Personality psychology shows us what makes all humans alike and what makes each person an individual. While our individual traits may be different from the next person’s, they are all fairly ordinary and allow us to live an ordinary life.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. Research shows that 9% of Americans over the age of 18 have some sort of personality disorder. These conditions may cause a person to struggle finding work, maintain important relationships, and live a “normal” life. Get to know the most common personality disorders; they may explain the behavior of someone you know.
What is a Personality Disorder?
The DMS-5 defines a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture.” As you’ll see, some of these disorders cause people to act erratically or in a “strange” manner.
(Later, I’ll tell you why some people believe movie characters like Willy Wonka had a personality disorder.)
Personality disorders may be caused by genetic factors or traumatic events. Research has made a strong connection between genetics and the presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD,) but verbal abuse and abusive relationships can also cause personality disorders to develop. Everyone’s case is different; although personality disorders can cause strange or even hurtful behavior, always try to be empathetic and understanding with people. You never know what someone has endured in their lives.
People can treat the symptoms of personality disorders through different types of therapy.
Personality Disorder Clusters
So what are these personality disorders, and what kind of behavior do they cause? Psychologists categorize disorders using three different “clusters.”
The first cluster contains personality disorders that cause “odd” behavior. The second causes “dramatic” behavior. The third is a cluster that causes behavior driven by high anxiety. We call these the odd, dramatic, and anxious clusters.
You might recognize these symptoms - not only might they appear in people you know, but they definitely appear in some ionic film and television characters.
Cluster A (Odd)
Paranoid Personality Disorder
The people with paranoid personality disorder (PPD) aren’t just “paranoid.” They experience a paranoia so intense that experts claim it is not based in reality.
PPD causes people to be highly suspicious of everyone around them. People with PPD may sincerely believe that everyone is out to harm them, their partner is cheating on them, or that things that they say will only be used against them later. They may grow very distrustful and be reluctant to share any type of information or engage in social interactions.
Have you ever watched The Aviator? Leonardo DiCaprio’s character displays symptoms of this disorder. He has obsessive-compulsive disorder throughout the film, and as it worsens, he starts to become overly paranoid and displays an array of eccentric behaviors.
Traumatic events may also cause someone to develop PPD, although children can develop the disorder early in their life. Warning signs include a strong preference for solitude, erratic thoughts and behaviors, and hyper sensitivity.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of this disorder, it can be hard for people to seek help. People with PPD may be paranoid about the usefulness of psychotherapy or the legitimacy of their therapist. But therapy is the best form of treatment for PPD.
Schizoid Personality Disorder
The next two personality disorders sound like schizophrenia, but do not get them confused. Schizophrenia is not a personality disorder; it is a separate mental disorder, like bipolar disorder.
People with schizoid personality disorder (SPD) do not have hallucinations or hear strange voices in their head. In fact, most people with SPD can live a “normal” life and hold down a job. They do have problems forming relationships with others. SPD causes people to be very detached from others; they prefer to be alone and are not always moved by emotional connections to others.
People with SPD are in touch with reality, and rarely seek help for their disorder because they may feel “okay” not having close relationships with others.
Many critics believe that Christian Grey of Fifty Shades of Grey displays symptoms of this disorder.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
Again, schizotypal personality disorder is entirely separate from schizophrenia and schizoid personality disorder. What makes schizotypal personality disorder unique is the presence of strange beliefs or fantasies. People with this disorder may have very passionate ideas about things like outer space or other worlds, making it hard for people to relate to them.
Some people believe that Willy Wonka (at least, Gene Wilder’s version,) has schizotypal personality disorder. He created an entire world made of candy, and his speech was very strange. Wonka also secluded himself for years in this world of his own creation.
Paranoia is often present in people with schizotypal personality disorder, especially if the person’s beliefs are rather disturbing or discomforting. (Wonka was rather paranoid about people stealing his recipes and fortune.)
Psychologists have found links to schizotypal personality disorder and a family history of schizophrenia, but if that link is not known, it can be hard for people with this disorder to find help and form close relationships with others.
Cluster B (Dramatic)
This disorder sounds like a condition where people isolate themselves or just don’t like to be social. In fact, antisocial personality disorder describes a condition in which people blatantly disregard the rights of others through impulsive, manipulative, or downright criminal behavior.
