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Personality Quirks or Disorder? How to Recognize the Difference

Personality disorders are a group of diagnosable mental health conditions that involve the long-term development of seriously dysfunctional personality traits. The specific traits involved depend on the type of disorder affecting a person. You may wonder how the personality disorder definition differs from the everyday personality quirks that appear in many people from all walks of life. The key difference is the effect those quirks or traits have on your ability to maintain a functional daily routine and experience a sense of well-being.

Personality Disorder Essentials

The American Psychiatric Association currently recognizes 10 specific personality disorders, which are:

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder, and
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Each of these illnesses can produce anywhere from six to nine personality traits that substantially interfere with daily function in one way or another. For example, traits found in people with paranoid personality disorder may include deep-seated suspicion and distrust of other people, a misguided belief in other people’s deceptive or harmful intent, and outbursts of hostility or anger when you feel insulted or disrespected. Traits found in people with borderline personality disorder may include frequent involvement in highly volatile social or personal relationships, an inability to develop a consistent sense of self and involvement in self-harming or blatantly suicidal behaviors.

Disorders versus Everyday Personality Quirks

Virtually everyone has traits that at least some people will find unpleasant, off-putting or undesirable. The key factor that differentiates disorders from unpleasant personality traits is the same thing that distinguishes all mental illnesses: a significant decline in your ability to functional normally in important areas of life or live from day to day without a serious sense of personal distress. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) offers a stark example of this crucial point. While a mentally healthy person may sometimes experience sadness and fleeting suicidal thoughts, a person with BPD may repeatedly engage in outright suicidal behavior, even when not triggered by an especially sad or stressful event or situation. In fact, the risk for suicide is very high among people with this disorder. It’s important to note that, in isolation, many of the symptoms of personality disorders don’t differ all that much from the personality traits found in people who generally experience good mental health. In fact, doctors and researchers acknowledge the lack of a clear threshold marking the transition between most symptoms and mental/emotional wellness. Instead, the emphasis falls on the way in which several traits combine to affect you. That’s why doctors can only diagnose a personality disorder when multiple symptoms of that disorder appear at the same time or within a short span of time. Resources U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Personality Disorders Mayo Clinic: Personality Disorders – Symptoms and Causes National Institute of Mental Health: Borderline Personality Disorder Psychiatry: Personality Disorder Diagnosis

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