What are characteristics of a personality disorder

Overview of personality disorders

It is estimated that internationally, eleven percent of people suffer from a personality disorder. There is no final agreement on the definition of personality disorders in the international research landscape. For general information on what is a personality disorder, see Personality Disorders: What is it?

Official classifications that classify personality disorders provide orientation. In Austria, the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) and other international diagnostic schemes (e.g. DSM-V) provide guidance. At DSM-V, the disease value tends to be in the background. However, ICD-10 is in the foreground in Austria as the official so-called coding of diseases for diagnosis. DSM-V helps, for example, to divide personality disorders into three so-called clusters:

Cluster A

In cluster A personality disorders are summarized, which are mainly noticeable through strange, eccentric behavior. These include paranoid, schizoid and schizotypic personality disorders.

Cluster B

In cluster B there are personality disorders that are defined by very emotional, dramatic or mood-changing behavior. These include the antisocial (dissocial), the histrionic, the narcissistic and the emotionally unstable personality disorder.

Cluster C

Cluster C includes personality disorders that are characterized by anxiety and fear or obsession: the avoidant-self-insecure, the dependent and the obsessive-compulsive (as well as passive-aggressive) personality disorder.

The following list of the most important personality disorders can help those affected and their relatives to pay attention to their own or those of others and to facilitate the way to professional help.

ClusterPersonality disorderExamples of features
A.paranoid personality disorder
  • very suspicious / jealous
  • particularly easily injured
  • relates what is said / actions in general strongly to itself
  • great sensitivity to border crossings (e.g. intrusion into privacy)
  • pronounced need for independence
  • "Contentiousness"
A.schizoid personality disorder (not to be confused with schizophrenia)
  • Lonerism
  • apparent or actual coldness or indifference
  • hidden desires for recognition
  • Aloofness up to "aloofness"
  • Retreat into fantasy worlds
A.schizotypal personality disorder (not to be confused with schizophrenia)
  • very "quirky" and withdrawn
  • Preference for esoteric / magical ways of thinking
  • awkward expression
  • Difficulty in appropriate emotional expression
B.emotionally unstable personality disorder (impulsive type)
  • Tendency to act unexpectedly regardless of the consequences
  • Tendency to quarrel / conflict - especially when preventing impulsive behavior
  • Tendency towards uncontrolled outbursts of anger and / or violence
  • Dependence on reward for actions
  • Mood swings

emotionally unstable personality disorder

(Borderline type)
  • Above-mentioned characteristics of the impulsive type to some extent
  • Disorders of self-image
  • Tendency to have intense, unstable, crisis-ridden relationships
  • great efforts not to be abandoned
  • repeated threats / acts of self-harm
  • persistent feelings of emptiness
B.narcissistic personality disorder
  • decreased ability to criticize
  • Overconfidence
  • Simultaneously existing (mostly unconscious) feelings of inferiority
  • very strong urge to always be the center of attention
  • great need for solidarity
B.histrionic personality disorder
  • Tendency to "dramatic appearances"
  • easily influenced by others
  • Strong need for attention and the search for exciting activities
  • great role of one's own attractiveness
B.dissocial (antisocial) personality disorder
  • Disregard of social / societal rules
  • Lack of guilt ("others are to blame")
  • Tendency to violence
  • heartless disengagement / lack of compassion ("ice cold")
  • outwardly partly but often also charming ("wolf in sheep's clothing")
  • crime
  • possibly in connection with alcohol or drug addiction
C.anxious avoidant personality disorder
  • Urge to worry all the time
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Fear of rejection with simultaneous longing for closeness
  • possibly related to an anxiety disorder
C.Compulsive (anankastic) personality disorder
  • "Excessive accuracy" ("pedantry")
  • plagued by strong doubts
  • "Over-caution"
  • excessive performance-relatedness
  • possibly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder
C.dependent (asthenic, dependent) personality disorder
  • decreased independence / helplessness
  • Neglecting one's own needs in favor of others
  • reduced resilience
  • great fear of being abandoned
  • strong need for security and attachment
C.passive-aggressive personality disorder
  • Tendency towards permanent resentment
  • Strong selfishness
  • great distrust
  • very distant
  • strong need to keep your own boundaries

There are also so-called combined personality disorders. People with a personality disorder find it difficult to express their opinions and feelings. In many cases they have made the experience that they are usually not perceived or valued in a mostly open manner. In order to achieve goals in the interpersonal area (e.g. recognition, love), they often behave strangely and influence - unnoticed by the other person - their reactions. These behaviors mostly emerged in the course of life and, after closer inspection, often have a tangible breeding ground (e.g. problematic relationship experiences). However, many people with a personality disorder manage to avoid being conspicuous as much as possible. Nevertheless, there can be great inner suffering. Sometimes, however, the pressure of suffering also prevails in the environment.

Personality disorders relate to certain, formative and in the foreground personality traits of people. Since they relate to a person's character, they cannot be compared 1: 1 with other diseases. Because people with personality disorders still have many - e.g. also positive - other characteristics of their personality than those that define these disorders. Thus, a whole person cannot and should not be “categorized”. However, the assignments facilitate diagnostic and therapeutic steps. Personality disorders can also change over the course of life.

NotePeople with personality disorders can have an increased risk of suicide. If a victim speaks of suicide, this must always be taken seriously and a doctor should be consulted immediately. Under no circumstances should the person concerned be left alone in this situation. For more information, see Do you know someone who had thoughts of suicide?