Personality disorders all have unique variations, symptoms and implications that signify different things for each individual.
Since each personality disorder is broken down into different clusters (e.g. Cluster A, B, and C), a person will likely experience a personality disorder in an entirely different way from someone else belonging to another Cluster.
Each of us experiences mental health problems differently.
Diagnosing a personality disorder
Much of the research states that diagnosing a personality disorder can be complicated.
For the most part, people don’t simply fit neatly into a ”category” or a set of symptoms.
Each of us possesses unique characteristics and personality traits that do not always signify a personality disorder (or other mental illness, for that matter).
All this can make diagnosing specific personality disorders challenging for mental health professionals.
However, there are some parallels to be drawn regarding our understanding of specific mental health conditions, such as personality disorders.
Cluster C personality disorders
For example, people with Cluster C personality disorders are generally very cautious and fearful, particularly in personal relationships.
Other Cluster disorders
Unlike the characteristics observed in Cluster B personality disorders (i.e. erratic, overly emotional, and dramatic) or Cluster A disorders ( odd and eccentric), Cluster C personality sufferers tend to be tentative, shy and reserved individuals.
Cluster C personality disorders
The DSM – 5 (diagnostic and statistical manual) identified three Cluster C personality disorders, including:
- Avoidant personality disorder
- Dependent personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Broadly, Cluster C personality disorders have several critical features consistent with the three personality disorder types.
Kevin Bennett PhD identified several core traits associated with avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders; they include:
- Anxious or fearful thinking or behaviour styles (dependent)
- An inability to interact with others and maintain day to day relationships (avoidant)
- Preoccupation with rules, orderliness, or control, but without unwanted thoughts (obsessive-compulsive personality)
Avoidant personality disorder
An avoidant personality disorder affects around 1% of the population and is characterised by feelings of profound inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to rejection or criticism, and social inhibition.
Studies show that avoidant personality disorder can cause severe disruption to an individuals’ daily living and can profoundly impact the way they maintain relationships and interact with others.
- Extreme lack of confidence and self-esteem
- Avoidance behaviours – such as avoiding school, work, or social activities due to a profound fear of rejection or criticism. Many people with the condition feel unwanted or unwelcome in social situations, despite no evidence of that being the case.
- Social withdrawal and self-isolation
People living with avoidant personality disorder tend to be highly anxious and self-conscious in social situations and are often fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Additionally, when others comment on how shy or nervous an avoidant person is, this tends to feel more like criticism or rejection rather than just a passing remark.
For an individual to be diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, they must exhibit at least four of the following traits:
- An unwillingness to get involved or interact with others unless they are confident they are liked.
- Demonstrates extreme restraint in intimate relationships because of a fear of being judged, ridiculed, or shamed.
- Perceives the self as being unappealing, inferior, and socially inept
- Experiences profound fear of being rejected or criticised in social settings
- Avoids engaging in new activities or taking risks for fear of being embarrassed or looking silly.
- Experiences profound insecurity and inhibition in new social situations due to feelings of inadequacy
Dependent personality disorder
The most commonly diagnosed personality disorder is dependent personality disorder (DPD). DPD affects men and women equally and usually begins in early adulthood.
Individuals with dependent personality disorder invest a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to please others and are often emotionally dependent on other people.
Some of the main characteristics of dependent personality disorder are passivity, neediness, clingy behaviours, and a fear of abandonment.
- Hypersensitivity (especially to criticism)
- Pessimism and low – confidence
- People with DPD often believe that others need to take care of them and that they cannot look after themselves.
- DPD sufferers tend to fear disapproval or loss of support from others and tend to avoid disagreements or refrain from expressing an opinion to prevent adverse outcomes
- Difficulty in being alone and the need to be taken care of by others
- A willingness to tolerate disrespect, maltreatment and abuse from others
- A tendency to engage in fantasies
- Extreme naivety
- Inability to start new projects due to low self-esteem
- A tendency to avoid adult responsibilities by demonstrating helpless and passive behaviours.
- Profound fear of abandonment and a sense of helplessness and devastation when a relationship comes to an end.
- Putting others needs first
Since dependent personality disorder often features similar symptoms to other conditions like borderline personality disorder, a thorough evaluation must get carried out at the beginning.
Although some personality disorders share similar traits, a proper assessment can determine an accurate diagnosis.
For example, people living with borderline personality disorder tend to share the same fear of abandonment as those seen in dependent personality disorder.
However, the responses to perceived or actual abandonment separate both conditions.
For instance, people with a borderline personality disorder often experience rage, emptiness and anger in response to abandonment.
On the other hand, people with dependent personality disorder tend to experience fear and submissiveness.
Due to the nature of the condition, people with dependent personality disorder are at higher risk of developing other mental health disorders such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse
Studies show that those with DPD are also at higher risk of domestic violence and abuse by others since they are willing to tolerate unacceptable behaviours to maintain relationships, particularly with those who have authoritarian and dominant personalities.
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder or OCPD usually develop in a person’s teenage years (or early twenties), particularly signs of perfectionism, which is one of the acute symptoms of the disorder.
Some of the main characteristics linked to OCPD are a preoccupation with orderliness, rules, and control.
Unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which usually features unwanted thoughts as part of the condition, people with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder believe their thoughts are correct.
Individuals with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are usually highly successful, with strict schedules and routines.
People with OCPD may become angry, frustrated or upset if, for whatever reason, their routines get disrupted by others.
Although they may not express such feelings outwardly, individuals with OCPD are likely to feel anxious or frustrated when things don’t go their way.
- Lack of generosity
- Unwilling to show love and affection
- Reluctant to let others help out
- Obsessed with work, rules, orderliness and lists
In a clinical setting, an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is diagnosed by a thorough psychological evaluation exploring one’s history and severity of symptoms.
Typically, treatment for personality disorders involves a range of different options, including:
- Individual counselling or group therapy (or group sessions)
- Talk therapy
- Family therapy
- Trauma treatments (such as EMDR – eye movement desensitisation reprocessing), mainly where past trauma may have led to the development of personality disorders
- Substance abuse treatment
- Specific medications to control and alleviate symptoms
If you think you may have any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, please get in touch with a Camino Recovery specialist who can help.