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What is ‘Personality’?
There are any number of
descriptions and ideas about what a ‘personality’ is and how it can be defined. Perhaps the best
way of describing it is consider it to be the 'unique,
entrenched & enduring internal qualities of an individual and the corresponding behavioural patterns.
Incorporated into this is the manner in which the individual perceives the world and themselves and how they
relate to and interact within their society'. This may seem a
little ‘long winded’ and somewhat irrelevant, though the need to define
‘personality’ is necessary if we are to establish any deviance from what would be considered
‘normal’ or ‘appropriate’.
Social & cultural
anomalies and influences will effect how a ‘personality’ develops and the differences are evident
between cultures & nationalities. For example: the culturally ‘normal’ personality type of Middle Eastern
nations varies significantly to that of Western society. The demonstrative emotions of the Italian differ from
the stoic Englishmen’s demeanour.
This brings us to the
vexing question of ‘what is normal’? The term is bandied around by everyone and is basically used in a subjective and
rather opinionated way. What is normal for one person might not be normal for another. What is normal for the
Rugby League player varies considerably from that which is considered normal for a bank teller or accountant,
unless of course there is the duplicity of an accountant who is also a footballer. Do the laws of our nations
establish normality? Do our parents, schools, religions decide what is normal? The answer, philosophically,
is there is no such thing as normal.
What needs to be
established is the essence of appropriateness and accepted thinking and behaviour for an individual within a
culture and society, taking into consideration the various influences that have affected the development of the
personalities of those within that culture or society.
What is a ‘Disorder’?
A disorder then can be
determined as a manifestation that deviates significantly from this concept of ‘normality’ or that
which seriously affects ones functioning within society. The way someone behaves or thinks, the way they
perceive themselves and others, the way they interact and relate to their world around them and according to the
vast majority of the population.
The area of ‘Personality Disorders’ is intrinsically linked to ‘Developmental Processes & Coping Mechanisms’. The presence or diagnosis of
a ‘Personality Disorder’ can often be linked to the unsuccessful
or poor transition through one (1) or more of the various stages of development, or significant events,
incidents & circumstances experienced during these stages, though this is not the definitive ‘sole’
reason. Other factors such as genetic pre-disposition (heredity), other biological/chemical or organic reasons
and life experiences (current & past) can similarly contribute to the development of a ‘personality disorder’.
One must be mindful not
to ‘tag’ someone as having a ‘Personality Disorder’ if
they exhibit certain signs, symptoms, behaviours etc. of the disorder. We all have the capacity to exhibit some
of these, particularly in times of stress or when we are placed in an awkward position, out of our ‘comfort zone’. The effects of illicit
drugs & alcohol can also have a bearing on the manifestation of
As such, it is
important that we differentiate between ‘Personality Traits’ & ‘Personality
Disorders’. ‘Traits’ are the behaviours, thoughts &
actions displayed or exhibited in an individual that comprise their basic personality. We all have ‘personality traits’; some are characteristics or learned behaviours developed
through role modeling our parents and/or significant others; some may be genetically based, and some may be akin
to those symptomatic of a ‘Disorder’ or ‘illness’.
‘Personality Disorders’ were once not considered a ‘mental illness’, though later diagnostic tools now include them in their
classification for mental illness. In reality, it is somewhat irrelevant whether it is a mental illness or not;
the condition remains the same with the same symptoms & problems. Changing its’ classification does not
change what the individual experiences or what we see. ‘Personality
Disorders’ can be separated into three (3) ‘clusters’ or ‘groups’, under
which sits the various specific disorders.
behaviour that is eccentric or odd, it includes schizoid, paranoid & schizotypal
This cluster is marked by emotional, dramatic, explosive & erratic behaviour; it includes
histrionic, narcissistic, anti-social & borderline personality disorders.
Marked by fearful, dependant, anxious & introverted behaviour; it includes avoidant, dependant,
obsessive-compulsive & passive-aggressive
The following are
examples & descriptions of some of the Personality Disorders:
Disorder (Cluster B)
Irresponsible & socially deviant, aberrant behaviour are the trademarks of this disorder. As a
child, behaviour such as lying, wagging school, vandalism & petty theft are
common. As an adult they find it difficult to keep intimate relationships or hold down a steady job. They are
frequently in trouble with the law, participate in crime, show little regard for
other’s property, display aggression & hostility and often engage in use
& abuse of drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with any stress, anger or
boredom. Assaults and fights are common with the Anti social Personality
Disordered person. They are rarely remorseful for their behaviour and often
blame others or society for the predicaments they find themselves in. They
sometimes also feel they are ‘owed’ or that society ‘owes
them’. People with this disorder may have a family history of similar
behaviour and generally a lack of boundaries as a developing
Disorder (Cluster B)
This is probably the most difficult of all the Personality
Disorders to cope with or treat and poses the greatest challenge for the mental
health practitioner. It is potentially destructive to the individual concerned,
their families, partners and friends. The disorder is marked by extreme
emotional instability, lack of, or poor sense of
self, fear of being alone or abandoned, feelings of worthlessness and
viewing themselves as fundamentally ‘bad’. The Borderline Personality
generally has unstable patterns of social relationships characterized by sudden and stark
contrasts between idealization (great admiration & love) & denigration
(hate, contempt, anger). Self harming or self mutilating behaviours such as
‘cutting’, ‘cigarette burns’, self inflicted
‘stabbing’ etc. are evidenced in many cases, along with
suicide’ behaviour & frequent threats of suicide. Those who have suffered this illness often explain
their self harming as a way of ‘feeling’, or ‘knowing they are
alive’. Despite these frightening behaviours, only one (1) in ten (10)
Borderline Personality disordered people actually suicide. Other characteristics
of the Disorder are the intense, short lived bouts of anger, depression & anxiety that may last only for hours or at most a day.
