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Personality conditions


There are a range of mental health conditions which can be classified under the label ‘personality disorder’. Broadly speaking, a personality disorder can affect someone’s sense of self, their relationships with other people, and how they express their emotions. In many life situations, someone living with a personality disorder may react differently to how others expect, which can become tricky for them and the people around them. Of course, everyone experiences volatile feelings and behaviour, but for someone living with a personality disorder, this can prevent them from living a happy and fulfilling life.

Personality disorders are not the fault of anyone who experiences them. Developed during adolescence and early adulthood, they are a serious mental health condition that can disrupt a person’s day-to-day routine. Let’s look at the different types of personality disorders, how many people experience them, and where to find support. It is never too late to ask for help, and today there are many networks and communities that support people living with a personality disorder.

Signs and symptoms

There are many different sub-types of personality disorders. Common sub-types are borderline, narcissistic, antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, or schizotypal personality disorder. Many different sub-types have features that overlap with each other.

Here’s a list summarising each personality disorder:

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: People living with paranoid personality disorder (PPD) often feel constant distrust and suspiciousness towards others. They may think that others will exploit, harm, or trick them, even when there is no evidence. They may also respond to praise or support with disbelief or intense suspicion. If left untreated, PPD can seriously effect someone’s day-to-day wellbeing, as they risk being consumed by paranoid thoughts and feelings. Paranoid personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: Someone living with schizoid personality disorder may appear detached from relationships and have limited emotional expression when interacting with others. Signs of schizoid personality disorder are living in isolation, avoiding social interaction, limited close relationships, and an indifference to other people’s emotions. People experiencing schizoid personality disorder often prefer to be away from others, and function better on their own. Schizoid personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Signs of schizotypal personality disorder are discomfort around other people, lack of close relationships, social anxiety, eccentric behaviour, and strange worldviews (often called ‘magical thinking’). Someone living with schizotypal personality disorder may interpret events or interactions in unusual ways (i.e. certain occurrences are linked to people or ideas that appear unrelated and illogical). They may engage in unique ritualistic behaviour, display unusual mannerisms and speech, and believe they have a magical control over other people. They can also struggle to relate to others, and this often leads to suspicion and paranoia in social situations. Schizotypal personality disorder is not the same as schizophrenia, as its symptoms do not include psychotic episodes. Schizotypal personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: People living with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) may repeatedly disregard their own and others’ safety, use people for personal gain, make impulsive and reckless decisions, and struggle to conform with lawful behaviour and societal norms. To be diagnosed with ASPD, someone must have a history of persistent rule-breaking behaviour from early adolescence. ASPD diagnosis occurs if the individual is 18 years or older. Child abuse or unstable parenting increases the chance that a child will develop ‘conduct disorder’, which can lead to ASPD when they become an adult. ASPD is three times more common in men than in women.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition which causes someone’s feelings towards themselves and others to fluctuate between emotional extremes. Living with BPD can make it hard for someone to trust others, to have a deep understanding of self, and to control their emotions during interpersonal conflict. BPD can lead to relationship breakdown, impulsive decision making, and a constant feeling of abandonment. People living with BPD are statistically at a greater risk of suicide and suicide attempt. Borderline personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: When someone is so self-focussed that their relationships and working life begin to deteriorate, they may be experiencing something called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is a mental health condition that effects someone’s feeling of self-worth, their ability to control their emotional state, and their relationships with others. People living with NPD often feel excessively self-important and superior to those around them. They rely on praise and admiration to feel good, belittle those who challenge their sense of superiority, and struggle to empathise other peoples’ experiences. Narcissistic personality disorder is a behaviour patter that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) is a mental health condition that effects someone’s trust and understanding of others. People living with AVPD may avoid social interaction because they fear criticism, rejection, or disapproval. They may also think other people are mocking or criticising them, when in reality this is not the case. They are intensely self-aware, and rarely share their own thoughts or feelings because they don’t want to appear wrong. Due to their anxieties, people living with AVPD may avoid social contact. However, although they find it difficult, they still desire relationships with others. Signs of AVPD may begin in childhood, but shouldn’t be confused with normal developmental behaviour (i.e. shyness). Avoidant personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder: People living with dependant personality disorder (DPD) believe that they can’t function without the help of others. They feel a need to be taken care of, which can lead to clinging behaviour and a deep separation anxiety. They may struggle to make everyday decisions and rely on a family member or spouse to tell them how to live. It is normal for adults to require some assistance day-to-day; however, a sign of DPD is when the help is no longer age-appropriate (like choosing what to wear). People living with DPD rarely disagree with others, especially people they are close to, because they fear losing support and approval. Dependent personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Signs of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are perfectionism, close attention to ‘the rules’ and the ‘correct’ ways of doing things, and a need to control every aspect of day-to-day life. To avoid feeling anxious and stressed, they may focus only on work and productivity. However, this behaviour can also occur across all areas of life. For example, someone with OCPD may use the same perfectionist approach with household chores, leisure activities, or their relationships with other people. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is a behaviour pattern that develops in early adulthood and is persistent across a variety of contexts.

The sooner the person seeks help from a mental health professional, the sooner they can manage their symptoms.

