Gift of knowledge: How to cope with a loved one’s personality disorder during the holidays - Sovereign Health Group
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11-24-15 Category: Mental Health, Mental Illness


During the holidays, people typically spend more time with old friends and family than they do on a regular basis. Navigating these interactions with a loved one who has a personality disorder can prove challenging. However, knowing more about personality disorders and how to communicate with these individuals can help the holidays go smoothly.

In the past, personality disorders were thought to be untreatable. This was particularly true of borderline personality disorder (BPD), which affects 1.6 percent of the adult population nationwide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). As Robert J. Gregory, M.D., of SUNY Upstate Medical University explains, “It used to be that once borderline personality disorder was diagnosed, the patient was expected never to recover. Recent well-controlled studies are not bearing that out. … People actually do recover from it.”

Family members and loved ones can help those with BPD, as an effective method of treatment involves group therapy with those with whom the individual interacts on a regular basis. This approach, called the Study of Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem-Solving (STEPPS), was proven effective in a 2008 study conducted by researchers at University of Iowa. Patients who participated in this group-based cognitive behavioral therapy and life skills training showed improved mood, global functioning, negative affectivity and impulsivity.

It can be emotionally trying to interact with a loved one with anti-social personality disorder (APD), as this condition is characterized by charm, manipulation and a total lack of remorse. This combination often leads to criminal activity. Treatment is difficult for this population, as individuals with APD are often high-functioning and only seek treatment when it is court-mandated. If a loved one is diagnosed with APD, it is best to acknowledge that this is not a choice. Loving someone with this condition must come with the understanding that he or she might not have the capacity to return the same kind of love.

A 2008 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) affects approximately 6.2 percent of the U.S. population. These individuals typically exhibit signs of selfishness and self-centeredness, feeling that they are more special than other people. Like APD, this condition is also characterized by a lack of empathy toward others. This can make it difficult to spend the holidays catching up with a friend of family member with NPD.

Personality disorders fall on a continuum, so it is best to understand your loved one’s condition and how it affects the way they communicate and interact. Self-preservation is important to reduce the amount of pain experienced when dealing with individuals with personality disorders, particularly APD. Many people with BPD do have the capacity to love and care for others, but they lack the communication skills to adequately express themselves or self-regulate.

If your loved one is struggling with a personality disorder or co-occurring substance abuse issues this holiday season, call the Sovereign Health Group to speak with a professional.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health writer

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