Personality Disorder Myths

A client with a personality disorder once described their experience to me. They described it like this: Imagine living your life, watching your actions like a TV screen. Like you couldn’t control what you’re doing and no one understands what you’re going through. No one believes you when you tell them you feel like you’re not in control and you don’t know how to explain it.

Personality disorders are incredibly difficult to comprehend. Because of this, personality disorders are rarely portrayed in the media, and even less commonly portrayed accurately. Rarely are personality disorders named in the media. The primary example is Girl, Interrupted. Angelina Jolie plays a woman with Antisocial Personality Disorder and Winona Ryder plays a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder (which is a terrible portrayal of Borderline).
It is difficult to adequately show what personality disorders are really like because it is best understood over  time. For instance, Morello from Orange is the New Black mostly likely suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, if not a combination of disorders. If you’ve watched the show in its entirety, you’ll be able to see the wide range of reactions she has to people, experiences, and more. Morello has the best quote about living with a personality disorder that I have ever run across:

“I’m f*cking everything up, okay? It’s happening again. I’m watching it happening and I can’t stop myself.”


General Personality Disorder Criteria

Unlike other mental health disorders, personality disorders all have the same core criteria. There are 5 core criteria that must be met, as well as criteria for the specific personality disorder. The 5 core criteria are:

  • Significant impairments, problems with self-identity or self-direction, as well as interpersonal functioning (think intimacy or ability to empathize)
  • One or more pathological (“bad”) personality trait (detachment from others, disinhibition, antagonism, psychoticism, or negative affectivity)
  • The same impairments are relatively stable across situations and time
  • The impairments are not better explained by the normal developmental stage or the culture of the person
  • The impairments are not due specifically to drugs or another medical condition (such as trauma to the head)



1. Personality disorders are all the same.

There are actually 3 clusters, or groups, of personality disorders.

  • Cluster A contains “suspicious” type disorders, such as Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, and Schizotypal Personality Disorder.
  • Cluster B contains “emotional and impulsive” type disorders, such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  • Cluster C contains “anxious” type disorders, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder,  Avoidant Personality Disorder, and Dependent Personality Disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously called Multiple Personality Disorder, is not listed with the rest of the personality disorders because it is the result almost exclusively as a result of significant, horrific trauma.


2. Personality disorders are just an excuse to act irrationally.

For this particular myth, I would like to refer you back to Morello’s quote. The symptoms of personality disorders, like other mental health disorders, cannot be controlled by will. Unlike other mental health disorders, medications are rarely helpful in managing symptoms.

3. Personality disorders are rare.

The DSM reports about 15% of U.S. adults have one or more personality disorders.

4. People with personality disorders just want attention.

If you can’t tell from Morello’s quote, people with personality disorders don’t want attention (usually); they typically want normalcy, stability, and a sense of control.

5. People with personality disorders are just difficult. Their diagnoses aren’t real.

Please refer back to Number 4.

6. People with personality disorders are simply stubborn and selfish.

By definition, personality is an enduring pattern of mental and behavioral traits. The shorter version of this is that it’s how you respond to the world around you. People with personality disorders have maladaptive, or “bad”, patterns of responding to the world.
Because personality traits are enduring, it’s incredibly difficult to control these responses. People with personality disorders are not selfish or stubborn but rather people who are struggling with watching their own reactions like it was a television show.
Personality Disorder Myths

Next week I will be sharing more information on Borderline Personality Disorder.

Your Turn

Where did you first hear about personality disorders? What did you learn about them?

8 thoughts on “Personality Disorder Myths

  1. That’s so interested. I can honestly say I used to believe some of those myths… Even after learning about personslity disorders back in high school. Thanks for clearing it up.

  2. I have been dealing with a friend who was diagnosed with Bipolar, but I think she might have a personality disorder and I am trying to learn about what she is going through. I find it hard to understand sometime, but am trying to be patient with her. Thanks for this list.

    1. Absolutely! It’s very difficult to differentiate Borderline Personality Disorder from Bipolar Disorder because they have so many overlapping characteristics. I’ll be writing more about Borderline Personality Disorder next week if you want to stop back in to read about it.

  3. Very clear and informative post-Michelle. I love that you state the myth and then the truth. We all hear/read/see so much untruth about things we can not see or clearly understand. So learning concrete truths is so important. My grandmother has “problems” Doctors are trying to diagnose, much of it mental. It is very hard to deal with as we don’t know or really understand how that person see, hear and feel things. We are trying to be patient and understanding.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful! Mental health is a very complex subject and takes a great deal of patience to understand, name, and treat various types of disorders. It takes a great deal of patience and understanding from family members, as well. You make a great point when you say it’s impossible to know what another person is experiencing. This is very true. A common thing I hear in my line of work is “their truth,” or what their reality is. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this information – I wish more people would take the time to educate themselves! My cousin has diagnosed BPD, and it’s so heartbreaking. You’re right – that quote from Morelli is exactly on point with my cousin, she knows when she’s making things a mess and she just can’t seem to stop herself. Because she’s aware, a lot of her immediate family think that means that she *should* be able to stop “If you know what you’re doing, just quit it!” – If only it were that easy.

    1. Thank you for reading. I’m sorry to hear about your cousin’s diagnosis and her family’s response! Working with personality disorders is so difficult because of what you said (they should be able to stop).

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