11 Character Traits That Can Be Signs Of A Personality Disorder
Pretty much everyone wants attention at one point or another. Many people like getting texts from friends, and appreciate being invited to parties. It's all about feeling included which, for many people, is a basic need. But sometimes, emotions like these can get out of hand and become grippingly intense, often to the point they lead to problems and distress. And when that happens, it could be a sign of a personality disorder.
There are three different "clusters" or types of personality disorders, and ten disorders in total. Within these clusters fall traits that might be labeled as eccentric, erratic, anxious, and fearful. Since we all have these feelings and traits, it's important to remember that they're only a problem if they're intense and long-lasting. "Personality [traits] have to be pretty extreme to be a 'sign of' a personality disorder," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web Radio Show, tells Bustle.
That's why, it'll be up to a therapist to decide whether or not you or someone you know has a personality disorder. They're tough to diagnose, and sometimes even tougher to treat. But it can be done. "Some of the common treatments for personality disorders include Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), social skills training, and general learning about empathy and perspective taking," relationship therapist Irina Baechle, LCSW, tells Bustle. With help, it's certainly possible to feel better. Here are a few character traits that, in the extreme, may be a sign of a personality disorder, according to experts.
1. Reacting To Everything In An Extremely Emotional Way
We all have bad days, and we all get upset. But there's a difference between having a healthy amount of emotions, and constantly reacting to people and circumstances with emotions not in proportion to the situation.
When the latter is true, and remains true for months or years, there's a chance it could be a sign of a personality disorder. "People struggling with ... a tendency to regard everything in a very emotional manner, may struggle with histrionic personality disorder (DPD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD)," says Baechle.
It's important to remember, however, that for the person struggling with traits like these, they might not even realize they're doing it. "Because personality disorders result from deeply ingrained behaviors and manners, which impact how people perceive themselves and the world, most people struggling with them are not even aware they have problems at all," Baechle says. "On the contrary, they tend to think that other people are actually the ones who have issues and need help." Which is one reason why personality disorder can be difficult to treat. But if you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms, speaking with a therapist is a good place to start.
2. Clinging To Partners & Being Codependent
Having a healthy level of dependence on those you care about is common, and encouraged. But when it becomes extreme, it can be a sign of a disorder. "People with excessive 'clinging' behaviors who need constant advice and reassurance may struggle with dependent personality disorder," Baechle says.
This one is just as it sounds. Dependent personality disorder is marked by an extreme over-reliance on others, and also includes other symptoms, such as feeling overly hurt by criticism or disapproval, avoidance of personal responsibility, and fears of being abandoned, according to Psychology Today. Again, this is something that can be diagnosed and treated by a therapist.
3. Radically Shifting Moods
It's typical to feel yourself experiencing lots of different emotions throughout the day. And once you add stress, lack of sleep, or even PMS symptoms to the mix, then you may have even more mood swings. And that's OK.
It's only when they become a pattern, and start to dramatically affect your life, that it may be a sign of something like borderline personality disorder. "BPD is often exhibited by particularly unstable behavior and emotions, similar to bipolar disorder," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "However, borderline personality disorder differs in that this unpredictable fluctuation affects their identity, not just their feelings and emotions."
For example, someone who has BPD might describe a feeling of disconnection, or say they don't know who they are. It's this feeling of emptiness that can drive a sufferer to seek therapy, which can be incredibly helpful when it comes to learning coping skills, and feeling more in control.
4. Having An Intense Distrust Of Others
It's healthy to have some level of distrust in others, as that's what keeps us from getting into trouble. But again, with personality disorders, it's often to an intense degree.
As Dr. Klapow says, personality traits that may be a sign of something like paranoid personality disorder, include a frequent distrust of others and their motives, calling into question peoples' loyalty towards them as a friend, feeling super suspicious that someone is trying to wrong them, and so on.
"Yes, people can’t always be trusted, but if a person’s default tendency is to think others are out to get them this could be a sign of a larger problem," he says. And if this is affecting you or someone close to you, a professional can help find the best course of treatment.
5. Needing Attention 24/7
As mentioned above, most of us like attention, and sometimes even crave a bit more of it when we're feeling lonely or upset. And that's fine. A need for attention is only a sign of a problem when it becomes one of the most defining features of somebody's life.