Causes of personality disorders

The cause of personality disorders is not fully understood. However, there are several contributing factors which can make it more likely that someone will develop a personality disorder. These factors could be:

  • Experiencing trauma, abuse, or neglect during childhood
  • Absent, distant, or dysfunctional care from a parent or guardian
  • Genetic traits that relate to emotional sensitivity and regulation
  • Unstable living and social conditions during childhood i.e. financial, family employment, inter-family relationships

How are personality disorders diagnosed?

Approximately 6.5% of Australians meet the diagnostic criteria for at least one personality disorder. The most common personality disorder is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, at 3.2%. Roughly 26% of people visiting the emergency department for mental health reasons have experienced a personality disorder.

In Australia, only a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose a personality disorder. There is no formal procedure to diagnosing a personality disorder; it will evolve as the clinician psychologist or psychiatrist spends time with their client. A clinician may notice symptoms in conversation, or conduct a personality quiz to better understand how someone is thinking and feeling. If a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist thinks that someone has a personality disorder, they may tell their client straight away, or wait until the diagnosis is most helpful for their recovery.

Finding a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist who respects personality disorders is very important. Do not be afraid to ‘shop around’ and look for someone who has worked with personality disorders before. Everyone deserves to feel understood and find the right help for recovery.

How are personality disorders treated?

The most effective treatment for a personality disorder is long-term psychological therapy. There are psychologists and psychiatrist who specialist in treating personality disorders. A psychologist or psychiatrist may reappropriate different psychotherapies, depending on what someone needs. These treatments are mentalisation therapy, transference-focused therapy and schema-focused therapy as described below.

Mentalisation therapy helps someone reflect and improve on their behaviour in moments of conflict or emotional distress. With their psychologist or psychiatrist, someone may discuss an incident where they ‘acted-out’ emotionally towards themselves or others. They may be encouraged to retrace exactly what happened in that situation, both internally and externally, and reflect on whether their response was appropriate. Through repetition, mentalisation therapy increases someone’s capacity to stop and consider their behaviour, before making impulsive (and potentially harmful) decisions.


Transference therapy is also aimed at helping someone manage their emotions in social situations. At points of distress or conflict, a psychologist or psychiatrist may help the client reflect on how they act-out emotionally towards other people, and what is motivating their behaviour in that moment. Transference therapy can help reveal the underlying fears and anxieties that cause someone to enter the ‘all-or-nothing’ state of mind, which may have previously led to interpersonal conflict and relationship breakdown.

A ‘schema’ describes the way someone thinks and feels during a specific life situation. If someone has a ‘maladaptive schema’, they often have endured harmful experiences during their childhood and adolescence, which means they react differently to others in certain situations. For example, someone with an ‘abandonment schema’ may be hypersensitive to other people, and quickly lose their sense of self-worth if triggered in a specific way. Schema therapy heals the maladaptive schema by working through the negative associations attached to certain life situations (e.g. a social gathering). This can help someone cope better with a triggering environment, and replace their ‘maladaptive’ coping techniques with healthier behaviour patterns.

There is no specialised medication to treat a personality disorder. A psychiatrist may prescribe medication to treat other comorbid issues, like anxiety or depression. The most important aspect of treatment is commitment from the patient. Approaching treatment with a strong willingness to participate is the most vital part of recovery.

Help & Support

People living with personality disorders deserve to be heard and understood. A psychologist or psychiatrist who understands and respects personality disorders can be a great source of support, patience, and hope. They are a confidential and non-judgemental place to discuss difficult feelings or experiences, and a valuable ally through the everyday challenges of life.

Personality disorders present many challenges. If someone lives with a personality disorder, they are more likely to experience other mental health issues. Often, they are first treated for anxiety, depression, or substance abuse problems, which can disguise or distract from the underlying personality disorder. This creates the risk that someone will receive the incorrect treatment. It is vital for long-term recovery that the personality disorder is identified and treated as its own condition.

Next steps

A clinical psychologist or psychiatrist is the best place to receive treatment for a personality disorder. They have the training and experience to help someone to recovery. To find a suitable psychologist or psychiatrist, it is often best to speak directly to local mental health organisations. They will already know who the best clinicians are in the local area.

Once you know which psychologist or psychiatrist you want to see, visit your local GP to get a referral. They will give you the right paperwork so you can book an appointment with your chosen psychologist or psychiatrist.


Out of the Fog
Out of the FOG
Out of the FOG provides information and support to the family members and loved-ones of individuals who suffer from a personality disorder. Visit site(Opens in a new tab)
Spectrum BPD
Spectrum BPD
Works with mental health services and health professionals to provide treatment for people diagnosed with a personality disorder and particularly at risk from serious self-harm or suicide and who have complex needs. Visit site(Opens in a new tab)
SANE provides a range of free digital and telehealth support services for people over 18 years of age with complex mental health needs, and their family, friends and carers. SANE also offers mental health support to people with intellectual disability, autism or acquired brain injury.

Visit site(Opens in a new tab)

ReachOut – Personality Disorders
Get self-help information, peer-support program and referral tools that help to save lives by helping young people be well and stay well. This link will take you to information about personality disorders that is written for young people. Visit site(Opens in a new tab)
Project Air
Project Air Strategy for Personality disorders
An internationally recognised leader in research, education and treatment of personality disorders. Visit site(Opens in a new tab)
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