Understanding Personality Disorders: Types and Symptoms

Lynn Martelli
Lynn Martelli

Medically approved by

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC, a licensed clinical professional

Personality disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by long-term patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings that significantly deviate from cultural expectations and cause distress or impairment in functioning. Understanding these disorders is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment.

Defining Personality Disorders:

  • Personality disorders encompass a range of conditions that affect how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. These disorders typically emerge during adolescence or early adulthood and persist into adulthood.

Types of Personality Disorders:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Individuals with BPD often struggle with unstable relationships, impulsivity, intense emotions, and a distorted sense of self. Therapy, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), is commonly used to manage symptoms.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD): ASPD is characterized by a disregard for the rights of others, deceitfulness, impulsivity, and a lack of remorse. Treatment may include psychotherapy and medication.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): People with NPD exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. Therapy focuses on addressing underlying insecurities and improving interpersonal skills.
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD): AvPD involves feelings of inadequacy, hypersensitivity to rejection, social inhibition, and avoidance of social interactions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to challenge negative beliefs and improve social functioning.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD): OCPD is characterized by perfectionism, preoccupation with rules and order, rigidity, and a reluctance to delegate tasks. Treatment may include therapy to address underlying anxiety and inflexibility.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Individuals with schizotypal personality disorder may experience eccentric behavior, social anxiety, odd beliefs or magical thinking, and perceptual distortions. Therapy aims to improve social skills and reduce isolation.

Symptoms of Personality Disorders:

  • Emotional instability
  • Impulsivity
  • Distorted self-image
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Intense fear of abandonment
  • Disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Paranoia or suspiciousness
  • Compulsive behaviors

Diagnosis and Treatment:

  • Diagnosis of personality disorders involves a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional, including a review of symptoms, medical history, and observation of behavior.
  • Treatment typically involves psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or medication to manage specific symptoms, such as depression or anxiety.

Types of Mental Health Assessments:

  • Diagnostic Assessments: These assessments aim to diagnose mental health disorders based on established criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals such as the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases). Clinicians use structured interviews, questionnaires, and observations to assess symptoms and make diagnoses.
  • Screening Tools: Screening tools are brief assessments designed to quickly identify individuals who may be at risk of a mental health disorder or who may require further evaluation. These tools are often used in primary care settings or community mental health programs. Examples include the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire-9) for depression and the GAD-7 (Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7) for anxiety.
  • Psychological Testing: Psychological testing involves the administration of standardized tests to assess various aspects of cognition, personality, and emotional functioning. These tests can provide valuable insights into an individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and psychological profile. Examples include intelligence tests (e.g., IQ tests), personality assessments (e.g., MMPI-2), and neuropsychological tests.
  • Symptom Severity Scales: Symptom severity scales are used to assess the severity of specific symptoms associated with mental health disorders. These scales measure the frequency, intensity, and duration of symptoms experienced by individuals. Examples include the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) for depression and the Panic Disorder Severity Scale (PDSS) for panic disorder.
  • Functional Assessments: Functional assessments evaluate an individual’s ability to perform daily activities and maintain social and occupational functioning. These assessments help clinicians understand the impact of mental health symptoms on various aspects of a person’s life and inform treatment planning. Functional assessments may involve self-report questionnaires, clinician-rated scales, and behavioral observations.
  • Cultural and Linguistic Assessments: Cultural and linguistic assessments are used to evaluate how cultural factors and language barriers may influence an individual’s experience of mental health symptoms and their willingness to seek help. These assessments consider cultural norms, beliefs, values, and language preferences to ensure culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate care.
  • Risk Assessments: Risk assessments are conducted to evaluate the likelihood of harm to oneself or others due to mental health issues. These assessments are crucial in assessing suicidal ideation, self-harm behaviors, aggression, and violence. Risk assessments involve comprehensive evaluations of risk factors, protective factors, and the formulation of safety plans.
  • Trauma Assessments: Trauma assessments are used to assess the impact of traumatic experiences on an individual’s mental health and functioning. These assessments explore the history of trauma exposure, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and related difficulties such as dissociation and emotion dysregulation.

Resources for Further Learning:

We’ve highlighted some of the best books on borderline personality disorder.

  • “I Hate You–Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality” by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus
    • “The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living with BPD” by Alex L. Chapman and Kim L. Gratz
    • “The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment” by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman

Seeking Help and Treatment:

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of personality disorders is the first step toward seeking help and finding effective treatment. While personality disorders can be challenging to manage, therapy, medication, and support groups can help individuals learn coping strategies, improve relationships, and lead fulfilling lives.


Understanding the various types of personality disorders and their symptoms is essential for early detection and effective management. With proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals with personality disorders can lead fulfilling lives and develop healthier relationships.

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