Personality disorders are a group of mental conditions in which a person has a long-term pattern of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that is very different from his or her culture's expectations. These behaviors interfere with the person's ability to function in relationships, work, or other settings.
Causes of personality disorders are unknown. Genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role.
Mental health professionals categorize these disorders into the following types:
- Antisocial personality disorder
- Avoidant personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Dependent personality disorder
- Histrionic personality disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder
- Schizoid personality disorder
- Schizotypal personality disorder
Symptoms vary widely, depending on the type of personality disorder.
In general, personality disorders involve feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that don't adapt well to a wide range of settings.
These patterns usually begin in the teens and may lead to problems in social and work situations.
The severity of these conditions ranges from mild to severe.
Exams and Tests
Personality disorders are diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation. The health care provider will consider how long and how severe the person's symptoms are.
At first, people with these disorders usually don't seek treatment on their own. This is because they feel the disorder is part of themselves. They tend to seek help once their behavior has caused severe problems in their relationships or work. They may also seek help when they are struggling with another mental health problem, such as a mood or substance use disorder.
Although personality disorders take time to treat, certain forms of talk therapy are helpful. In some cases, medicines are a useful addition.
Outlook varies. Some personality disorders improve greatly during middle age without any treatment. Others only improve slowly, even with treatment.
Complications may include:
- Problems with relationships
- Problems with school or work
- Other mental health disorders
- Suicide attempts
- Drug and alcohol use
- Mood and anxiety disorders
When to Contact a Medical Professional
See your health care provider or mental health professional if you or someone you know has symptoms of a personality disorder.
American Psychiatric Association. Personality disorders. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013:645-685.
Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA, Hopwood CJ. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 39.
Review Date 9/7/2020
Updated by: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.