How to Help Someone With Personality Disorders
Dealing with a personality disorder can be incredibly difficult, whether you’re the one suffering or you’re offering a friend or family member support with their condition. These problems normally require the help of a professional who is knowledgeable and has the resources available to truly offer relief. Thankfully, there are centers all across the country qualified to provide these things.
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Understanding Personality Disorders
Personality disorders can vary greatly between individuals, something that can complicate a diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, personality disorders are grouped into clusters with similar disorders based on the types of behaviors patients exhibit. These are commonly sorted into groups:
- Cluster A disorders involve eccentric thoughts and behaviors. These include paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal personalities.
- Cluster B disorders involve amplified thoughts and actions. Disorders in this group range from the aloof antisocial patient to the narcissist.
- Cluster C disorders are based in fear. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and dependent or avoidant behaviors are commonly found in this classification.
A combination of disorders belonging to two or more clusters is common as well.
How to Diagnose a Personality Disorder
Many people who lack medical training use the Internet to diagnose themselves or their friends. It’s a trend that’s understandable but dangerous. Dr. Natasha Burgert claims that people searching for health information over the Internet often get distracted by information that makes them emotional. Once that happens, the diagnosis seems to stick whether it’s correct or not. Not only can you make yourself upset over nothing but also you could wind up reassured when you really need help.
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How to Recognize a Personality Disorder
That isn’t to say you can’t use online tools to determine whether or not you should seek help. When it comes to personality disorders, people sometimes resist seeing a doctor. They may think that others are blowing their symptoms out of proportion or, worse, that if they do seek help they’ll be judged instead of treated. Unless they’re seriously concerned, most people will avoid getting help.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the following are signs you or a friend may have an undiagnosed personality disorder:
- Consistent unusual behaviors that make it difficult to relate to others
- Bouts of irregular, alarming or alienating activity
- Emotional instability paired with intense personal relationships
- Dramatic, overly emotional displays aimed at drawing attention
- Fear of relationships or fears in life that justify odd behaviors
- Chronic avoidance, anxiousness or extreme shyness
Steps You Can Take to Help Someone With a Personality Disorder
Getting a diagnosis is a starting point for people who suffer from personality disorders. You may be worried about someone getting angry at you if you bring it up, but the alternative is much worse. Some personality disorders come with the risk of suicide or self-harm. Others include risky behaviors that could land someone in jail.
Once someone realizes that their thoughts and behaviors are having a bad impact on their lives, a diagnosis can help them find a way to work against those challenges. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy talking to someone about seeing a therapist.
Talking to Someone With a Personality Disorder
Mental health advocate Julie K. Hersch describes the five-stage process of acceptance that someone with mental personality issues typically goes through. It may help to tailor how you approach someone based on the stage of acceptance they appear to be in.
- Unaware. The majority of people living with a personality disorder don’t realize they have one, even if they realize they aren’t easy to live with. It’s best to share your concern by giving someone specific examples of problem behaviors and follow up by offering the resources needed to find a doctor, or make or attend an appointment.
- Denial. Most people who are told they have a personality disorder don’t believe it. It isn’t uncommon for them to get angry or defensive. Keep trying to share your concerns if someone is refusing help. Hersch says, “Be consistent and persistent. Enlist the help of family and friends.
- Resistance. When people first begin to accept there’s a problem, they fight the belief that it’s serious. They resist getting medical treatment and believe they can change their behaviors on their own. At this stage, encourage a family member or friend to make medical help a part of their personal treatment plan. However, in order to avoid future problems, Hersch recommends discussing therapy as a timed, temporary form of treatment with an end date in mind.
- Flakiness. Once they start therapy or medication, people with personality disorders often skip or stop treatment without warning. Be there to remind them that no one is perfect, no one is always at the top of their game, and that tomorrow offers new chances to make healthier choices.
- Acceptance. After receiving the support needed to overcome denial, resistance and struggles with staying in treatment, patients with these disorders may come to a place of acceptance. In these situations, treatments are seen as a top priority and appreciated as tools for healthy living.
Adolescents and Teens
It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between childhood behaviors, teen angst and true personality disorders. When in doubt, it’s best to get a professional opinion. Talking to a child or teen before or after that stage can be daunting. The Ventura County Behavioral Health Department recommends the following:
- Be mindful of labels. No one wants to be defined by an illness.
- Learn as much as you can so you can pass on information instead of assumptions.
- Focus on feelings and behaviors.
- Emphasize they have a treatable medical condition.
- Stay positive by choosing words like “challenges” instead of “problems.
- If your child is on medication, talk with them about side effects they might be having.
- Invite your child to talk to you whenever questions arise. The worst-case scenario is having to say, “I’m not sure, but we can find out the answer.
Learning to Cope With a Personality Disorder
There’s a misconception that personality disorders are always permanent when, in fact, many times these problems go away with the right treatment. Alexander Chapman, PhD, president of the DBT Centre of Vancouver, notes that hospital treatment effectively cures 70 percent of patients with borderline personality disorder. Of those patients, 94 percent won’t experience an episode again. The myths that all disorders are difficult-to-impossible to treat and guaranteed to reoccur are just that: bad information.
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How to Treat Personality Disorder
Therapy is the cornerstone of treatment for most personality disorders. One of the most effective new techniques is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It combines counseling with group therapy and training sessions. Patients are schooled in the arts of mindfulness, emotion regulation and distress tolerance. In contrast, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on controlling emotions by changing the thought processes that create them. In some instances, medication is helpful in controlling problematic behaviors as well.
Deciding Between Possible Personality Disorder Solutions
Because personality disorders can manifest themselves in different ways, one type of treatment shouldn’t be hailed as the best or most appropriate without a medical evaluation by an experienced doctor. Work with professionals who’ve treated personality disorder patients in the past and have kept current on treatments. These are the best people to look to for opinions on the most effective therapies and medications for people suffering from specific conditions.
Where to Find Personality-Related Treatment for a Friend or Family Member
Learning to deal with a friend or family member’s personality disorder can be difficult, especially if treatment hasn’t been embraced. DBT expert, Michael Baugh, LCSW, encourages people to validate what they can. For instance, focus on the things they have done right and remind yourself how you might act if you had the same problem. You can also search for a support group or work with your own therapist when supporting your loved one.
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