Most personality disorders tend to get a bad rap from those who don’t entirely understand what they are, what causes them and how profoundly these conditions can affect people’s lives.
All you have to do nowadays is scroll through your social media newsfeed, and there you have it.
Someone has written (or posted) something about narcissistic personality disorder or (particularly for those who recently watched the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp court trial) histrionic personality disorder.
Personality disorders and popular culture
Unlike some mental health conditions, there’s a lot of hype and attention around personality disorders (PDOs), particularly on social media and within popular culture, but is this information accurate or even fair?
This article will explore personality disorders, the type of people likely to be affected, and the hidden signs of someone with one of these conditions.
Let’s start by exploring the various definitions of “personality.”
What is the definition of “personality”?
Psychologists use various terms to describe the human personality and its varying constructs.
For example, Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that our personality comprises three core elements; the id, the ego, and the superego.
Freud hypothesised that these core aspects of human personality work together to create complex human behaviours (Verywell mind, Id, Ego, and Superego: Freud’s Elements of Personality, Kendra Cherry, September 13, 2022).
In addition, Freud believed that human personality has more than a single component or aspect and that the various “parts” interact in multiple ways and at different life stages.
Humanistic psychologists have a slightly different approach to understanding and conceptualising personality.
Humanism is often thought of as a more favourable approach than Freud’s theory of personality development.
All this is particularly the case when looking at some of Freud’s more controversial views, which suggested that humans are motivated by unconscious psychological forces (such as hidden desires or motives), which shape our behaviours (for good or bad).
Humanistic approach to personality
Humanists have a much more heartwarming take on personality than other approaches, believing that people are inherently good and want to become the best version of themselves.
According to an article by StudySmarter, this goodness and desire for self-improvement is ingrained within us and is the core motivation that helps us self-actualise (or reach our true potential).
Humanists posit that when a person is “blocked” or doesn’t achieve self-actualisation for whatever reason, it is likely due to their environment and not psychological causes (Humanistic Theory of Personality, StudySmarter).
Now that you better understand some of the psychological approaches to personality – let’s explore personality disorders (or, as some psychologists put it, “disordered personalities”) in detail.
Personality disorders: what are they, and who is more likely to have one?
Mental health counsellor Anthony D. Smith describes personality disorders as:
“Fixed patterns of inflexibility and maladaptive characteristics that make constructive relating difficult” (3 Overlooked Signs of Personality Disorders, Anthony D. Smith, Psychology Today, October 25, 2022).
Our unique relational style is at the core of our personality – including how we view (and interact) with others, the world, and ourselves.
People with “disordered personalities” don’t always see things the way others do, and their behaviour often reflects these rigid, inflexible thinking patterns.
For example, someone with narcissistic personality disorder may feel put out or angry because they didn’t receive the “special treatment” from a family member or friend they believe they deserve.
Some of the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder include a person’s need for attention, admiration and praise from others; without this treatment, they feel overlooked or unimportant.
Here, the narcissist’s fragile ego is put under fire as they feel they have been unfavourably cast out of the spotlight; some of the thinking behind all this may go something like this – how dare other people overlook, ignore or dismiss me.
So, to save grace, the narcissist begins a plight of abuse and gaslighting tactics to reestablish a sense of superiority and control over others.
An inability to learn from mistakes
In our experience, people with personality disorders generally have trouble learning from their mistakes, and what often happens is the person ends up in situations or predicaments they are most trying to avoid.
For instance, someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may act in contradictory ways.
BPD patients’ fear of rejection or abandonment is one of the most pervasive symptoms of the condition; however, despite their deep-seated fears, the person may push others away by exhibiting intense bouts of anger or rage.
Here, the individual attracts what they do not want because of their volatile behaviours.
Because of the stigma attached to some personality disorders, it can be challenging to recognise some of the hidden signs of these conditions in yourself or someone you know.
Let’s look at some of the overlooked symptoms of a personality disorder.
Four understated symptoms of a personality disorder
To receive a personality disorder diagnosis from a mental health professional, an individual must exhibit specific signs and symptoms consistent with these mental health conditions.
This process may be more complex than you expect, mainly because peoples’ personalities constantly evolve.
Various factors influence human personality, including our environment, genetics and relationships, so how can something so fluid and ever-changing be accurately monitored to determine a personality disorder diagnosis?