Someone who has a need for a attention may have histrionic personality disorder, which Dr. Klapow says is marked by extreme emotionality and drama. "They have strong opinions, whether or not there are facts to back them up," he says. "And they believe that they have very close relationships with people when in reality they don’t. These are ... energy consuming characteristics that can be off-putting, and they could also be indicative of a larger problem." If you notice this characteristic in the extreme either in you or somebody else, therapy can be highly beneficial to helping someone cope.
6. Being Highly Agreeable
We all want to get along with others, and often that means agreeing to disagree, for the sake of keeping the peace. But, when it comes to personality disorders, there are a few where intense agreeableness can be a symptom.
Take dependent personality disorder, for example. As mentioned above, this can cause issues with attachment and the need for reassurance. But it can also lead to a fear of pushing others away. "They won’t disagree even when they know they are in the right," Dr. Klapow says. "And when left alone or after experiencing a breakup of a relationship (intimate or friendship), they are immediately starting the next one." While this can also be a sign of lack of confidence, it can also be a sign of a larger problem that should be addressed with professional help.
7. Lacking Empathy
Empathy is a skill most of us can work on and improve as we get older and wiser. But for some, a lack of empathy can be a deeper trait, or even a sign of something like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
As licensed psychologist Dr. Jill Gross tells Bustle, someone with NPD might have little or no ability to consider others' feelings or viewpoints. This might show up in them droning on and on about themselves, without asking any questions, or trying to get to know others.
Of course, that could also be due to something like social anxiety, so it's important not to jump to any conclusions. But when this trait is paired with other things, like an intense need for admiration or preoccupations with power and success, it could be NPD.
8. Having Black Or White Thinking
Remember, personality disorders are all about the extremes, so it makes sense why someone suffering with one might not have many thoughts that exist in the gray area.
"Individuals with narcissistic and borderline [personality disorders] toggle back and forth between assuming others are either 'all good' or 'all bad,'" says Gross. This can make relationships difficult, as they idealize their partner one moment, and push them away the next. As with other personality disorders, these traits can be addressed with the help of a therapist.
9. Wanting Everything To Be Perfect
If you prefer a clean apartment, or love it when your desk is organized, that is totally OK. Everyone has different desires when it comes to the organization levels in their life, and some of us coast on the higher end of that, and want things to be just so.
It's when these traits tip over into an extreme desire, and start to affect your life, that it could be a sign of something more. "An intense preoccupation with rules and order, and being excessively frugal, perfectionistic, and inflexible are traits associated with obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder," Dr. Rachel O'Neill, an Ohio-licensed clinical counselor on Talkspace, tells Bustle.
Again, it can be tough for someone with this disorder to recognize it in themselves. But once they do — or a loved one steps in to point it out — therapy can certainly help.
10. Sharing Too Much Too Soon
Some personality disorders are marked by a gregariousness that can make someone share a bit too much too soon. As Gross says, "Narcissistic, borderline, and histrionic individuals cannot tell the difference between drama, intensity, and real connection. They are comfortable making grand gestures early in a relationship, before any real connection or trust exists. They tend to come on strong and fade out just as quickly." Which can be an exhausting trait for all involved, and one that usually needs to be addressed by a professional.
11. Being Highly Impulsive & Disregarding Others
If someone's fun-loving, that's one thing. But if they're reckless, destructive, and don't seem to care about others, that can be a sign of something else entirely.
"Chronic disregard for the rights of individuals, lack of empathy, reckless behavior, and impulsivity are symptoms of antisocial Personality Disorder," says Dr. O'Neill. This is something that needs to be confirmed by a therapist, especially since a few of those symptoms can be signs of other things, such as ADHD.
For traits like these to be considered a disorder, they have to be long-standing, and they have to cause issues. "Personality disorders are enduring patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and a style of interacting with others that cause distress for the individual who is experiencing them (and often for those around the individual)," Dr. O'Neill says. If you notice these signs in yourself, or someone you know, it might be a good idea to see a therapist, or seek a diagnostic assessment. From there, therapy and medication are great options for evening out these symptoms.