Personality disorders are hard to understand, but easy to recognize.
Why are they easy to recognize?
Because people with full-blown, diagnosable personality disorders will make YOU feel like you are losing your mind, because their behavior is influenced by an inner turmoil that you can't realize or understand, because you can't see their feelings.
How can you tell if someone has a personality disorder or they are just being a jerk?
A person who tailgates is acting like a jerk, but that same person might be a generous spirit, a nice person in a big hurry, and having a really bad manners day. Happens, you know? Isolated incidents of jerkery are common in human beings, as we are imperfect, so messing up is perfectly normal. If a person can learn from their mistakes and can feel bad about those mistakes, the person is not a jerk, in general, but they will still do jerky stuff.
A person who continuously makes others miserable or uncomfortable is usually labeled as a jerk, but a pervasive pattern of specific jerkness is what defines the difference between being a jerk and having a personality disorder.
And this is when it’s important to be specific!
When a person is diagnosed with a specific personality disorder, it is because they are...
“…demonstrating enduring maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition and inner experience, exhibited across many contexts and deviating markedly from those accepted by the individual's culture. These patterns develop early, are inflexible and are associated with significant distress or disability.”
I nabbed that definition from Wikipedia because it’s good. The words in BOLD lettering are so very important and I cannot stress enough just how important these words are when one is trying to understand how a personality disorder is diagnosed.
When a person’s personality is in the throes of development, usually in the first few years of life, a combination of genetics, environment and experience create in them, an inner reality that doesn’t match the outer experience of those around them, who don’t share their specific genetics, environment, and most of all their experience.
If the world sees a tinge of pink, they see red. Blood red!
The secret ingredient for creating a wickedly dysfunctional personality disorder is an enduring pattern of negative experience combined with a predisposition for a mood disorder.
It’s strange to think that a person could have such a distorted view with regard to reality, but it’s more common than you might think!
Think of it this way, a person with a personality disorder just isn’t in synch with those around him. They process information differently, usually in a more intense and extreme manner, causing them to act impulsively and experience things with a fierce intensity. So often, people whose behavior acts as a “trigger” that sets off the explosion in a person with a personality disorder don’t even realize they did anything wrong. Because they didn’t! Do anything wrong that is.
Simple example? Let me tell you about Ben and Julie, made up names, but a real story!
Ben and Julie start dating on July 1st. Only July 5th, Ben tells Julie that he loves her, and gives her a beautiful bracelet. Ben calls and texts Julie everyday, several times a day, and becomes upset when she doesn’t pick up or reply immediately. On July 7th, Ben accuses Julie of cheating on him and calls her a bad name. Julie apologizes and explains to Ben that she was in a meeting at work and didn’t have her cell phone with her. Ben apologizes, says that he is the worst person in the world and that Julie should break up with him, because she deserves better. Julie is nervous, but forgives Ben.
July 10th. Ben notices that Julie isn’t wearing the bracelet he gave her when they are at a party together. He shoves her up against a wall, calls her another name, and accuses her of feeling ashamed of their relationship. Julie tells Ben that she isn’t wearing the bracelet because it’s very delicate and since they will be swimming and playing volleyball, she left it at home. Ben cries, overwhelmed by Julie’s care and consideration, and is so disgusted by his behavior, he gets drunk at the party and cuts his wrist with a blade in the bathroom to prove to Julie how sorry he is for his behavior.
July 15th, after not seeing each other for a few days, Ben asks Julie to move in with him. Julie asks Ben to slow down a bit, tells him that she is overwhelmed, and just wants to take it slow, that she’s worried about his extreme behavior. Ben screams obscenities at Julie, threatens her, and rips the bracelet off her wrist. Julie and Ben go their separate ways. An hour later, Ben calls Julie and asks for forgiveness, professes his love, etc. Julie tells Ben that she thinks it’s probably a good idea for them not to see each other anymore, and asks him not to contact her again. Ben threatens suicide and hangs up. Ben proceeds to call, email, text, and show up at Julie’s home and work, unannounced, alternately threatening her with harm and asking for forgiveness.
RUN JULIE RUN!
All this in two weeks. Two weeks! Exhausting, right? Clearly Ben is unstable. Ben needs help. Is Ben a jerk? Sure seems like it, but although his behavior is very jerky, his love/hate mentality, self-harming gestures, complete lack of emotional regulation and distress intolerance gives him away as a person with a personality disorder. Is this example extreme?
Maybe, but I’ll bet you know someone like Ben AND someone like Julie. This particular example is a severe case of Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s scary, right? Because Ben hurts himself and Julie in response to what he perceives as threats, events that most “normal” people wouldn’t react to in such extreme ways.
By the way, Julie ran! She also ended up having to get a restraining order.
Do all people with Borderline Personality Disorder act this extreme? NO! But they FEEL this extreme. People with this particular personality disorder suffer great emotional distress. They are impulsive, they often engage in self-harming behavior such as cutting or abusing drugs. A person with Borderline Personality Disorder makes everything about them, and they simply cannot help it. It's extreme, intense, and exhausting both to them and to those around them.
“Borderlines,” as they are often called, love you or hate you. There is no middle ground. They are among the most difficult to treat patients, and even the most experienced and grounded mental health professional struggles when dealing with a Borderline.
With a lot of help and therapy to help them identify these feelings and behaviors and learn ways to better cope with disappointment, distress, and fear, people with BPD can improve, but they will always struggle. They just FEEL things so deeply and powerfully.
There are many different personality disorders. Read about them by clicking HERE. The most important thing YOU need to know about them is that if you find yourself ripping your hair out, walking on eggshells, distressed constantly, and unable to communicate with someone because their reactions and actions are harmful and extreme, you are probably dealing with someone who has a personality disorder. And if your life is full of extremes and interpersonal difficulty, I highly recommend you seek out a mental health professional and get some awesome new coping skills and support.
Do not confuse mood with personality. Moods come and go. Personality is pervasive, ongoing, never ending - your personality is YOU. Personality disorders are personal and wreak havoc on interpersonal relationships. Their negative impact affects the quality of relationships with everyone, in every situation, always.
They are hard to understand, but easy to identify. Good luck.