Have you experienced rapid mood swings, angry outbursts, or poor impulse control and you have been unable to explain why? How about difficulty making friends, an inability to sustain relationships, romantic or otherwise, or social isolation?
Often times personality disorders manifest in ways that can seem attributable to bad moods, hormonal changes, or the problems and actions of another person. If you experience any of the issues above, you may be facing the symptoms of a personality disorder.
What are Personality Disorders?
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, fourth edition (the DSM-IV) is the book that offers diagnostic information for the whole mental health and substance abuse treatment world. The committee who wrote the diagnosis criteria defines personality disorders as representing “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it.”
In layman’s terms, this means that someone who is diagnosed with a personality disorder has a hard time relating to other people and to situations, and generally responds to events differently than the majority of other people in our society. The trouble comes in when the individual suffering from the disorder has rigid and inflexible ways of dealing with everyday life, and unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving are creating negative consequences.
Types of Personality Disorders
The diagnoses that fall under the personality disorder umbrella include:
Cluster A – characterized by odd, eccentric thinking and behavior
Paranoid Personality Disorder
Schizoid Personality Disorder
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
Cluster B – characterized by dramatic and overly emotional thinking and behavior
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
Histrionic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Cluster C – characterized by anxious and fearful thinking and behavior
Avoidant Personality Disorder
Dependent Personality Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (different than OCD)
How Do Personality Disorders Affect Lives?
Feeling as though you respond to life differently than most other people, in whatever form, can feel isolating, lonely, and nearly impossible to handle on your own. In many cases, people diagnosed with a personality disorder also suffer from the symptoms of another mental illness, like depression or anxiety, a substance abuse disorder, or an eating disorder.
In an effort to feel better, or at least differently, drugs, alcohol, or food can be used as medication. For people with a personality disorder and another diagnosable condition, the term dual diagnosis becomes appropriate.
A Personality Disorder Plus An Eating Disorder
The presence of an eating disorder is common among women who have a personality disorder. When aspects of your life feel out of your control, as is the case for someone with a personality disorder, control over food feels manageable and even pleasurable. Food restriction or excessive exercising can become a source of pride. Shame, created by any number of discomfort during childhood and adolescence, seems to be erased by the satisfaction that comes from taking charge of body weight.
Real-Life Portrayals of Personality Disorders, Eating Disorders, and Dual Diagnosis
In the book, Hollow: An Unpolished Tale, categorized as her memoir, Jena Morrow writes:
“I am forever engaged in a silent battle in my head over whether or not to lift the fork to my mouth, and when I talk myself into doing so, I taste only shame. I have an eating disorder.”
In Feeling for Bones, Bethany Pierce writes:
“If you put the wrong foods in your body, you are contaminated and dirty and your stomach swells. Then the voice says, Why did you do that? Don’t you know better? Ugly and wicked, you are disgusting to me.”
The perspective of a 19-year-old girl, recovering from anorexia and the symptoms of a personality disorder, is shared in Uppers, Downers, All-Arounders:
“I didn’t have a sense of myself or my body growing up, but I tried to be so perfect. But whenever I do anything, I feel I’m going to be criticized for it, especially by my mother. I mean, even when she’s not around, I still hear her. And she’s not a bad person. So the only thing I could control was my eating. And the more they tried to get me to eat, the more I could say no. I thought that if I could control my eating, I could control the rest of my life.”