There are many myths about personality disorders. Find out the facts and learn important information about these mental health conditions.
Personality disorders can be challenging to manage. In addition to dealing with the condition itself, people often struggle with the myths that circulate about personality disorders. Myths about personality disorders arise from a lack of understanding of these conditions, but that doesn’t make them any less destructive.
Myth #1: Personality disorders are just character flaws
Fact: Personality disorders are legitimate health conditions caused by biological and environmental factors.
A personality disorder is a longstanding pattern of behaviors and internal experiences that is inflexible and leads to distress. These challenges often result in difficulty in interpersonal relationships and a great deal of internal conflict. A character flaw is defined as a limitation or an imperfection in one’s personality. Character flaws do not have the same level of impact on one’s life as do personality disorders. Everyone has character flaws, whereas personality disorders are not a universal experience.
Myth #2: All people with personality disorders are manipulative
Fact: Manipulative behavior and personality disorder are not synonymous.
It is important for people to understand the underlying motivations behind behaviors that are often seen as manipulative, particularly in people with conditions like borderline personality disorder. For people who struggle with self-worth and have had a history of not feeling safe asking for what they need, manipulation can seem like the only way to have their needs met. Often, people with personality disorders who engage in manipulative behaviors aren’t consciously aware of their manipulation. In reality, those who struggle with this condition are often simply engaging a process they have learned over time to get their needs met.
Myth #3: People with a personality disorder never lead normal lives
Fact: People living with personality disorders can lead fulfilling lives.
Personality disorders require self-care, understanding of what symptoms look like and a long-term commitment to one’s own health and wellness. People who are managing a personality disorder can learn the triggers for their symptoms and their underlying causes. As one becomes more familiar with the disorder, it can be easier to notice when they are experiencing symptoms and use specific skills to counter or cope with them.
People with personality disorders have thoughts, feelings, and desires just like anyone else. Having a personality disorder does not prevent one from living a normal life. The condition may require additional hard work and insight into the impact of the disorder on one’s life and relationships. It may mean that some aspects of life will be more challenging, but this can often be managed with the help of a trusted professional who also understands the condition and can help navigate difficulties.
Myth #4: People with a personality disorder are selfish
Fact: Selfishness is a personality trait that can emerge in anyone from time to time, and it is not specific to personality disorders or any other mental health condition.
People with narcissistic personality and antisocial personality disorder exhibit selfish behaviors more than the average person, but these are only two subsets of personality disorder and do not represent all types.
Before labeling someone as selfish, it is important to note the difference between self-preservation and putting one’s own needs above someone else’s in a greedy fashion. The selfish tendencies sometimes present in those with antisocial or narcissistic personality are beyond the average level of self-interest of most people, but they do not represent all personality disorders. People with a personality disorder can be selfish, just as someone without a personality disorder may be selfish.
Myth #5: Personality disorders are always the result of childhood trauma
Fact: While it is true that some personality disorders can stem from trauma, childhood trauma and personality disorders are not always linked.
The causes of personality disorders are often complex. Some personality disorders have a genetic component, while others are a result of overindulgent childhood experiences without accountability. Some personality disorders have a greater likelihood of resulting from childhood abuse and neglect, such as borderline personality disorder.
Because personality disorders can stem from a variety of factors, it is inaccurate to associate the condition specifically with childhood trauma. Adverse childhood experiences can exacerbate any mental health condition, however, and should not be discounted as a major factor that impacts mental health across the lifespan. In one report, 80% of personality disordered individuals surveyed reported having experienced an adverse childhood experience.
It is important to avoid making assumptions about people based on their mental health diagnosis, as there is rarely a simple explanation as to why a person has a personality disorder.
Myth #6: People with personality disorders are dangerous
Fact: People who have personality disorders are no more dangerous than any other segment of the population.
There is the possibility of danger when anyone is feeling out of sorts or unstable, but this is not necessarily connected to a diagnosis of any kind. Considering that a mere 3–5% of violent episodes can be connected to serious mental health conditions, it is unfair to generalize that people with personality disorders are dangerous. Myths such as this perpetuate the false idea that those with mental health issues are a risk to others. These damaging misconceptions further isolate people who need support and understanding rather than judgment and misdirected fear.
Myth #7: Personality disorders aren’t treatable
Fact: Personality disorders can be successfully treated.
Personality disorder treatment often includes cognitive behavioral therapy and treatments that are specific to the needs of a particular condition, such as dialectical behavioral therapy for borderline personality disorder. If symptoms have persisted over time, an assessment with a mental health professional is recommended, as well as psychotherapy and possibly medication.
A trauma-informed focus can be useful when those with personality disorder have experienced adverse childhood experiences. Many treatment options are available for a number of personality disorders, and it largely depends on the needs of an individual seeking treatment.
As those with personality disorders begin to learn the symptoms and triggers for their condition, it can be easier to establish awareness of difficult moments and how to manage those challenges. Personality disorders are deeply ingrained, so while they may not be “curable,” people with these conditions can and do learn healthy coping strategies and experience successful treatments that improve quality of life. As with any persisting condition, personality disorder should be viewed as something to treat and manage. Symptoms will likely flare up even after successful treatment, but this does not mean treatment was a failure: it simply means that the necessary tools for managing the condition need to be utilized and it may be useful to explore these challenges with a mental health professional.
Personality disorders often co-occur with addiction. If you or a loved one live with both of these conditions, help is available. Call The Recovery Village today for more information.
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Murt, Thomas P. “Mental Illness Isn’t a Character Flaw-[…]Treating It Like One.” Namibuckspa.org. June 2, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2019.
Psychiatry.org. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition.” 2013. Accessed May 31, 2019.
Lewis, Laura. “Borderline Personality Disorder, Manipulation vs. Honesty.” HealthyPlace.com. August 24, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2019.
Gregory, Christina PhD. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Psycom.net. February 9, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019.
Goodtherapy.org. “Selfishness.” Accessed May 31, 2019.
Jackson, Charlotte. “Personality Disorders: A Trauma Perspective.” BPCNA.org. Accessed May 31, 2019.
MentalHealthAmerica.net. “Personality Disorder.” Accessed May 31, 2019.
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