How to Tell Who Has a Personality Disorder

Cape Times (South Africa), July 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

How to Tell Who Has a Personality Disorder


Hardly a week goes by these days without mental health making the news, with everyone from celebrities to politicians keen to share their struggles with depression or anxiety.

But there is one psychiatric condition that remains conspicuously absent from the discussions, even though an estimated one in 10 of us will experience it at some point.

Unlike bipolar disorder or postnatal depression, people don't seem to want to admit to having this condition - you won't see them going on fun-runs for it or talking about their experiences on morning TV.

That's because for this condition, the stigma is still very much alive and kicking.

Personality disorder

While most people could name one or two personality disorders (such as a psychopath), there are actually 10 types, and many of us will have at least one at some stage in our lives. Yet many people do not even know personality disorder exists, leaving those affected - and the people around them - to suffer in silence.

Psychiatrists like me see many people with personality disorders and know the pain and distress they can cause.

Lots of people have aspects of a personality disorder. But unless it's causing serious problems, then it's often said they have "traits" of a personality disorder but not the full-blown version, where the symptoms are a constant feature that hampers their life.

In this way, personality disorder is really on a continuum.

For example, many surgeons and lawyers, score highly on psychopathic disorder scales, yet they have found a job where their ability to be cold and calculating, incredibly focused and to cut themselves off from the emotions of others actually helps them do their job.

While they might have psychopathic personality traits, we wouldn't say they had a disorder.

Similarly, many celebrities have narcissistic personality traits. But it's these traits that have enabled them to succeed, for example, by taking advantage of others and prioritising their own needs.

Some of the symptoms of personality disorders in isolation can seem to be advantageous. …

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