Other Personality Disorders

Frequently Asked Questions # 15

Frequently Asked Questions about Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are closely-related syndrome and this – together with the inherent flaws in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) – give rise to comorbidity.

Patients with personality disorders are insistent, grandiose, manipulative, dysphoric and ego-dystonic (unhappy), and possessed of alloplastic defenses.

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Question:

Many of the symptoms and signs that you describe apply to other personality disorders as well (for instance, the histrionic, the antisocial and the borderline personality disorders). Are we to think that all personality disorders are interrelated?

Answer:

The classification of Axis II personality disorders - deeply ingrained, maladaptive, lifelong behavior patterns - in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition, text revision [American Psychiatric Association. DSM-IV-TR, Washington, 2000] - or the DSM-IV-TR for short - has come under sustained and serious criticism from its inception in 1952.

The DSM IV-TR adopts a categorical approach, postulating that personality disorders are "qualitatively distinct clinical syndromes" (p. 689). This is widely doubted. Even the distinction made between "normal" and "disordered" personalities is increasingly being rejected. The "diagnostic thresholds" between normal and abnormal are either absent or weakly supported.

The polythetic form of the DSM's Diagnostic Criteria - only a subset of the criteria is adequate grounds for a diagnosis - generates unacceptable diagnostic heterogeneity. In other words, people diagnosed with the same personality disorder may share only one criterion or none.

The DSM fails to clarify the exact relationship between Axis II and Axis I disorders and the way chronic childhood and developmental problems interact with personality disorders.

The differential diagnoses are vague and the personality disorders are insufficiently demarcated. The result is excessive co-morbidity (multiple Axis II diagnoses).

The DSM contains little discussion of what distinguishes normal character (personality), personality traits, or personality style (Millon) - from personality disorders.

The DSM does not incorporate personality disorders induced by circumstances (reactive personality disorders, such as Milman's proposed "Acquired Situational Narcissism"). Nor does it efficaciously cope with personality disorders that are the result of medical conditions (such as brain injuries, metabolic conditions, or protracted poisoning). 

The DSM suffers from a dearth of documented clinical experience regarding both the disorders themselves and the utility of various treatment modalities.

Numerous personality disorders are "not otherwise specified" - a catchall, basket "category".

Cultural bias is evident in certain disorders (such as the Antisocial and the Schizotypal).

The emergence of dimensional alternatives to the categorical approach is acknowledged in the DSM-IV-TR itself:

“An alternative to the categorical approach is the dimensional perspective that Personality Disorders represent maladaptive variants of personality traits that merge imperceptibly into normality and into one another” (p.689)

The following issues - long neglected in the DSM - are likely to be tackled in future editions as well as in current research:

·        The longitudinal course of the disorder(s) and their temporal stability from early childhood onwards;

·        The genetic and biological underpinnings of personality disorder(s);

·        The development of personality psychopathology during childhood and its emergence in adolescence;

·        The interactions between physical health and disease and personality disorders;

·        The effectiveness of various treatments - talk therapies as well as psychopharmacology.

All personality disorders are interrelated, at least phenomenologically - though we have no Grand Unifying Theory of Psychopathology. We do not know whether there are – and what are – the mechanisms underlying mental disorders. At best, mental health professionals record symptoms (as reported by the patient) and signs (as observed).

Then, they group them into syndromes and, more specifically, into disorders. This is descriptive, not explanatory science. Sure, there are a few etiological theories around (psychoanalysis, to mention the most famous) but they all failed to provide a coherent, consistent theoretical framework with predictive powers.

