At No Fallen Heroes we are concerned about the mental health of military veterans especially as it relates to the unacceptable high rate of suicide. Mental health disorders like depression are known risk factors for suicide besides being characteristics that make a person feel miserable. There are personality disorders and there are personality traits. In considering personality traits vs disorders it is typically a matter of severity on one hand and consistency of the trait or disorder on the other.
What Is a Personality Trait?
Personality traits are habitual patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling. They may manifest themselves in all aspects of your life or only in selective situations or with selective people. Personality traits can also change over time. Introverted teenagers may find that when they leave home and a dominating father that their introversion goes away only to return when they visit their parents. Personality traits generally do not have huge or harmful effects on our lives.
What Is a Personality Disorder?
A personality disorder is a way of thinking and seeing the world that is outside the norm. It commonly goes with similarly different feelings and behavior. Personality disorders commonly exhibit themselves in all aspects of a person’s life but not always and in all situations. A person who has a narcissistic personality is not only focused on themselves but typically cold and even ruthless with others. This type of personality disorder can have far reaching effects on a person’s life and on the lives of those around them. Personality disorders most commonly do not change over time unless the person undergoes therapy and sometimes not even then.
People with personality disorder often are unable to empathize with others and generally do not see that their thoughts, feelings, and actions are out of the norm but rather are totally justified based on the world view of the person with the disorder.
Types of Personality Traits
There are five basic types of personalities or personality traits. There are introversion or extroversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Extroverts are sociable while introverts are shy and reserved. Agreeable people are kind as opposed to unagreeable people who are suspicious and self-centered. Neurotic people are generally sad and have some degree of emotional instability. Conscientious people are thoughtful and value to concerns and welfare of others. People who are open are typically creative.
Types of Personality Disorders
Personality disorders can be divided into three general groups. The first contains people who find it difficult to relate to others. They are seen as eccentric or odd by others who will often say that the person seems to live in their own fantasy world. Someone with a paranoid personality disorder and is very suspicious or distrustful fits into this group.
People in the second general grouping have trouble controlling or regulating their feelings. They commonly swing between very negative and very positive views of others. People see them as dramatic on the one hand and disturbing and unpredictable on the other. Someone with a borderline personality disorder fits into this grouping. They have unstable and intense relationships with others, are emotionally unstable, and often impulsively harm themselves.
The third general grouping of personality disorders includes people who experience fear and anxiety that is persistent and commonly overwhelming. As a result they are regarded as withdrawn or antisocial. An avoidant personality disorder fits into this grouping. These people are painfully shy and socially inhibited. They commonly feel inadequate and are very sensitive to rejection. These individuals long for closeness with others but are generally not confident enough to engage in close relationships.
Features Common to All Personality Disorders
As we noted, personality disorders commonly differ from traits in their severity and persistence. Stress typically makes their symptoms worse. Common features of personality disorders include being overwhelmed by distress, a sense of worthlessness, overwhelming anxiety, and excessive anger.
These individuals commonly avoid other people and feel emotionally disconnected and empty.
They find it difficult to manage any negative feelings without harming themselves by doing things like drinking excessively, using drugs or even overdosing.
Their behavior is typically seen as odd and they may be prone to lose contact with reality from time to time.
Individuals with personality disorders find it difficult to maintain professional careers or close and stable relationships.
Individuals with personality disorders often engage in substance abuse and suffer from mental health problems like depression.
Situations and Traits Versus Disorders of Personality
There are times when being too outgoing and kind can actually be dangerous to a person and their loved ones. And there are times when being very suspicious keeps a person and their family out of harm’s way. The difference between a personality trait and a disorder is often a matter of the reality of the situation one finds oneself in and the ability of the person to tune the intensity and persistence of their traits up and down to appropriately match what is going on in the world around them.