Personality disorders are deeply ingrained, rigid ways of thinking and behaving that result in impaired relationships with others and often cause distress for the individual who experiences them. Mental health professionals formally recognize 10 disorders that fall into three clusters, although there is known to be much overlap between the disorders, each of which exists on a spectrum:
Cluster A — Odd or eccentric disorders, including paranoid personality disorder, as well as schizoid and schizotypal personalities.
Cluster B — Dramatic or erratic disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
Cluster C — Anxious or fearful disorders, including avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Research suggests that genetics, abuse and other factors contribute to the development of obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic or other personality disorders.
In the past, some believed that people with personality disorders were just lazy or even evil. But new research has begun to explore such potential causes as genetics, parenting and peer influences:
Researchers are beginning to identify some possible genetic factors behind personality disorders.
- One team, for instance, has identified a a. malfunctioning gene that may be a factor in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Other researchers are exploring genetic links to aggression, anxiety, and fear — traits that can play a role in personality disorders.
Findings from one of the largest studies of personality disorders, the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study, offer clues about the role of childhood experiences.
- One study found a link between the number and type of childhood traumas and the development of personality disorders. People with borderline personality disorder, for example, had especially high rates of childhood sexual trauma.
Even verbal abuse can have an impact. In a study of 793 mothers and children, researchers asked mothers if they had screamed at their children, told them they didn’t love them or threatened to send them away. Children who had experienced such verbal abuse were three times as likely as other children to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive or paranoid personality disorders in adulthood.
Sensitivity to light, noise, texture, and other stimuli may also play a role.
- Overly sensitive children, who have what researchers call “high reactivity,” are more likely to develop shy, timid or anxious personalities.
- However, high reactivity’s role is still far from clear-cut. Twenty percent of infants are highly reactive, but less than 10 percent go on to develop social phobias.
Certain factors can help prevent children from developing personality disorders.