The term personality refers to those relatively constant patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving that characterize a person. It includes how one typically reacts to pleasant, novel, routine, or stressful situations, including social situations. It encompasses how reactive, impulsive, outgoing, open, suspicious, agreeable, aggressive, optimistic, or negative one characteristically is.
Resulting from personality traits that are maladaptive and “get in the way,” personality disorders are typically present from early adulthood onward and aren’t just confined to one situation or time period; they are quite pervasive.
Examples of Personality Disorders
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by “stable instability.” These emotions can go up and down from moment to moment and are very reactive to day-to-day events and social situations. Behaviors, too, can be unstable, leading to impulsive and, at times, self-defeating or self-destructive behaviors. Relationships with people are subject to the same instabilities and may alternate between reassuring closeness and break-ups, or great admiration for one’s partner alternating with extreme criticalness. People with BPD are often quite capable and talented, but their personality difficulties keep them from achievements in work or relations that they might otherwise be capable of.
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) is marked by great anxiety in social situations with a great deal of preoccupation that one will be disliked, ridiculed, embarrassed, or rejected. Thus people with AvPD avoid activities socially or in the workplace that involve significant contact with other persons and avoid taking risks to get to know or work with people. They may feel very inadequate and are inhibited in social situations.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD) is also characterized by discomfort in social settings or in close relationships, but here the discomfort comes from ideas about the situations that may seem unusual to the individual or even far-fetched, but are nevertheless hard to shake. These ideas could relate to ominous feelings coming from a “sixth sense” or clairvoyance or over-suspiciousness. People with SPD may choose to dress or have a style of relating that are non-mainstream and make them appear eccentric. Sometimes it may be hard to concentrate or follow a train of thought.
In addition to these disorders, problems with other personality traits and different combinations of traits may cause difficulties in achieving occupational goals or satisfying social relationships in individuals who do not meet the criteria for any of the above three personality disorders. Psychotherapy and medication can do much to help all of these conditions, but we are looking to deepen our understanding of these disorders to develop treatments that are even more beneficial.