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Patients suffering from personality disorders have many things in common:

  1. Most of them are insistent (except those suffering from the Schizoid or the Avoidant Personality Disorders). They demand treatment on a preferential and privileged basis. They complain about numerous symptoms. They never obey the physician or his treatment recommendations and instructions.
  1. They regard themselves as unique, display a streak of grandiosity and a diminished capacity for empathy (the ability to appreciate and respect the needs and wishes of other people). They regard the physician as inferior to them, alienate him using umpteen techniques and bore him with their never-ending self-preoccupation.
  1. They are manipulative and exploitative because they trust no one and usually cannot love or share. They are socially maladaptive and emotionally unstable.
  1. Most personality disorders start out as problems in personal development which peak during adolescence and then become personality disorders. They stay on as enduring qualities of the individual. Personality disorders are stable and all-pervasive – not episodic. They affect most of the areas of functioning of the patient: his career, his interpersonal relationships, his social interactions.
  1. The typical patient is unhappy. He is depressed, suffers from auxiliary mood and anxiety disorders. He does not like himself, his character, his (deficient) functioning, or his (crippling) influence on others. But his defences are so strong, that he is aware only of the distress – and not of the reasons to it.
  1. The patient with a personality disorder is vulnerable to and prone to suffer from a host of other psychiatric problems. It is as though his psychological immunological system has been disabled by his personality disorder and he falls prey to other variants of mental illness. So much energy is consumed by the disorder and by its corollaries (example: by obsessions-compulsions, or mood swings), that the patient is rendered defenceless.
  1. Patients with personality disorders are alloplastic in their defences. They have an external locus of control. In other words: they tend to blame the outside world for their mishaps. In stressful situations, they try to pre-empt a (real or imaginary) threat, change the rules of the game, introduce new variables, or otherwise influence the world out there to conform to their needs. This is as opposed to autoplastic defences (internal locus of control) typical, for instance, of neurotics (who change their internal psychological processes in stressful situations).
  1. In Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic, Antisocial, Borderline, and Histrionic), the character problems, behavioural deficits and emotional deficiencies and lability encountered by patients with personality disorders are, mostly, ego-syntonic. This means that the patient does not, on the whole, find his personality traits or behaviour objectionable, unacceptable, disagreeable, or alien to his self. As opposed to that, neurotics are ego-dystonic: they do not like who they are and how they behave on a constant basis.
  1. The personality-disordered are not psychotic. They have no hallucinations, delusions or thought disorders (except those who suffer from the Borderline Personality Disorder and who experience brief psychotic "microepisodes", mostly during treatment). They are also fully oriented, with clear senses (sensorium), good memory and a satisfactory general fund of knowledge.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [American Psychiatric Association. DSM-IV-TR, Washington, 2000] defines "personality" as:

"…enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself … exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts."

Click here to read the DSM-IV-TR (2000) definition of personality disorders.

The international equivalent of the DSM is the ICD-10, Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders, published by the World Health Organization in Geneva (1992).

Click here to read the ICD-10 diagnostic criteria for the personality disorders.

Each personality disorder has its own form of Narcissistic Supply:

  1. HPD (Histrionic PD) – Sex, seduction, "conquests", flirtation, romance, body-building, demanding physical regime;
  2. NPD (Narcissistic PD) – Adulation, admiration, attention, being feared;
  3. BPD (Borderline PD) – The presence of their mate or partner (they are terrified of abandonment);
  4. AsPD (Antisocial PD) – Money, power, control, fun.

Borderlines, for instance, can be described as narcissist with an overwhelming separation anxiety. They DO care deeply about not hurting others (though often they cannot help it) – but not out of empathy. Theirs is a selfish motivation to avoid rejection. Borderlines depend on other people for emotional sustenance. A drug addict is unlikely to pick up a fight with his pusher. But Borderlines also have deficient impulse control, as do Antisocials. Hence their emotional lability, erratic behaviour, and the abuse they do heap on their nearest and dearest.


Also Read

The Myth of Mental Illness

Depression and the Narcissist

Co-Morbidity of Personality Disorders

Use and abuse of Differential Diagnoses

Eating Disorders and Personality Disorders

Misdiagnosing Narcissism - The Bipolar I Disorder

Misdiagnosing Narcissism - Asperger's Disorder

Narcissists, Inverted Narcissists and Schizoids

The Inverted Narcissist

Narcissism, Substance Abuse, and Reckless Behaviours

More about Other Personality Disorders - in the Open Site Encyclopedia

Personality Disorders Topic on Suite101


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