Causes & Effects of Personality Disorders

At Covington Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to heal from personality disorders. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of personality disorders can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding Personality Disorders

Learn about personality disorders

An individual who suffers from a personality disorder is mentally and emotionally unable to process things in the same way as most people in their culture. Oftentimes, this may result in what is considered unacceptable behavior. Personality disorders are often stressful for both the individual with the disorder and his or her family and associates.

A history of trauma can increase the severity of many personality disorders. Stress and anxiety can make symptoms of personality disorders worse. In many cases, the effects of the personality disorder can lead to complications in normal life functioning, and may impede a person from reaching his or her best potential.

Some of the most common types of personality disorders include:

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: This condition is marked by an irrational standard of perfectionism. For example, a person who suffers from obsessive compulsive personality disorder is likely to check over and over again on things to make sure that nothing goes wrong in any way. This might mean making endless reviews, lists, phone calls, or schedules. More than thorough, this extreme diligence becomes a block to normal function and activity.

Avoidant personality disorder: People who have avoidant personality disorder experience feelings of deep insecurity and an unreasonable fear of being left alone. In an attempt to avoid the “danger” of rejection, such as by disapproval or abandonment, these individuals decide to avoid situations in which they feel uncertain.

Schizoid personality disorder: Preferring isolation, a person who suffers with this mental disorder seeks to cut contact from the outside world. He or she might claim not to be able to feel emotion. Usually, such a person will also find expressing emotion impossible, and will not show a need for exchanging contact or affection, sinking further into a dysfunctional and isolated life.

Antisocial personality disorder: The extreme behavior of one who is diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder is usually violent, immoral, and aggressive. An antisocial adult will continue to act out in a way that inflicts harm on others even when faced with threat of severe punishment. This disorder takes away a person’s ability to perceive the effects that his or her actions have on society, causing him or her to behave as though he or she has a weak or nonexistent conscience.

Narcissistic personality disorder: Relationships are nearly impossible to manage for a person with severe cases of this disorder, as it tends to make a person extremely selfish. He or she will display a lack of empathy even while expecting others to admire his or her every move. Even though he or she produces no action worthy of special praise, there is an expectation for recognition from others. He or she will likely seek to take advantage of others wherever possible, but wants everyone else to believe that he or she is special.

Borderline personality disorder: This disorder makes a man or woman feel as if he or she is of very little value in the eyes of others. When he or she does receive the care of another person, there is a tendency to become overly attached. The emotional instability that results will cause mood swings and unpredictable behavior. Some decisions, appearing rash and impulsive, can be attempts for attention. A person with this disorder might be inclined to hurt themselves and will likely have difficulty being left alone.

Dependent personality disorder: It is difficult for a dependent person to feel confident on his or her own, so that individual seeks excessive advice and support from others when it comes to making big and small decisions. He or she might feel like everything is out of his or her control. There is a failure to take action to improve situations that could be easily handled. Such a person will be inclined to make negative comments of self-reflection and might limit his or her relationships to only people that he or she deems dependable.

Histrionic personality disorder: This disorder causes a person to overrate his or her own emotions. Some might view these individuals as theatrical, immature, or egocentric. Although these individuals will not tend to look for opportunities to do or say nice things for others, he or she will probably expect the appreciation or sympathy of everyone around. He or she will tend to behave in a way that draws attention in a sexual, verbal, or behavioral way.


Personality disorders statistics

Most personality disorders begin in the young adult years. In the United States, about 15% of adults suffer from a personality disorder, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for personality disorders

There are many factors that increase personality disorder development risk:

Genetics: If a child with a biological parent who suffers from a personality disorder is raised in an adoptive family with clean mental health, this child will still have an increased risk of developing a personality disorder. Personality disorders are linked to genetics and heredity, although the exact genetic causation has not been determined.

Environmental: In some cases, an individual’s ability to cope with life can be strained by environmental stressors. Stress and past trauma can make mental health disorders worsen. In some cases, environmental strains may activate genetic susceptibility to personality disorders, or it may make symptoms appear more obvious. Some studies reveal that personality disorders are more common among individuals who have experienced violence or lived in urban areas.

Risk Factors:

  • Gender: men and women are more prone to different disorders, depending on the disorder
  • Socioeconomic and financial state
  • Personality disorder somewhere in the biological family

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of personality disorders

Each disorder is unique and every person is unique. Nonetheless, the following symptoms are commonly present in many of these disorders:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Injuring or hurting oneself
  • Rejecting certain people or situations for irrational reasons
  • Acting in a way that seems strange to others
  • Getting angry or provoked easily

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impulsive or indecisive thinking and decision making
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • Poor ability to use good judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Isolating oneself
  • Becoming angry and aggressive
  • Mood swings


Effects of personality disorders

Treatment for any personality disorder is crucial, as neglecting to get treatment will cause a worsening of symptoms that can lead to permanent damage. The quality of life can become significantly diminished as the following possible results illustrate:

  • Loss of ability to make responsible financial decisions
  • Loss of job or source of income
  • Inability to secure and maintain satisfying work
  • Poor relationship quality
  • Decreased function in the family
  • Self-injury or physically hurting others
  • Feelings of worthlessness and/or hopelessness
  • Getting arrested
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Trying to commit suicide
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Developing additional mental disorders or existing disorders becoming more severe

Co-Occurring Disorders

Personality disorders and co-occurring disorders

The following disorders pose an increased threat of co-occurrence when a personality disorder is present:

  • Additional personality disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Prior to treatment, my life was not only unmanageable, it was unlivable. Covington Behavioral Health Hospital helped provide me with a full, meaningful life. Thank you!

– a former patient
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