“There's still a belief that if you are diagnosed with a personality disorder, you are never going to recover. That's completely wrong.”
Our personality is expressed through the way we think, behave, and relate to others. It may be influenced by relationships with primary caregivers, life experiences, and our own individual nature.
By adulthood, your personality has developed with quite stable and predictable traits. Although moods can change as often as the weather, personality is like the ever-present blue sky above the clouds.
But when your long-term patterns of thinking and behaving are very different to the culture you live in, it can cause distress. It may mean you find it hard to sustain relationships or find your place in your community. If your thoughts and actions seem rigid to the point where you have trouble functioning day to day, you may have a personality disorder.
To find out whether you have this diagnosis, you will need to have an assessment with a GP, a clinical psychologist, or a psychiatrist.
We have some information on seeking professional support that can help you get started. Or you can take a look at the resources below.
A closer look
Personality disorders can improve as you age
Personality develops during childhood and adolescence, and by early adulthood there are definite patterns in the ways you think, feel, and behave. However, by the age of 30 to 40, impulsive and antisocial behaviours seem to reduce. (Source)
About 6.5 % of the adult population in Australia live with a personality disorder
Personality disorders also tend to co-exist with other disorders. A study has shown that people with a personality disorder were more likely to be younger and to have an anxiety disorder, an affective disorder, a substance use disorder, or a physical condition. (Source)
1-2% of people in Australia experience Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
BPD is characterised by having a low self-image and patterns of extreme mood changes, which often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. Examples of being impulsive include going on a spending spree, having unprotected sex, abusing substances, binge eating or self-harming behaviours. Previous experiences such as childhood abuse, exposure to unstable relationships or hostile conflicts are linked to BPD. (Source)
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have difficulty noticing their own fears
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is evident where a person has a pattern of high self-importance, the need to be admired, and a lack of empathy. MRI scans show that people with high narcissism or “self-love” have more difficulty noticing and naming their own emotions. They are often unable to recognise how their fear of rejection influences their decisions and behaviours. (Source)
Taking action for change
The treatments for personality disorders vary. Recovery often depends on the level of insight you have about your own challenges. Being willing to try a new way of doing things can be helpful.
Talk with a health professional such as a GP to find out more and understand the treatment options available. Talking therapies are recommended, particularly with a mental health professional who has specialised in personality. Medications can also be prescribed to treat the symptoms of some personality disorders.
Self-care is an important part of recovery. Improving the quality of your sleep and food, exercising regularly, connecting with supportive people, and doing enjoyable activities daily are some of the actions you can take towards positive change.
The biggest catalyst for change for us as a family was commencing DBT, dialectical behavioural therapy. For kids with personality disorders and fairly serious depression and anxiety, it can be just life-changing. I can honestly say that this therapy has been an absolute game changer.
People with Borderline Personality Disorder are accused of being 'manipulative', but we tend to lack social skills and actually are really bad at manipulating people. Behaviour like repeated self-harm and calling an ambulance is caused by being in extreme distress. It's a genuine call for help and treatment.
I had never heard of Borderline Personality Disorder before my psychologist diagnosed me. I wasn't reluctant about accepting the diagnosis, but I was shocked because mental illness wasn't spoken about in our family, so I had no idea what it was.
Helping someone with a personality disorder
Supporting someone with a personality disorder can be challenging because the person may not accept they have a problem. You can help them by learning as much as you can about the disorder and encouraging them to seek treatment with a mental health professional. Allowing time and space for the person to talk and open up about their experience, if they want to, can be helpful. Encourage their self-care through diet, exercise, and making time to relax. Help them to plan at least one enjoyable activity each day.
If you are in a close relationship with the person, it’s especially important to be patient and let them know that things can get better. Ask how you can help, encourage treatment, and accept that progress will take time. In helping someone with a personality disorder, it is important to look after yourself as well, and have good supports around you. Find out more about caring for someone with a mental health condition on the Support for carers page.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).