Personality and Personality Disorders

Personality refers to the unique set of characteristics, traits, behaviors, and patterns of thinking that define an individual’s distinctive and consistent pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It encompasses various aspects of an individual’s psychological makeup, including their attitudes, beliefs, values, interests, motivations, and social interactions.

Personality is considered relatively stable over time, although it can evolve and change to some extent through different life experiences and personal growth. It influences how individuals perceive and interpret the world, as well as how they respond to situations and interact with others.

Personality Theories

Personality theories aim to explain and categorize the various patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions that define an individual’s unique personality. Several prominent theories have been proposed over the years, each highlighting different aspects of personality development and structure. 

Psychodynamic Theories: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory suggests that personality is composed of three components: the id (unconscious desires), ego (rational self), and superego (internalized social rules). Freud emphasized the role of unconscious processes and early childhood experiences in shaping personality.

Humanistic Theories: Humanistic theories, such as Carl Rogers’ person-centered approach, emphasize personal growth, self-actualization, and the importance of an individual’s subjective experience. These theories focus on the inherent goodness of individuals and their innate drive to reach their full potential.

Behavioral Theories: Behavioral theories, including B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, emphasize the role of environmental factors and reinforcement in shaping personality. These theories suggest that behavior is learned through interactions with the environment, and personality is a collection of learned responses.

Social Cognitive Theories: Social cognitive theories, such as Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, propose that personality is influenced by cognitive processes, observational learning, and reciprocal interactions between individuals and their environment. These theories emphasize the role of self-efficacy and the belief in one’s ability to exert control over one’s behavior.

Trait Theories: Trait theories propose that personality consists of a set of stable traits, which are enduring characteristics that predispose individuals to behave consistently across various situations. 

It’s important to note that no single theory or set of traits can fully capture the complexity of human personality. Different theories and trait models offer valuable insights into different aspects of personality, and researchers continue to explore and refine our understanding of personality through ongoing studies and observations.

The Big Five Model

Personality traits are enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that distinguish individuals from one another. Personality traits are fundamental characteristics that shape an individual’s behavior and influence their interactions with others. Traits are often assessed using personality inventories and can vary in terms of their intensity and prevalence in individuals.

The Big Five or Five Factor Model is the most widely accepted framework in personality trait theory. These traits are considered to be the broad dimensions that capture the most significant individual differences in personality. The Big Five personality traits can be remembered using the acronym O-C-E-A-N: Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. 

Openness to Experience

This trait reflects an individual’s preference for novelty, intellectual curiosity, and openness to new ideas and experiences. People high in openness tend to be imaginative, creative, and open-minded, while those low in openness are often more conventional, practical, and prefer familiarity.


Conscientiousness is characterized by traits such as organization, responsibility, dependability, and self-discipline. Individuals high in conscientiousness tend to be reliable, diligent, goal-oriented, and well-organized, while those low in conscientiousness may be more impulsive, disorganized, and prone to procrastination.


Extraversion refers to an individual’s level of sociability, assertiveness, and energy. Highly extraverted individuals are typically outgoing, talkative, and seek social interaction, while introverted individuals are more reserved, quiet, and prefer solitary activities.


Agreeableness measures an individual’s tendency to be kind, cooperative, and compassionate towards others. People high in agreeableness are typically empathetic, considerate, and value harmonious relationships, while those low in agreeableness may be more competitive, skeptical, and less concerned with the needs and feelings of others.


Neuroticism, also known as emotional stability, refers to an individual’s emotional reactivity and stability. Individuals high in neuroticism tend to experience negative emotions more intensely and frequently, such as anxiety, sadness, and irritability. On the other hand, individuals low in neuroticism are more emotionally stable, resilient, and less prone to experiencing negative emotions.

These five traits provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and describing personality differences across individuals. It’s important to note that individuals possess a unique combination of these traits, and they interact with other factors to shape a person’s overall personality.

Personality disorders

Personality disorders represent deeply ingrained, pervasive, and rigid patterns of relating to oneself and others that are maladaptive and cause significant impairment in functioning.

It is important to remember that personality traits are not considered pathological or “disordered” unless they cause significant distress or dysfunction in a person’s life. Individuals with pathological or disordered personality traits often lack insight into their problems and the way their behavior affects both themselves and others. 
There has been ongoing debate and controversy surrounding the idea of discrete disorders of personality given the considerable overlap among disorders. That is, many people meet criteria for more than one personality disorder. There is a high likelihood that personality disorders will be revised or even removed from future editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

Currently, the DSM organizes personality disorders into three “Clusters” (i.e., Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C) with each cluster sharing similar core features. In general, each personality disorder has a prevalence of about 1%. 

Cluster ACluster BCluster C
Schizoid Personality DisorderAntisocial Personality DisorderAvoidant Personality Disorder
Schizotypal Personality DisorderBorderline Personality DisorderDependent Personality Disorder
Paranoid Personality DisorderHistrionic Personality DisorderObsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder


Paranoid Personality Disorder: Individuals with this disorder are excessively suspicious and mistrustful of others. They often interpret benign actions as malevolent and may be overly guarded and argumentative.

Schizoid Personality Disorder: People with schizoid personality disorder tend to be detached and socially isolated. They have difficulty expressing emotions and forming close relationships.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Individuals with schizotypal personality disorder may have odd or eccentric behavior, as well as unusual beliefs and perceptions. They often experience social anxiety and have difficulty maintaining close relationships.


Antisocial Personality Disorder: People with antisocial personality disorder disregard the rights of others and display a lack of empathy or remorse. They may engage in impulsive and irresponsible behaviors, often violating social norms and laws.

Borderline Personality Disorder: Borderline personality disorder is characterized by instability in emotions, self-image, and relationships. Individuals may have intense fear of abandonment, engage in self-harming behaviors, and experience emotional instability.

Histrionic Personality Disorder: Individuals with histrionic personality disorder seek attention and have a strong need for approval. They may exhibit dramatic and exaggerated emotions and engage in attention-seeking behaviors.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: People with narcissistic personality disorder have an inflated sense of self-importance and a grandiose view of themselves. They often require excessive admiration and lack empathy for others.


Avoidant Personality Disorder: Individuals with avoidant personality disorder have an intense fear of rejection and criticism, leading to social withdrawal and avoidance of social situations. They may have low self-esteem and be overly sensitive to negative evaluation.

Dependent Personality Disorder: People with dependent personality disorder have an excessive need to be taken care of and rely heavily on others for decision-making. They fear being abandoned and may have difficulty initiating or maintaining independent functioning.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Individuals with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are preoccupied with order, perfectionism, and control. They tend to be rigid, inflexible, and excessively devoted to work and rules.


Treatment of Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are very difficult to treat as they require changing ingrained patterns of behavior. Therefore, psychotherapy and group therapy remain the primary treatments for managing personality disorders. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Psychodynamic Therapy are types of psychotherapy that may be helpful. 
Medication is not first line treatment for personality disorders, but may be used to alleviate comorbid psychiatric disorders, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders.


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Psychology Today Website

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