The overwhelming fear of abandonment and rejection combined with the inner sense
of emptiness & lack of self often leads to Drug & Alcohol abuse,
‘risky’ sex, gender identity issues, impulsivity, lack of
vocational or educational achievement & continued destruction of social
& family relationships. Co-existent mental health illnesses such as
Depression, Bipolar Disorder &
Anxiety Disorders are not uncommon and can lead
to suicide, particularly in the case of Depression. The illness is more common
in women, particularly younger adolescents and often entails a history of
abuse, particularly sexual abuse.
Personality Disorder (Cluster C)
Rigid perfectionism which interferes with an individual’
capacity to complete anything is one of the key symptoms of the OCD personality.
Their own achievements and accomplishments and those of others rarely meet their
desired ideal standards. As such they appear emotionally ‘cold’,
critical & judgemental. Because they are pedantically pre-occupied with
perfection, rules, procedures, protocols and social order, they fail to enjoy
the pleasure of achievement or the company of others. They have an unrealistic
need to control and therefore their interactions with others are overly formal
& lacking in spontaneity. Problem
solving is unlikely to result in success or resolution with rumination
over the persistent unresolved problem leading to intense ‘self
criticism'. The two (2) aspects of this disorder are (1)
Obsessions & (2) Compulsions.
Obsessions can be defined as
recurrentand persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced
at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that
cause marked anxiety or distress. These thoughts, impulses or images are not
simply excessive worries about real-life problems and the individual attempts
to ignore, suppress or neutralise them by use of another thought or action.
They also recognise that their obsessions are a product of their own mind and
not based on reality.
repetitive behaviours or mental acts that
a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to
rules which much be applied rigidly. The Compulsive behaviours or acts are
designed to reduce distress & anxiety, though are unrelated and not
connected to the actual real source of the anxiety and/or distress.
As the name suggests,
paranoia is a predominant characteristic of this disorder. The sufferer unreasonably
and unjustifiably believes others are untrustworthy; deliberately devious &
‘out to get them’. They are often jealous, suspicious, and vengeful; holding
grudges and displaying hostility when they feel they are threatened. Their mistrust
causes them to be hypervigilant, particularly in new or unfamiliar surroundings or
settings. They rarely develop close or intimate relationships and appear angry, secretive &
‘uptight’ to others. They display few affectionate or joyful emotions or
behaviours. Psychotic symptoms can develop in some
Paranoid Personality Disorders depending on the intensity of the paranoid feelings
& the level of stress & anxiety experienced.
Disorder (Cluster B)
The primary characteristic of the Narcissistic Personality is that of grandiosity;
overvaluing their abilities and achievements and pre-occupied with fantasies of
perceived power & influence, superior intelligence, unlimited success,
beauty & perfectionism. They believe themselves to be
‘special’ & overly important, unique, gifted and entitled to
preferential treatment and admiration because of who they are. They tend to only
wish to mix with those of higher status or intelligence, believing them to be
the only ones to truly appreciate their superiority. They lack empathy toward
anyone else and fail to recognize, or envy, the accomplishments of others. At
times they devalue others and their achievements in order to boost their own
over-inflated, unrealistic opinion of themselves. The NPD presents as arrogant,
self opinionated and rather a ‘snob’, though generally there is an
underlying low self esteem causing the
individual to ‘fish for compliments & acknowledgment’, being
pre-occupied with how others perceive them. Because there is an expectation that
their work is more valuable than any others, combined with a complete lack of
understanding or sensitivity to another person’s needs, the NPD can often
unconsciously ‘exploit’ individuals in order to bolster and
enhance their own self image.
characteristics & behaviour of the Personality Disordered individual are pervasive & continuous, the
precipitants or precursors to an overtly demonstrative display of symptoms is generally stress, discomfort &
anxiety as a result of an incident or experience the sufferer finds sufficiently disturbing as to unconsciously,
and inappropriately, cope.
cause’ for many of the Personality Disorders is often childhood ‘abuse’. Other factors such as ‘genetic predisposition’, environmental &
social elements, rejection or abandonment or overly strict, punitive or rigid parenting may also contribute, as can the 'lack' of boundaries or
inadequate, inconsistent boundary setting.
These examples of 'Personality
Disorders' for each of the 'clusters' (A, B & C) as listed above are not the only
types that exist; the others, as determined by accepted 'manuals of diagnostic
- Schizoid Personality Disorder & Schizotypal
- Histrionic Personality
- Avoidant Personality Disorder & Dependant Personality
Should you have concerns regarding any issue
relating to your 'mental or physical
off' strongly recommend you seek professional assistance. This
may entail contacting your GP or similar clinician (Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Counsellor etc.). You may
also contact the appropriate agency or service that might assist you. Irrespective of your
choice, ensure you see someone who might help.
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