If someone has a personality disorder, some aspects of their personality might affect them in a way which makes it very difficult to cope with day to day life, especially when it comes to relationships. For example they might be more or less sensitive, impulsive, prone to anger, or obsessive than others. 

From an early age, I have really struggled with any form of relationships, friends, family and romantically. My friendships never lasted for any length of time – I was too “intense”, “needy” or “emotional”. - Eli

You can only be diagnosed with a personality disorder by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist – not by your GP.

Guidelines used by doctors outline 10 different types of personality disorder which broadly fit into three categories; suspicious, emotional and impulsive or anxious. You can read more about the different types of personality disorder on the Rethink Mental Illness or Mind websites.

However, personality disorders are controversial. There is a lot of disagreement about whether it is a helpful tool for treatment, especially as getting the diagnosis can seem like you are being told there is something wrong with you, as a person.

Many people suggest that focusing on individual symptoms might be more helpful for people's recovery, others find it helpful to put a name to what they are experiencing.

Finally, after years of psychological turmoil and endless waiting, I could put a name to these terrible things which were affecting me. - Alice

It is important to remember though, that a diagnosis is not a label. It is a tool to help professionals decide what types of treatment and support may help. Diagnoses may also change over the course of someone's lifetime.

Moulds are for jelly, not for people! No two people with a personality disorder are alike, and the personality traits that cause us trouble were almost always responses to early trauma in our formative years. - Imani

How common are personality disorders?

It is difficult to know how common personality disorders are, as many people describe the symptoms in different ways and some may never receive a formal diagnosis. There are also many different types of personality disorder.

However, it is estimated around 3.3% of the population will experience the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder in their lifetime and 2.5% will experience symptoms of borderline personality disorder within their lifetime.

What are some of the myths and misconceptions about personality disorders?

Many people, including some mental health professionals have unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs about what it means to have a personality disorder.

These false beliefs make people ashamed or afraid to speak about their experiences. This  stops people getting the help they need and leads to the loss of friends, family relationships, jobs, homes and even lives. Some common misconceptions are:

There is something wrong with you as a person

There are always reasons for our personalities developing in certain ways. It might be because of our childhood experiences, the challenges we face day to day or characteristics we inherit from our parents.

Everyone, whether they have a mental health problem or not, has aspects of their personality which can cause them difficulties. People with a diagnosis of a personality disorder just need some extra support, and that's nothing to be ashamed of.

People perceive  personality disorder as a behavioural issue – someone who is acting childishly, as well as an attention seeker. These perceptions are incorrect and cause the person with BPD to feel misunderstood and to blame for their problems. - Natalie

  • All people with personality disorders are manipulative

Some people with personality disorder find managing relationships difficult or find that they need a lot of care and attention to feel well. This can mean they can be perceived as being manipulative or attention seeking by friends, family and even mental health professionals.

The fact of the matter is, I can be a difficult person. I am have trouble regulating my moods, I have the emotional intensity of a toddler, - But when I’m at my worst, that’s when I need the most love and acceptance to help me out of that place. Because really, that’s all anyone with BPD wants, to be loved and accepted for who we are. - Claire

However, it is important to remember that some people with diagnoses of personality disorder frequently experience intense emotions in response to what others might perceive to be normal situations. These include extreme fear of abandonment, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. These all deserve to be given attention and to be treated with compassion.

  • People with personality disorders are dangerous

News, TV and films often portray people with personality disorder as dangerous. This is especially true for antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. This is partly because mental health problems are used as a way of explaining things people can’t make sense of.

The fact is however, that people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to carry it out.

The university called me into a meeting and said they didn’t feel safe having me there.  They thought I was a danger, to myself and to others.  In fact, due to the stigma around personality disorder many people believed that, even though I had never been violent to another person.  - Nik

On the rare occasions when someone with a mental health problem has committed an act of violence, it is nearly always because the right care and support has not been available to them.

  • People with personality disorders will never live normal lives

In the early-mid 20th century people with diagnoses like personality disorder were often kept in residential hospitals called ‘asylums’ because people thought they would never get better and they were better off separated from society, including their families and friends.

This has been disproven and is no longer an acceptable way to treat anyone with a mental health problem. Someone with a personality disorder can live a normal, healthy, fulfilled life amongst their family and friends if they are offered the treatment and support they need. 

How does having a personality disorder affect people's lives?

The way a personality disorder affects someone’s life will vary a great deal depending on which experiences, out of the huge variety possible, they have had.  

One characteristic which many people will have in common though, is that they will find life very difficult at times. 

BPD has left a string of broken and unhappy relationships, and makes it very hard to get close to anyone, such that I withdraw from social activities and become more and more isolated  - Joe

The feelings, beliefs and behaviours which are associated with personality disorders are usually present in people’s lives for long periods of time. This means they can take a long time and a lot of effort from the individual and professionals to change, which makes getting enough of the right support difficult.

I think in black and white. All or nothing. One extreme to another. I find it difficult to name emotions – they just come up and in a very intense way to the point where I cannot cope and want to harm myself to relieve the intensity. Natalie

How can I help someone with a personality disorder?

Learn about personality disorder
There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about personality disorder. These may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.

My support comes from my dogs, my GP and my therapist, a couple of close friends who accept me for what I am and take my often erratic moods in their stride without ever questioning or complaining, and my medications! - Joe

Ask them how you can help
Everybody is different and there is no one way to help someone experiencing personality disorder. If you want to support a loved one, one of the best things to do is ask them how.
If you want to make some suggestions, you might find ideas from the Time to Change blog, where many people have written about their experience of mental health problems.

Its time to talk. I did and my life has changed. I broke down on my dad's shoulder and told him everything: My father, my hero. - Ziggy

Giving them information about other types of support
Sometimes the support of friends and family is not be enough.  Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS, private healthcare or organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can also be helpful.

As well as treatment provided by medical professionals, such as psychological therapies and medication, community based support related to lifestyle, education or social activities can also help someone stay well. 

I have had two years’ extensive therapy and my symptoms have lessened, I have managed to use coping mechanisms to regulate how I feel.... My relationship with my family and a few friends has improved a lot during my therapy we had a few therapy sessions with my partner and family. - Eli

Remember you can’t force someone to get help. Repeatedly trying to do so before they are ready can actually do more harm than good.

If someone is at serious risk or danger to themselves or others, Mind or Rethink Mental Illness have information on what to do in an emergency.

Where can I get more information?

Rethink Mental Illness and Mind both have lots of free information.
You can also read about the personal stories of people with personality disorder on the Time to Change blog.

Personal stories about personality disorders

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