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When does Personality become a Disorder?

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

The three clusters of Personality Disorders.

My experience living with a Personality Disorder.

I suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a youth and as a young adult growing up. BPD (not to be confused with Bipolar Disorder) stems from an extreme fear of abandonment.

There are many reasons why a person might develop BPD. For me, it was the trauma of my mother passing away within three months of being diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

I was around five years old when that happened.

My BPD presented itself with a constant sense of emptiness. It was like a void had opened up within me that craved to be filled and occupied. Often times, I looked to other people to fill that void, including my family when I was young and then more romantic kinds of relationships as I grew older.

Yet, because of the constant fear of being abandoned, resulting from my mother departing so suddenly, I would test many of these relationships to the absolute breaking point. It's an odd way of thinking, I know that now, but it was rooted in the bizarre belief that I needed to ensure they wouldn't abandon me -even in the worst scenario possible.

Beyond my family, this pattern of thinking and acting didn't bode too well other people. It scared and drove them away, which only served to reopen the emptiness within me again. And on and on, it went, like a vicious cycle.

Accompanying the above beliefs also came a roller-coaster ride of emotions. They flickered from feeling absolutely happy one moment, to an extreme rage or sadness the next. I was highly impulsive, doing anything to keeping the extreme emotions at bay. This included numbing myself by binge-drinking at parties on the weekend.

Often times, the emotions became unbearable for me. It even led me to a point where I yearned to feel real and tangible pain. This was compared to the emotional ones that only exist in my mind. That's when I resorted to self-harm.

I'm sharing this experience in hope that you see that living with a personality disorder is not a normal way to live at all.

It stems from a very rigid and inflexible way of thinking, caused by trauma that occurred during my childhood. This begs the question, when does Personality actually become a Personality Disorder, and do you or someone you love suffer from one?

Let's start by unpacking the two terms - Personality and Disorder.

Personality is the combination of traits that make you who you are. They are what makes you a unique individual, sharing some similarities with others but yet different in many other aspects.

Your personality is shaped by many factors - including your experiences as you grew up, your environment and quality of living, as well as the genes you inherited from your parents.

You're probably aware that Personality is made up of more than one dimension.

For example, whether you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, that's just one dimension of who you are. Beyond that, there are a host of other traits that are in you, including being humourous, serious, kind, agreeable, neurotic, humble or conscientious.

If a personality is what make you uniquely you, how can your personality become a disorder?

Well, Disorders are defined as an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions. Note the word illness, which is also a term that captures physical afflictions, like cancer or diabetes.

A Personality Disorder is therefore an illness you suffer from. It's not your personality as a whole that is "damaged" or "sick", but a mere part of you, just like a lump detected in your chest, that can be treated.

So basically, if aspects of your personality has consistently and frequently been disrupting your life, as well as causing distress to you or the people around you, then you might be have a personality disorder on your hands.

Personality Disorders - the three clusters.

In general, Personality Disorders are patterns of thinking and behaviour that disrupt your life as well as the lives of your loved ones. They impair your functioning in many areas of your life.

You might also feel that aspects of who you seem to depart from what is commonly deemed acceptable by society and those around you.

They usually begin in teenage years or early childhood, and is actually made up of three clusters, which I'll go into briefly below:

Cluster A are characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior. They include:

  • Paranoid PD - distrusting, sensitive, suspicious

  • Schizoid PD - seclusive, indifferent, passive

  • Schizotypal PD - odd thinking and speech, bizarre fantasies

Cluster B are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include:

  • Antisocial PD - aggressive, abusive, rule-breaking

  • Borderline PD - impulsive, self-mutilative, manipulative

  • Histrionic PD - flamboyant, attention-seeking, provocative

  • Narcissistic PD - excessive self-admiration, egocentric, sense of grandiose

Cluster C are characterized by anxious, fearful thinking or behavior. They include:

  • Avoidant PD - fears criticism, overly-serious, withdrawn

  • Dependent PD - clingy, indecisive, submissive

  • Obsessive-compulsive PD - perfectionist, passive-aggressive, rigid

Living with a Personality Disorder.

It's obviously not easy to live with a Personality Disorder. Without guidance from a mental health professional, you might even go on experiencing it for many years.

It was actually through seeing a Psychiatrist and a Clinical Psychologist when I was around 18 that enabled me to understand that I was suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder.

To some people, that might seem like a label has been slapped on you. But to me, it was a point of relief. It facilitated the realisation that it was an illness that had been plaguing me, and not actually something wrong at the core of who I was.

Through therapy, I was able to understand how this Personality Disorder had developed, and become aware of the 'faulty' cognitions it had led me to believe in my daily life.

It even spurred me to enter into the study of Psychology myself, in the bid to know myself better and to help others along in their journey.

As some good news, I'm now thirty-five, and at the point of this writing, am happily married with a beautiful wife. We have plans for kids someday, but are currently the proud parents of two fur-kids.

BPD actually seems like a thing of the past now. In that vein, you too can recover from a Personality Disorder. Bear in mind, it's going to be a process, like all others changes in life.

The change will probably start with learning to be aware of your beliefs and wayward thoughts, as well as learning to adapt your behaviours and not act on impulses.

Through managing your personality disorder and developing healthier behaviours, your beliefs will likewise change accordingly. And after a while, you might find that they've disappeared all together.

For me, I rarely feel that sense of emptiness anymore, nor do I have this persistant nagging feeling that my loved ones would abandon me.

I am able to happily say that Borderline Personality Disorder doesn't, and never, defined who I was. I am much more than a person who was afraid of being abandoned - I have also always been funny, loving, kind, introverted, understanding and empathetic.

In fact, I am much more than the sum of my parts. I am uniquely me and that makes me happy.

And I deeply hope that even if you suffer from a Personality Disorder, that you realise that too.

Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul. If you suspect you might be suffering from a personality disorder, do seek some help a professional to gain some clarity on your life! It changed mine and it will change yours. Email me anytime if you have questions. Take care, Hernping.


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