Also, how a person behaves in their teenage years may be markedly different from how they are in their twenties or thirties.
So, you could say that diagnosing personality disorders is a complex process.
Our moods can often change with the wind, and so do our hopes, dreams, feelings and perceptions, but this doesn’t automatically signify a personality disorder.
So, what does?
Personality disorders: recognising the signs
Although diagnosing personality disorders can be a complicated process, what we know about these conditions is that there is a specific consistency and persistence in symptoms and behaviour.
Let’s look at these (underrated) symptoms in more detail:
1. Inflexibility and rigidity
You may picture the narcissist as the loud, boisterous, attention-seeking person in a crowd.
And to varying degrees, your thinking would be correct – many narcissists’ have these traits, but not everyone with this disorder does.
For instance, how about the quiet, sweet-natured person standing alone at a party who barely says boo to a goose all night?
Do these “covert” traits of narcissism make the individual any less of a personality disorder candidate?
The short answer is no.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has various types; overt narcissism (the loud, attention-seeking individual who requires abundant praise and admiration from others) and covert narcissism (a condition that involves fewer external signs of classic NPD).
Despite their outward docile, agreeable personas, covert narcissists still meet the criteria for a diagnosis but have traits that aren’t usually associated with narcissism (10 Signs of Covert Narcissism, Healthline, Crystal Raypole, June 28, 2022).
Those with personality disorders are often aware their life is chaotic and destructive in some way.
These individuals can recognise how complex and troubling their relationships can be – still, many continue a maladaptive, restrictive pattern where they repeat the same mistakes constantly.
People with personality disorders use various coping mechanisms to deal with the distress and discomfort they often experience; they may project their thoughts, motives and feelings onto others or blame others for their behaviour.
Anything that involves preserving their fragile egos, the individual with a personality disorder is there with bells on!
2. Long-lasting baseline behaviours
According to Anthony D. Smith, personality disorders feature pervasive characteristics that are long-lasting and consistent throughout an individual’s lifespan.
If we look at broader personality dynamics, many psychologists believe that human personality is set by age thirteen.
At the same time, other studies posit that a person’s character is cemented by the time they reach seven.
Either way, we must look at a broad range of problematic behaviours and beliefs to determine a personality disorder’s presence (or absence).
There is a consistent, long-lasting baseline of behaviours that may point to one of the ten personality disorders. Smith also discusses other factors that may confuse matters.
For instance, teenagers and young adults tend to display narcissistic (and histrionic) tendencies throughout the various stages of development.
However, mental health professionals argued that if these traits were not present before a person’s teenage years, there’s likely no reason to be concerned (3 Overlooked Signs of Personality Disorders, Anthony D. Smith, Psychology Today, October 25, 2022).
3. Inconsistent values
People with personality disorders often demonstrate inconsistent values and beliefs.
This is often the case when a person presents as charming or pleasant at work or social gatherings but behaves aggressively or violently towards their spouse and children behind closed doors.
Studies show the above characteristics may also be linked to antisocial personality disorder.
4. Inability to cope with stress.
If you have a personality disorder, you may find it challenging to cope with stressful situations.
Studies show that those with BPD may engage in self-harm to cope with stress or as a reaction to their symptoms, particularly when feelings of abandonment or rejection arise.
According to Anthony D. Smith, one of the secrets to understanding personality disorders is that these conditions are usually only diagnosed when a person’s mood, thoughts and impulsive behaviours are long-lasting, inflexible, and pervasive.
In addition to the above, Smith says a person’s close relationships must also be consistently disrupted or impaired by their personality disorder symptoms (3 Overlooked Signs of Personality Disorders, Anthony D. Smith, Psychology Today, October 25, 2022)
Getting in touch
If you think you or someone you know has any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, the next recommended step is to seek help and support from a professional who can help.
Finding recovery may not be the same for everyone – each of us are unique in how we respond to treatment and various levels of support.
Therefore, our specialists deliver personalised mental health programs that suit each individual’s needs and treatment goals.
Now is the time to begin your journey to recovery and wellness.
Contact a friendly team member today for further information and support.
1. 3 Overlooked Signs of Personality Disorders, Anthony D. Smith, LMHC, Psychology Today, October 25, 2022
2. 10 Symptoms That May Indicate a Personality Disorder: Psychcentral, Steph Coelho, May 31, 2022