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Symptoms and Causes of Personality Disorders

A personality disorder can manifest in a variety of ways. Learn about the symptoms and causes of personality disorders here.

Living With a Mental Illness

The Mayo Clinic describes a personality disorder as a mental illness that causes a person to have an unhealthy and rigid pattern of behaving, functioning, and thinking.1 Individuals with personality disorders may have difficulty relating to others or perceiving certain situations correctly.

These challenges can create significant problems in all areas of life, including social activities, school, work, and building close personal relationships.

Living With Multiple Personality Disorders

It’s not unusual for a person to be diagnosed with more than one personality disorder. For example, an individual can have both a paranoid personality disorder and an antisocial personality disorder. It’s easy to see how the two could be related. Feeling paranoid could lay the foundation for antisocial behaviors or vice versa.

It’s important to note that being diagnosed with multiple personality disorders is not the same as having “multiple personalities,” which is more correctly referred to as dissociative identity disorder. Dissociative identity disorder is an entirely different type of mental health issue that typically develops as a response to severe childhood abuse.2

Personality Disorder Types

There are ten different types of personality disorders according to Psychology Today. To accomplish easier diagnosis and understanding, the ten types are divided into three categories: Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C. Each cluster includes a list of disorders that are somewhat related but still maintain individual issues and specific symptoms.3

In some cases, it can be difficult to make a “textbook” diagnosis, because the symptoms blur together and cross boundaries. It is important to entrust a licensed medical professional to differentiate which disorder most accurately applies to you in order to plan the most relevant road to recovery.

Cluster A Personality Disorders

Cluster A disorders include:

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder

The overriding characteristic of Cluster A disorders includes eccentric, odd, or bizarre behavior.

Cluster B Personality Disorders

Cluster B disorders include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder

Cluster B disorders involve overly erratic or dramatic actions.

Cluster C Personality Disorders

Cluster C disorders include:

  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Feelings of anxiety and fear describe Cluster C disorders.

Personality Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors come together to shape an individual’s personality. A combination of emotions, behaviors, and thoughts makes each person unique. 

Personality disorders also result from a combination of factors. Causes of personality disorders may include genetics, brain function, and the environment or culture in which a person grows up.


The American Psychological Association reports that a genetic research team has identified a specific malfunctioning gene that may be responsible for causing obsessive-compulsive disorder.4

Other studies are exploring genetic links to anxiety, aggression, and fear. These traits may also play a role in personality disorders. These studies and more shed light on the connection between the genes we inherit and our mental health. 

Brain Function

Through brain imaging, a team of researchers confirmed that some patients with borderline personality disorder cannot regulate their emotions due to brain function.5 

While most experts agree that treating the whole person without separating “brain” from “mind” (which has a broader definition) is the best course of action, new information about brain function helps individuals with personality disorders and their loved ones to understand that some thoughts and behaviors are out of their control.

Environmental, Cultural, and Social Factors

Conclusions from one of the largest studies ever conducted on personality disorders found that people with borderline personality disorder had high rates of childhood trauma, especially childhood sexual trauma.6

There’s no doubt that all types of abuse, including verbal abuse and negative interaction with peers, can plant the seeds of a personality disorder.

One study found that children who experienced screaming or threats of abandonment from their mothers were three times more likely than others to develop narcissistic, borderline, paranoid, or obsessive-compulsive disorders as adults.7

Signs and Symptoms of Personality Disorder

Recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of personality disorder can be difficult. In the early stages, signs of personality disorder may be too subtle to recognize as a potential health problem. Because most personality disorders begin during the teenage years or early adulthood symptoms may be confused with “normal” teenage behavior. 

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of borderline personality disorder include:

  • Risky or impulsive behavior
  • Unstable self-image
  • Fear of abandonment or being alone
  • Feeling empty, fragile
  • Mood swings, especially as a reaction to stress
  • Displays of anger that are frequent or intense

Symptoms of borderline personality disorder may also include signs of paranoia, especially in response to stressful situations.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Symptoms

As the name implies, symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder revolve around the individual and their ego and may include:

  • Arrogance
  • A belief that they are special, rules are made for other people
  • Lack of recognition of other peoples’ needs
  • Boasting, exaggerating
  • A constant expectation of praise
  • An unreasonable expectation for favors, willingness to take advantage of others

Feelings of envy may preoccupy a person with narcissistic personality disorder. They may spend an unusual amount of time talking about how others envy them or about the people they envy.

Symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorders

An individual who has been diagnosed with more than one personality disorder may display some symptoms more strongly or frequently than others. Their behavior may seem erratic: deep into magical thinking one day and angry or hostile the next.

General Personality Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms describe a pattern of behavior, not an occasional show of stubbornness or isolated incidences of antisocial behavior.

Personality Disorder Treatment

Do you recognize the signs of personality disorder in someone you love?

If you or someone you care about regularly feels negative effects from rigid, paranoid, or fearful beliefs or displays erratic, risky behavior, or any combination of the aforementioned symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help.

Fortunately, personality disorder treatment can be highly effective. There are a variety of treatment options available, and it is important that the symptoms and experiences of the individual are taken into account when delivering recovery opportunities. At Anew Treatment Center, we will ensure that your method of recovery is specific to your unique needs and expectations.

Personality Disorder Treatment

Treatment Options

After diagnosis, your treatment team may recommend:

Anew Treatment Center

Find the help and ongoing support you need to manage the symptoms of personality disorder at Anew Treatment Center. Our caring professionals understand the challenges of living with a personality disorder. We provide comprehensive care, including care for individuals who have been diagnosed with multiple personality disorders. 

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