Chances are, you’re dealing with an individual with a personality disorder somewhere in your life — whether it’s your spouse, your parent, your co-worker…even your child. Dr Carver’s introduction to personality disorders in relationships puts the reality in plain English; more than just a list of diagnostic criteria, this explanation describes what it’s really like to be dealing with a personality disorder and offers tips for victims.
Personality Disorders: Who Are They?
Who are these people? In romantic relationships, they are controlling, abusive, manipulative partners who can ruin not only the relationship, but our self-esteem, finances, and reputation. As a parent, they can put the “D” in Dysfunctional Family and be the parent that abuses, neglects, ignores, or psychologically damages their children. As a friend they may be irresponsible, selfish, unreliable, dishonest, and often create significant problems in our life. As a neighbor, they spread rumors, create disharmony in the neighborhood, and steal our lawnmower. As a family member, they maintain themselves as the center of attention and keep the family in an uproar, or they may be the 45 year old brother who has never worked and remains dependent on the family for his support. They may be the brother or sister who verbally bullies and intimidates others with their temper tantrums. As a coworker they are manipulative, unethical, dishonest, and willing to damage co-workers to achieve their employment goals. On the street they are the criminals, con artists, and people-users who purposefully damage others, then quickly move on to avoid detection.
In over three decades of experience of dealing with victims, it’s clear that the majority of emotional victims I see in clinical practice are actually victims of an individual with a “Personality Disorder”. The “Personality Disorder” has been around for many years. For several centuries, professionals working with all types of people recognized that some individuals clearly thought and acted differently — without “normal” feelings, attitudes, behaviors, and interactions. In 1835, Dr. Pritchard suggested the term “moral insanity” to reflect the fact that these individuals were not insane by the standards of the day, yet had significant differences in their behavior, attitudes, ethics, morality, emotional expressions, and reactions to situations. Despite their significant differences when compared to others in their culture, the individuals exhibited little emotional or social distress.
Personality Disorders are individuals who have a long history of personality, behavior, emotional, and relationship difficulties. This group is said to have a “personality disorder” — an enduring pattern of inner experience (mood, attitude, beliefs, values, etc.) and behavior (aggressiveness, instability, etc.) that is significantly different than those in their family or culture. These dysfunctional patterns are inflexible and intrusive into almost every aspect of the individual’s life. These patterns create significant problems in personal and emotional functioning and are often so severe that they lead to distress or impairment in all areas of their life. (Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition)
Personality Disorders are divided into three groups, or “clusters”.
- Cluster A personality disorders are individuals who have odd, eccentric behaviors. Paranoid, Schizoid, and Schizotypal Personalities fall into this cluster.
- Cluster B are personalities that are highly dramatic, both emotionally and behaviorally. Antisocial, Borderline, Narcissistic, and Histrionic Personality are in this group.
- Cluster C are personalities characterized by being anxious and fearful. Avoidant, Dependent, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality fall into this cluster.
The Relationship Destroyers: Cluster B
In considering individuals who create the most damage to social and personal relationships, the abusers, manipulators, “players”, controllers, and losers are found in Cluster B. For this reason, this article will focus on the behaviors associated with Cluster B personality disorders.
In the general population, the largest number of personality disorders fall in the Cluster B group. The four personality disorders in Cluster B are:
- Antisocial Personality
- A pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others and rules of society. The Antisocial Personality ranges from individuals who are chronically irresponsible, unsupportive, con artists to those who have total disregard for the rights of others and commit criminal acts with no remorse, including those involving the death of victims. In clinical practice, the Antisocial Personality has near-total selfishness and typically has a pattern of legal problems, lying and deception, physical assault and intimidation, no regard for the safety of others, unwillingness to meet normal standards for work/support/parenting, and no remorse.
- Borderline Personality
- A pervasive pattern of intense yet unstable relationships, mood, and self-perception. Impulse control is severely impaired. Common characteristics include panic fears of abandonment, unstable social relationships, unstable self-image, impulsive/self-damaging acts such as promiscuity/substance abuse/alcohol use, recurrent suicide thoughts/attempts, self-injury and self-mutilation, chronic feelings of emptiness, inappropriate yet intense anger, and fleeting paranoia.
- Histrionic Personality
- A pervasive pattern of excessive emotional display and attention-seeking. Individuals with this personality are excessively dramatic and are often viewed by the public as the “Queen of drama” type of individual. They are often sexually seductive and highly manipulative in relationships.
- Narcissistic Personality
- A pervasive preoccupation with admiration, entitlement, and egotism. Individuals with this personality exaggerate their accomplishments/talents, have a sense of entitlement, lack empathy or concern for others, are preoccupied with envy and jealousy, and have an arrogant attitude. Their sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem are unrelated to real talent or accomplishments. They feel entitled to special attention, privileges, and consideration in social settings. This sense of entitlement also produces a feeling that they are entitled to punish those who do not provide their required respect, admiration, or attention.
When encountering the victims of emotional and physical abuse, the Personality Disorder individual is already present in their lives as a mother, father, sibling, spouse, partner, or relative. The majority of clients with difficulties related to their childhood find a Personality Disorder as a parent. For many, they have found themselves in a romantic relationship or marriage with a Personality Disorder. Others discover they are working with a Personality Disorder as a co-worker, supervisor, or supervisee. A smaller group finds they are victims of the severe behavior of a Personality Disorder and have been assaulted, robbed, traumatized, or manipulated.
Personality Disorders are present in 10 to 15 percent of the adult population, with Cluster B accounting for approximately 9 percent based on research. At such a high percentage, it’s important that we learn to identify these individuals in our lives. A failure to identify them may create significant risk. While most of our contact with a Personality Disorder may be brief, the more involved they are in our lives, the higher the risk of emotional, social, and other damage. For this reason, it’s helpful to identify some of the characteristics of a personality disorder.
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