We all have a personality. We might call some people loving or caring. Introverted or extraverted. Angry or aggressive. Anxious or self-centred. Or a whole host of other things. But what does that really mean? I found a website that provides a definition of personality. It says
personality is made up of the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that make a person unique. In addition to this, personality arises from within the individual and remains fairly consistent throughout life.
Our personality is an internal aspect of our experience and includes thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The way we think, feel and act. These quirks and characteristics remain pretty stable throughout our life and are unique to each of us. And yet for the majority, the differences between one person and the next is not that huge. I’m sure that we could all look around a room full of people and note that every single person conforms to a set of socially acceptable behaviours. And when we discuss our thoughts and feelings we would find that we have a lot in common.
But there are a group of people who possess quirks that are outside this “norm”. This is very different to simply finding people who have different ways of thinking. We all have unique thoughts and feelings, but there is always a sense of commonality underlying that uniqueness. The difference between “normal” and “not normal” can sometimes be quite subtle, but it can also be very clear. The American Psychological Association says,
Personality disorders are seen by professionals and researchers as an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it. These patterns are inflexible and pervasive across many situations. The onset of the pattern can be traced back at least to the beginning of adulthood. To be diagnosed as a personality disorder, a behavioral pattern must cause significant distress or impairment in personal, social, and/or occupational situations.
Wow, what a mouthful! More simply, differences are mostly noticeable with social interactions. There is inflexibility in thinking and a very narrow set of beliefs. So when interacting with others, a person with a personality disorder always has to be right and will go out of their way to prove it. They will have difficulties making or keeping relationships, getting on with friends, family or colleagues, staying out of trouble and controlling their feelings and behaviour. This website has a simpler explanation than the more technical one above and also briefly looks at some of the treatments available.
There is some debate about what causes a personality disorder and there are no definite answers. Some say genetics (family genes) play a part. Childhood trauma and abuse has also been looked at, which studies suggest are particularly relevant for Borderline Personality Disorder. This website briefly looks at some of the research. The behaviours and habits of people with personality disorders are usually seen early in their lives, sometimes in childhood, and are commonly diagnosed between about 18 and 36.
I’m not too sure exactly how it works, how or where things go haywire. I believe there are still a lot of researchers arguing about it. If you would like to read some more, technical information you can go here. You’ll notice the list of all the different types, one of which is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). We are going to focus on this one as an example because we don’t have the time or space to get through all of them.
In the next post we will look at BPD and the experience of living with it.