Do I have a personality disorder?
January 22, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Do I have a personality disorder?

I broke up with a guy a while ago and looking back I wouldn't be surprised if he had a personality disorder or mental health issue. The whole thing made ME think there was something wrong with ME. People say you're attracted to people who are similiar in some way, even if you don't know it consciously. I am seeing a therapist now. And I've looked up personality disorders. I don't *think* I have one but I do have several traits from the ones listed, like...rigid attention to detail/following rules/perfectionism/intrusive and unplesant thoughts (this is a big concern for me- the ONLY thought like this I have is harming my parents when I near them, which I believe is subconsious talk because of lingering resentment for how I was treated by them during my childhood. They come and go and I've gotten better about acknowledging them, realizing they are not something I would act on, and not getting AS upset when they pop up, and letting them pass out of my head while distracting myself. BUt they still make me worry I may be a bit...crazy? And I worry a LOT especially in my past but have learned how to be more easy going.

I've always been shy as a child and took things very seriously to heart, and it took breaking away from my parents to gain some independence and break out of my shell. I also had a less than desirable upbringing with my parents and that's a big part of my therapy talk (emotional abuse/neglect, thrown into a mothering role of a younger sibling...resulted in some self injurous behavior but that was a one time period of time and never happened again, it was a coping mechanism. I have lingering shame from that). I'm now working on being more assertive and it feels good. My mother had a horrible upbringing which she passed onto me to some extent. I suffer from low self esteem but have been improving on that. For a long time I felt inferior to others but again I'm improving on that. I know I'm equal and deserve the best. I also was raised in the orthodox faith and got caught up in the "rules" which I so often failed, which may be why I am now so rule-oriented. I have left the faith and attend a separate church on my own, apart from my parnets, and am happy with my choice. I still struggle with guilt (religion and sex w/ boyfriends for example, which a lot of people probably do...never had a "talk" about sex which I also resent my parents for on some level...).

A lot of these things are improving now that I'm out of relationships so I know they weren't the best relationships to be in. I'm just now getting happier and healthier (mentally). I always felt I need to be accepted by everyone (which I figure most people want?) but I know not everyone will like me and I only need to be accepted by MYSELF. I still struggle with thinking people deliberately do things to upset me (people in traffic, at work, etc) but recently I think to myself, most people try their best and are not trying to annoy me. Sometimes it's hard to control my emotions (but actually this was mostly when I was living at home years ago and got in fights with my mom who I know has issues, and also mostly when I was in relationships that went real bad).

So I see some traits that are parts of personality disorders but I am also working to change my thought even if I had a hint of a disorder, at least I'm changing, because I want to. And it's hard work. I don't want to fall into a danger of trying to perfect myself but I do want to be a healthy, socialable person who at some point is capable of being with another healthy partner. And I know I have to work through this stuff, first, to do that, b/c in the past I've felt so messed up that it would never be possible to get healthy and be with someone else who is healthy.
posted by dt2010 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do I have a personality disorder?

If this is your question, your therapist is most likely to give you the answer you need.
posted by mazola at 7:42 AM on January 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Respectfully, people on the internet might not be the best people to determine whether you have a personality disorder. It might be good to talk to a professional. You seem comfortable with the language of therapy, and you seem like you have a lot of things you'd like to talk about.
posted by box at 7:42 AM on January 22, 2011

Upon rereading, I seem to have missed the part where you say you're seeing a therapist. I think that's good. Your therapist would be a good person to talk to about these feelings and concerns.
posted by box at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't *think* I have one but I do have several traits from the ones listed

Personality disorders are matters of degree. Pretty much everyone on earth is rigid sometimes or has unpleasant thoughts sometimes. If it's seriously interfering with your life, it MIGHT be a disorder... but "feeling guilty for ever ever thinking this was" doesn't count as interfering with your life. The problem here is your guilt, not your personality.

Make this the subject of your next therapy appointment!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:48 AM on January 22, 2011

My buddy picked up a DSM IV a couple years ago, and we all went through it on a lark to see what we all had.

The list was looooooong.

We're all "normal", healthy, perfectly fine people. (Mostly.) ha

You probably have nothing to worry about.
posted by phunniemee at 7:49 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

BUt they still make me worry I may be a bit...crazy? And I worry a LOT especially in my past but have learned how to be more easy going.

In my experience people who worry about being crazy pretty much aren't.

It sounds like you've got a good start on feeling better, what with ditching poisonous relationships and evaluating the ones that are left. Happiness, contentment, bonhomie—these things don't magically appear (most of the time) but are cultivated with dedication and hard work/thought. It's good that you're seeing positive aspects of the facets of your life, take that and run with it. One thing you might try is working to become more empathetic. In every situation where you start to wonder about your potential personality disorders, stop and consider the situation from the point of view of someone else involved.

Anyway, sounds like you're on the right track, and your personality checks out fine on all my registers. Keep it up!
posted by carsonb at 7:51 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

My buddy picked up a DSM IV a couple years ago, and we all went through it on a lark to see what we all had.

