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What is a personality disorder?

Joni Johnston
Psychology

We all have various personality traits; some of us are naturally organized, extroverted, trusting, and so forth. Sometimes those traits work for us and sometimes they can work against us; a person with the need to be organized, for example, may have more trouble coping with unstructured or spontaneous situations but may be very good at planning or paying attention to detail. Additionally, most of us can reign in those natural characteristics when necessary; we're not likely to be as outgoing, for example, towards a complete stranger or someone who approaches us late at night when we're walking alone.

Someone with a personality disorder, however, has a rigid way of thinking and acting that persists in spite of adverse consequences to themselves or others. This is someone whose personality trait is at the extreme end of the spectrum. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder, for example, has a sense of entitlement, unrealistically grandiose view of himself, and lack of empathy for others that pervades all interactions with others.

Personality disorders are a group of mental illnesses in which how you think about things, how your respond to situations, and how you react to people is dysfunctional. People with these mental illnesses tend to be inflexible and do not change their ways of behaving even when they suffer negative consequences for those behaviors. To people with these disorders, their behavior seems normal while everyone else's seems abnormal. These disorders routinely interrupt normal and routine life functions and social situations.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.