Personality Disorders | Types, causes and treatment

Woman on the floor with head in hands

A personality disorder is a condition that affects how you think, feel, behave and relate to other people. In this blog we look at the types of personality disorders, the conflicting views around the terminology, the possible causes and how you can access treatment and support.

What is a personality disorder?

Everyone can feel heightened emotions from time-to-time such as jealousy or anger and act in certain ways in response. When these personality traits often start to cause problems in social interactions, become difficult to control or feel extremely intense then you may be diagnosed as having a personality disorder.

A personality disorder can affect how you cope with everyday situations such as how you manage relationships. You may find your responses are different from others and not know how to change them. You may also do other things such as drink heavily, use drugs, or self-harm to cope.

This short film from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust helps us to understand what a personality disorder is and why the terminology may not be helpful to the individual:

The stigma of personality disorders

Around 1 in 20 people live with some form of personality disorder. Many health practitioners and individuals with the diagnosis believe the term ‘disorder’ can be quite stigmatising especially for a relative common condition.

The individual with the diagnosis may feel their behaviours are a reasonable. Many people also think the term ‘disorder’ discounts the various factors that influence personality and these can be conditioned reactions to difficult past life experiences. In contrast, some find that getting a diagnosis helps them to understand their experiences and helps them get appropriate treatment and support.

Types of personality disorders

Each personality disorder has its own characteristics. It is possible to fit the criteria of more than one type; this is called a mixed personality disorder. Two people with the same personality disorder will not be the same or act in the same ways, it is important to remember that every individual and their experiences is unique.

There are 10 different types of personality disorders that are grouped into 3 categories:

Emotional and impulsive personality disorders:

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder

Anxious personality disorders:

  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)

Suspicious personality disorders :

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Again, some health care professionals disagree with this structure of diagnosis as most people who are diagnosed don’t fit to just one category. Some believe that the focus should be on an individual’s needs to help them overcome what problems they are facing rather than what category they fit in.


There are no singular known causes of a personality disorder. It is thought that our genetics, early life experiences and social and environmental circumstances are all factors that can affect our mental health as they influence how we think, feel and act towards different situations. These factors can also impact whether someone develops a personality disorder.

Diagnosis & treatment

The feelings and behaviours associated with personality disorders can be very hard to live with. Your GP is the first point of contact when getting a diagnosis or treatment for a personality disorder. Your GP can refer you to your local community mental health team for an assessment. In some areas there may be services that allow you to refer yourself for an assessment or treatment. You can talk to your local community mental health team (CMHT) for advice on self-referrals. More information can be found here.

Once an individual has been diagnosed with a personality disorder, they will then choose what type of treatment is best for them. In some cases, it could help to talk to an advocate to ensure that they are getting the treatment that they want. Talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy and therapeutic communities, where you spend time in a group supporting each other to understand your condition, can be helpful.

Although there is no specific medication used to treat personality disorder, people with personality disorders may also have other mental health diagnoses like depressionanxiety or psychosis, and may be prescribed medication such as antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilisers.

Useful organisations

The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities

Is an online directory of therapeutic communities across the UK:


Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: [email protected] for a reply within 24 hours

Shout Crisis

Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text “YM” if you’re under 19

Personality Disorders UK

Information and news on personality disorders:

Further reading

To read more about each personality disorder and their characteristics, click here.

To read more about what factors affect our mental health, click here.

To read more about advocacy, click here.

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