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Personality Disorders

In psychology, personality refers to the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors, consistently exhibited by an individual over a long period of time, that strongly influences the way that individual perceives the world and himself/herself. Personality is a complex combination of traits and characteristics that determines our expectations, self-perceptions, values and attitudes, and predicts our reactions to people, problems and stress. Personality is not just who we are, it is also how we are.

We all have personality traits and characteristics, although psychologists differ in the number of personality characteristics that appear to be distinct and unique. The degree to which we exhibit a specific personality trait varies from person to person. Some personality traits have biological roots, but all are influenced by our environment, especially our family relationships. Consequently, the millions of possible combinations of personality traits, in varying degrees, accounts for the unique individuality we all possess, but the relatively small number of different personality traits also explains why there are so many similarities between groups of people.

Possession of a personality trait found in a personality disorder does not mean that you have a personality disorder. We possess many traits in common with others, but we are all different. A personality disorder refers to a pattern of thoughts, feelings and behavior, consistently exhibited by an individual over a long period of time, that is maladaptive because it creates psychological distress and life coping problems, rather than assisting with life adjustment and problem solving.

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) defines a personality disorder as "an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual's culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress and impairment." Personally, I think my definition is easier to understand, although they both say essentially the same thing.

The DSM-IV currently lists 10 distinct personality disorders, plus an additional category of personality disorder not otherwise specified (just in case anyone was left out). I will not describe all 10 personality disorders, but I will present some information on several personality disorders.

The following is a list of personality disorders.  Information is available on the highlighted personality disorders. As we expand, we will provide information on the other personality disorders:


Borderline Personality Disorder - This personality disorder is identified by tremendous instability, especially in relationships and in mood. There is an intense fear of abandonment, and the individual makes constant efforts to avoid abandonment. However, the intense mood swings, especially the expression of anger, actually encourage abandonment because it is difficult for others to tolerate a relationship with an individual with a borderline personality disorder. One minute you are the most wonderful person on earth, the next minute you are compared to Attilla the Hun. These individuals often make many suicide gestures, and frequently engage in self-multilation. They are extremely impulsive, and engage in many self-defeating behaviors.

Approximately 2 percent of the population may have borderline personality disorder The essential feature is a history of long term unstable relationships and intense mood swings, especially anger. The relationship problems make it difficult to treat individuals with this problem, and treatment is usually long term, perhaps lifelong.  

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Narcissistic Personality Disorder - An individual with this disorder is in love with himself/herself, and has little positive regard for others other than in a superficial manner. They tend to be grandiose in how they present themselves, and tend to demand admiration from others.They believe they are special and deserve special treatment, regardless of the problems this creates for others. They readily take advantage of others, and tend to be quite arrogant. In actuality, they are very sensitive, and tend to not be able to tolerate any criticism or negative feedback. They usually seek treatment because they are frustrated in getting what they want. However, they often do not seek treatment, because they perceive everyone else as causing the problems, not themselves.     

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Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder - This individual is a perfectionist, and obsesses about details to the point of following rules for the sake of the rules. They are extremely inflexible. Their quest for perfection usually slows progress toward goals because they tend to re-do things forever, without ever completing anything. They are overconscientious at work, but tend to not have many relationships. They are extremely rigid in terms of morals and values, to a degree not expected by their religious background. Their perfectionism prevents them from delegating tasks to others, so they tend to get bogged down in details, and become overwhelmed. At times, they are afraid to throw anything away, for fear they may need it someday, and they are sometimes true penny pinchers. They often have difficulty making decisions, because of fear of making a mistake.

This disorder should not be confused with conscientious behavior, attention to detail, and a desire to do a good job. It should also not be confused with normal conservative morals and values, and a desire to save money for the future. These are all positive characteristics that actually assist an individual in coping with the world.  Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder is a condition in which these traits are severely exaggerated to the point of becoming negative. (An example of too much of a good thing!).

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