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Personality Disorder

Q: What is Personality Disorder?

Personality is how we as individuals usually think, feel, act and relate with one another. It defines who we are as a person. Our personalities are shaped by our upbringing, the culture we live in and the prevailing societal norms. When a person’s usual ways of thinking, feeling, relating to others and to their own selves become extreme within the society they live in, these “out of the ordinary” personalities can be classified as personality disorders. It leads to repeated problems with too much or too little emotions, impulses, patterns of thinking, abilities to study and work and most importantly, in relating with others. It leads to lifestyle problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, promiscuity and violence and a relative inability to pursue meaningful lives. These disorders are developmental in origin and tend to become evident in adolescence. However, a diagnosis should not be made until the person reaches adulthood (i.e. 21 years).

Personality Disorder

Q: What kinds of Personality Disorder are there?

Research suggests that persons with personality disorders tend to fall into three groups - Clusters A, B & C. Some people appear to act in slightly odd and eccentric manners and tend to move away from others and become socially isolated. These are individuals who do not wish to form a relationship with others (Cluster A personalities of paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal disorders). Another group appears to move towards people to deal with their lives in fearful and

dependent ways but are unable to form healthy relationships and tend to be quite clingy (Cluster C personalities of anxious, dependent and obsessive-compulsive personalities). They appear to be at the opposite extreme from the first group. In between these two groups are people who are very dramatic and erratic in their behaviours and who tend to move against others in aggressive and violent ways. (Cluster B personalities like Borderline, Antisocial, Narcissistic and Histrionic disorders).

Q: What is the treatment for Personality Disorder? How can the family and friends help?

At present, treatment for personality disorder usually includes psychological (counselling and psychotherapy) and physical (medication) treatments, but the cornerstone of treatment is psychotherapy. There are different ways of talking with a sufferer. Short-term therapies may last several weeks, while longer-term therapies can last years. Medication is used only as an adjunct to talking therapies, and never alone in a treatment regime. Caregivers who form a support system for patients are extremely important in the treatment and need to be co-opted sometimes. Caregivers often need to support themselves, and they can do this by approaching or seeking a referral to a Family Service Centre.

Q: I think my friend may have a Personality Disorder. What can I do?

You can help by giving emotional support to your friend. Try to find out what is bothering or distressing him/her. It is important to be non-critical and non-judgmental when talking to your friend. A quiet chat about what is going on can help to look into deeper issues that the person is struggling with. Avoid imposing your own values and ideas, but simply be present and listen.

Remember, such people can be quite rigid in the ways they think, feel and behave and trying to get them to conform to different ways of dealing with life will only make them more distressed. Depending on their underlying personality, they will then either move away from, or move against you. Those who belong to the third group will, on the other hand, get you to solve all their problems and become overly reliant on you.

You could also advise your friend to seek professional help or call local helplines like the Samaritans of Singapore (1800-221-4444), the Singapore Association for Mental Health (1800-283-7019), or IMH (6389-2200).


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