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Personality disorders: an overview

Every individual has a unique personality. It is the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that makes each person different from another. There are many different ways to understand personality, and many different theories about personality traits and personality types.

For example, some people are more extroverted and prefer the company of others, while others are introverted and enjoy being alone. Some people are more emotional, while others are calm. Some people enjoy new experiences while others prefer to stick to familiar things. These differences are all part of normal diversity and help to make human relations interesting.

What is a personality disorder?

The term personality disorder is not ideal and can lead to stigma. No one likes to be told that there is something wrong with their personality, and some people may use the term inappropriately to discriminate against others. However, personality disorders are genuine mental disorders that cause suffering, so understanding them is important to enable people to seek the help they need.

Personality disorder refers to a long-term pattern of thinking, behaviour and emotion that causes distress and makes it difficult to function in everyday life. People with personality disorders find it hard to change their behaviour or adapt to different situations. They may have trouble sustaining work or forming positive relationships with others.

There are many different types of personality disorder. Some people with a personality disorder may appear withdrawn, some dramatic and emotional, and others odd or eccentric. The one thing they have in common is that their symptoms are severe enough to affect many different areas of life. People often develop the early signs of developing a personality disorder in adolescence. The exact number of Australians suffering from personality disorders is not known. People with personality disorders also have high rates of coexisting mental health conditions such as depression and substance abuse.

Treatment for personality disorder

Due to the nature of these disorders, it can be difficult for people to recognise they have a problem or to seek help. Treatment is available for people with personality disorders, and psychotherapy can help them to develop insight into their condition, manage symptoms and relate more positively to others. The first step in seeking help is to visit a doctor or mental health professional and arrange a mental health assessment.

Some people with personality disorders may be at risk of harming themselves or others. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or dial triple zero (000) if you or someone you know has attempted to or is at risk of attempting to harm themselves or someone else.

Last reviewed: December 2016

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