavior, those characterized by dramaticor erraticbehavior, and those characterized by anxious or inhibited behavior. As you consider the personality types described in Table 12.6, I’m sure you’ll think of people that you know who have each of these traits, at least to some degree. Probably you know someone who seems a bit suspicious and paranoid, who feels that other people are always “ganging up on him,” a nd who really doesn’t trust other people very much. Perhaps you know someone who fits the bill of being overly dramatic—the “drama queen” who is always raising a stir and whose emotions seem to turn everything into a big deal. Or you might have a friend who is overly dependent on others and can’t seem to get a life of her own.

The personality traits that make up the personality disorders are common—we see them in the people whom we interact with every day—yet they may become problematic when they are rigid, overused, or interfere with everyday behavior (Lynam & Widiger, 2001). 2 What is perhaps common to all the disorders is the person’s inability to accurately understand and be sensitive to the motives and needs of the people around them.

Table 12.6 Descriptions of the Personality Disorders (Axis II)


Personality disorder


A. Odd/eccentric


Peculiar or eccentric manners of speaking or dressing. Strange beliefs. “Magical thinking” such as belief in ESP or telepathy. Difficulty forming relationships. May react oddly in conversation, not respond, or talk to self. Speech elaborate or difficult to follow. (Possibly a mild form of schizophrenia.)



Distrust in others, suspicion that people have sinister motives. Apt to challenge the loyalties of friends and read hostile intentions into others’ actions. Prone to anger and aggressive outbursts but otherwise emotionally cold. Often jealous, guarded, secretive, overly serious.



Extreme introversion and withdrawal from relationships. Prefers to be alone, little interest in others. Humorless, distant, often absorbed with own thoughts and feelings, a daydreamer. Fearful of closeness, with poor social skills, often seen as a “loner.”

B. Dramatic/erratic


Impoverished moral sense or “conscience.” History of deception, crime, legal problems, impulsive and aggressive or violent behavior. Little emotional empathy or remorse for hurting others. Manipulative, careless, callous. At high risk for

substance abuse and alcoholism.



Unstable moods and intense, stormy personal relationships. Frequent mood changes and anger, unpredictable impulses. Self-mutilation or suicidal threats or gestures to get attention or manipulate others. Self-image fluctuation and a tendency to s ee others as “all good” or “all bad.”



Constant attention seeking. Grandiose language, provocative dress, exaggerated illnesses, all to gain attention. Believes that everyone loves him. Emotional, lively, overly dramatic, enthusiastic, and excessively flirtatious.



Inflated sense of self-importance, absorbed by fantasies of self and success. Exaggerates own achievement, assumes others will recognize they are superior. Good first impressions but poor longer-term relationships. Exploitative of others.

C. Anxious/inhibited


Socially anxious and uncomfortable unless he or she is confident of being liked. In contrast with schizoid person, yearns for social contact. Fears criticism and worries about being embarrassed in front of others. Avoids social situations due to fear of rejection.



Submissive, dependent, requiring excessive approval, reassurance, and advice.


Clings to people and fears losing them. Lacking self-confidence. Uncomfortable when alone. May be devastated by end of close relationship or suicidal if breakup is threatened.


Obsessive- compulsive

Conscientious, orderly, perfectionist. Excessive need to do everything “right.” Inflexibly high standards and caution can interfere with his or her productivity. Fear of errors can make this person strict and controlling. Poor expression of emotions. (Not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder.)


Source: American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statisticalmanualofmentaldisorders(4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

The personality disorders create a bit of a problem for diagnosis. For one, it is frequently difficult for the clinician to accurately diagnose which of the many personality disorders a person has, although the friends and colleagues of the person can generally do a good job of it (Oltmanns & Turkheimer, 2006). 3 And the personality disorders are highly comorbid; if a person has one, it’s likely that he or she has others as well. Also, the number of people with personality disorders is estimated to be as high as 15% of the population (Grant et al., 2004), 4 which might make us wonder if these are really “disorders” in any real sense of the word.

Although they are considered as separate disorders, the personality disorders are essentially milder versions of more severe Axis I disorders (Huang et al., 2009). 5 For example, obsessive- compulsivepersonalitydisorder is a milder version of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizoid and schizotypal personalitydisorders are characterized by symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. This overlap in classification causes some confusion, and some theorists have argued that the personality disorders should be eliminated from the DSM. But clinicians normally differentiate Axis I and Axis II disorders, and thus the distinction is useful for them (Krueger, 2005; Phillips, Yen, & Gunderson, 2003; Verheul, 2005). 6

Although it is not possible to consider the characteristics of eac h of the personality disorders in this book, let’s focus on two that have important implications for behavior. The first, borderline personalitydisorder (BPD), is important because it is so often associated with suicide, and the second,antisocial personalitydisorder (APD), because it is the foundation of criminal behavior.

Borderline a nd antisocial personality disorders are also good examples to consider because they are so clearly differentiated in terms of their focus. BPD (more frequently found in women than men) is known as aninternalizing disorder because the behaviors that it entails (e.g., suicide and self-mutilation) are mostly directed toward the self. APD (mostly found in men), on the other hand, is a type of externalizing disorder in which the problem behaviors (e.g., lying, fighting, vandalism, and other criminal activity) focus primarily on harm to others.