Have you seen American Psycho? Christian Bale’s character is a classic, but very extreme, case of antisocial personality disorder. (Psychologists have also said he displays symptoms of borderline personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.)
Antisocial personality disorder exists on a spectrum; not everyone who is diagnosed will be serious, violent criminals. However, the most serious cases of antisocial personality disorder include psychopaths. They are aggressive, lack remorse, and use deceit to get the things that they want, even at the expense of others.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Similar to antisocial personality disorder, people with narcissistic personality disorder have no regard for the feelings of others. However, this disregard is paired with an arrogance not based in reality. Narcissists believe that they are highly special and unique and that they should be regarded as more important than other people. This belief fuels their tendencies to manipulate others and even break the law to get what they want.
Many narcissists have large fantasies and constantly seek attention. While narcissistic personality disorder inhibits people from having close relationships with others, many infamous celebrities have been suspected of having narcissistic personality disorder. Ted Bundy is a classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. Tens of thousands of mental health professionals have also stepped forward to say that Donald Trump is another classic case of narcissistic personality disorder.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
Like narcissists, people with histrionic personality disorder (HPD) may excessively seek out attention. They are the life of the party and most people may believe that they are just charming or outgoing. However, this behavior stems from a constant need to be accepted and validated.
Histrionic personality disorder is often characterized by seductive or overtly emotional behavior. If the person does not get the acceptance and validation that they crave, they may get passionately upset and display dramatic behavior. HPD leads people to believe that relationships are stronger and more meaningful than they might really be.
Michael Scott from The Office is a classic case of histrionic personality disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder is similar to paranoid personality disorder, but is often characterized by mood swings and other erratic behavior. People with borderline personality disorder may engage in especially risky activities or be especially aggressive toward others.
There are plenty of movie characters that display symptoms of borderline personality disorder, including Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Tiffany from Silver Lining’s Playbook. The memoir Girl, Interrupted is about the author’s experiences in a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with BPD.
Borderline personality disorder is often confused with, or linked to, bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that involves intense periods of mania or depression. People with borderline personality disorder may also experience mood swings, but their disorder mainly stems from, and negatively affects, relationships with others.
Cluster C (Anxious)
Avoidant Personality Disorder
People with avoidant personality disorder are also very concerned with their reputation among others. But instead of constantly seeking validation by being outgoing or the “life of the party,” people with avoidant personality disorder tend to retract. They are unlikely to take risks or put themselves out there due to fears that they will be rejected or be shamed.
People with avoidant personality disorder aren’t just “shy.” Their fears of rejection may cause them to completely withdraw from society and experience prolonged feelings of anxiety or fear.
This may seem like a rather silly example, but Elsa from Frozen displays symptoms of this disorder. Traumatic events caused by her magical powers lead her to seclude herself for years out of fear.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
You might be familiar with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or OCPD, is similar, but a separate condition from OCD. Like OCD, people with OCPD are driven by a desire to be “perfect.” They want to abide by specific rules and become obsessed with making lists or organizing details. These organizational tasks may get in the way of forming relationships with others or understanding the objective of an activity.
Unlike OCD, people with OCPD are not “under the control” of impulses or behaviors. People with OCPD may not flick the lights on and off a specific number of times or take a specific amount of steps from one room to the next. They do, however, become preoccupied with “perfection” and may lose sight of what they were doing in the first place.
Some analysts believe that Hermione Granger displays symptoms of OCPD.
Dependent Personality Disorder
As a child, it is normal to experience “separation anxiety” and fears of being alone. Adults who don’t outgrow these fears may develop dependent personality disorder. They rely on others so much that they have a hard time functioning independently. Every decision, from where they should live to what they should wear, can only be made after excessive validation and input from others. It may be hard for people with this disorder to go to work or even complete daily tasks alone.
Again, this is a silly example, but analysts have linked Cinderella’s behaviors to dependent personality disorder. She consults her mice and Fairy Godmother for every decision until the end of the movie.
Personality disorders are not something to be ashamed of. Many characters (and people) who display symptoms of these disorders go on to be successful and lead normal lives. But untreated, some disorders could cause harmful behavior.
Can Personality Disorders Be Treated?
Do you recognize these symptoms within yourself and others? It might be time to book an appointment with a therapist. Talk therapy is one of the most effective forms of treatment for all personality disorders (medication helps some, but is relatively ineffective for others.) Reach out to a professional for more information on how these disorders are diagnosed and treated.