Signs & Symptoms of Personality Disorders

Get in front of a personality disorder by learning its effects. Read what causes a personality disorder, what signs to look out for, and potential co-occurring disorders. Personality disorders can affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.

Understanding Personality Disorders

Learn more about personality disorders

Each person on the planet has a unique personality that represents an accumulation of genetic and cultural influences, experiences, and traits that shape his or her outward identity and inner life. But when an individual suffers from a personality disorder, he or she will exhibit thoughts and behaviors that deviate significantly from cultural expectations, resulting in a damaging loss of healthy functioning. More than just a set of idiosyncrasies or quirks, these atypical thoughts and behaviors so severely contradict societal norms that they will negatively impact the affected individual in serious ways, and will continue to do so for long periods of time.

For the purposes of diagnosis, the American Psychological Association (APA) has divided the ten personality disorders into three main groups called clusters, which are based on descriptive similarities. While it must be remembered that there are documented limitations of this organizational method, these clusters serve to help clinicians categorize their patients’ symptoms, and include the following:

  • Cluster A: paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders (Individuals with these disorders often appear odd or eccentric.)
  • Cluster B: antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders (Individuals with these disorders often appear dramatic, emotional, or erratic.)
  • Cluster C: avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders (These individuals often appear anxious or fearful.)

Personality disorders can limit your ability to care for yourself and others; to engage in professional, academic, and social environments; and to forge and maintain personal relationships. But while these detriments can be severe, if you are suffering from a personality disorder, there is still hope for living a balanced life. With professional treatment, you can learn to manage your symptoms.


Statistics for personality disorders

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), personality disorders, while less common than other mental illnesses, affect over 9% of the adult U.S. population. While there is limited reliable data on the overall prevalence of these conditions, the APA reports the following statistics:

  • Cluster A represents about 1.5% of all diagnosed personality disorders
  • Cluster B represents about 6.0% of all diagnosed personality disorders
  • Cluster C represents about 9.1% of all diagnosed personality disorders, suggesting a high frequency of co-occurring personality disorders from different clusters
  • Certain personality disorders (e.g., antisocial personality disorder) are diagnosed more frequently in males
  • Other personality disorders (e.g., borderline, histrionic, and dependent personality disorders) are diagnosed more frequently in females

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for personality disorders

Personality disorders are complex diseases that result from a combination of environmental and genetic influences. While more data must be collected and reviewed to better understand the root causes of personality disorders, researchers have identified some reliable factors that, when present, may heighten your risk for developing this type of mental illness.

  • Having a first-degree relative with a personality disorder or other serious mental illness
  • Exposure to chronic conflict and stress
  • Personal history of substance abuse/addiction
  • Being the victim of abuse
  • Suffering from childhood neglect
  • Poor attachment to primary caregivers during early development

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of personality disorders

Given that there are more than ten types of diagnosable personality disorders, the range of signs and symptoms that accompany these conditions is varied and extensive. An assessment from a qualified mental health professional is the best way to identify the presence of a mental illness, and it is recommended that you seek help should you or a loved one begin exhibiting any of the following signs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Displaying episodes of excessive mood swings or exhibiting an overall inability to emote
  • Frequently having explosive outbursts or withdrawing into isolation
  • Lacking the ability to control anger and acting out aggressively as a result (often engaging in violent and/or illegal activity)
  • Exhibiting extreme reactions to perceived abandonment, regardless of whether or not that abandonment truly exists
  • Chronically engaging in self-harming behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Noticeable weight loss or weight gain
  • Presence of injuries resulting from self-harming behaviors
  • Significant shifts in eating habits
  • Alterations in one’s need for sleep
  • Exhibiting tics or other forms of psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delusions and/or hallucinations
  • Periods of depersonalization
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Episodes of dissociation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Pervasive and all-consuming feelings of loneliness and emptiness
  • Propensity for grandiose or magical thinking
  • Extremely low self-esteem
  • Deteriorated sense of self-worth
  • Chronic feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, or an overinflated ego
  • Inability to form and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Fluctuating self-image


Effects of personality disorders

When the symptoms of a personality disorder persist without treatment, many damaging effects can negatively impact your life, including the following:

  • Making repeated attempts at suicide
  • Inability to obtain or maintain steady employment
  • Experiencing financial strife as a result of being unable to maintain employment
  • Demoralized sense of self
  • Legal problems and incarceration
  • Severe relationship disturbances
  • Significant familial discord and isolation
  • Deterioration of one’s hygiene and physical health
  • Engaging in chronic self-harming behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Personality disorders and co-occurring disorders

Many people who have a personality disorder also struggle with symptoms of other mental health conditions. Known as having a co-occurring disorder, if you are diagnosed with a personality disorder, you may also experience symptoms of the following mental health conditions:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Other personality disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)