Never, ever do this unless you are very clearly, 100% definitely and perhaps even physically on a lark. That's a small bird.
posted by carsonb at 7:59 AM on January 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

Do I have a personality disorder?

Expert mental health professionals are loathe to make diagnoses of personality disorders even after working with a given patient for years -- and with good reason. Strangers on the internet are in no position to answer the question, and doing so would be an absolute disservice to you.

We all have our quirks and coping mechanisms. It's much less helpful to be tagged with a diagnostic label (there is no magic pill for personality disorders), than it is to try and figure out which of your defense mechanisms might be setting you back or hurting you specifically, and how best to try to address them. That really is what therapists are for.
posted by drpynchon at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I try to stay out of these type of questions because usually 10 pple pop in with “I have this trait, this trait, all of us think we have X.” This is one of the few times I don't see that, or maybe it isn't an ADHD question, who knows.

So I just want to point out one way to interpret that sort of information and then another way to answer the question, which doesn’t really involve us.

If you run across the symptoms for personality disorder X, ADHD, whatever, pick up the diagnostic manual. Then look carefully at the requirements; it is rarely to never a trait or 2 traits. Usually, you will see something along the lines of “must have 5 or more.” So don’t pick one train and then think you have a problem. Another thing that I would like to point out is that in those criteria, one of the conditions is also “must cause significant social, work, etc” criteria. So if you lose a pencil every 6 months, you probably would not go to a doctor and say “I have ADHD, I have a problem at work 1X every few years because I lose a pencil” Now to try to answer the question – I would look at the diagnostic criteria, keeping all of this in mind. You could also ask someone who knows you will if they think that you have problems in X or Y because of symptom A (just for other feedback, maybe you are misidentifying the problem). I would also go through that list then with a specialist, which may not be a therapist but a psychiatrist – just confirm it is something he or she is qualified to do.

Also, can’t find the word for this phenomenon, but you describe with the car and other’s motivation is extremely common. There have been studies done and if someone cuts the driver off, he or she thinks the other person is a jerk, did it intentionally, etc. Now if the same driver cuts someone off, the driver thinks that he or she is distracted and had a good reason.
posted by Wolfster at 8:28 AM on January 22, 2011

People say you're attracted to people who are similiar in some way, even if you don't know it consciously.

Yeah, people also say that Capricorns shouldn't marry Leos. Don't put too much stock in that.

More specifically (and hopefully more helpfully): There are a lot of people who believe that being in a relationship with a messed-up person is some sort of sign that you're messed up, and it was the intrinsic messed-up-ness of the both of you that drew you together. That if you were totally fine and healthy, you'd never have ended up with someone who wasn't. It sounds like you've heard something like that and taken it to heart.

It's not true. And moreover, it's a kind of magical thinking. "All I have to do is make sure there's nothing wrong with me, and then nobody can ever hurt or disappoint me, because I'll only ever end up in relationships with good people!"

Yes, sometimes people are attracted to people who resemble them in their messed-up-ness, but it doesn't follow from that that a (former) relationship with someone messed-up says anything about you. People who are messed up in a way that makes it very difficult to maintain a loving relationship, but who want to be in a loving relationship anyway, tend to be very good at hiding the messed-up-ness when starting up a relationship. That's why abusive relationships aren't abusive to begin with, why serial cheaters start off by giving every appearance of perfect faithfulness. They're typically far, far better at fooling people than their partners are at spotting when they're being fooled. And there's nothing you can do (well, short of avoid relationships entirely) to absolutely guarantee you'll never end up with one. Making sure you're happy with yourself, and you have healthy ideas of what a relationship should be, will give you a much better chance of spotting red flags and acting on them before the relationship starts or gets very far - but it still won't be an absolute guarantee against a messed-up person getting close to you in the first place.

So, yeah, don't beat yourself up for ending up with someone who was bad for you. It doesn't necessarily Say Something about you.
posted by Catseye at 8:34 AM on January 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Everybody has personality traits that are associated with one disorder or another. Really, the questions you want to ask yourself are:

A) Regardless of the cause, am I engaging in behaviors or thought patterns that are impacting my personal well-being in a negative way?

B) What can I do to change them?

Maybe you need therapy and/or medication, maybe you don't. Going to a therapist is a good start, because they can help you answer both of those questions.
posted by empath at 8:42 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, yarly. These labels are made up to describe people and then they take on a life of their own. They are reified, made into "things" -- then we worry - "do I have that thing, that disorder, that diagnosis"?

We all have defensive styles (see David Shapiro's _Neurotic Styles_) which we have developed to cope with assaults from childhood. If you don't have one type, you have another.

And we all "have" traits that are in the DSM. The DSM is great for certain kinds of research (largely conducted by people with the very OCD personality traits you mention in your post) and for filling out insurance forms. It's not good for much else.

Objectifying yourself by thinking you "have" a "personality disorder" is not really helpful -- actually, it's just another manifestation of those very traits you're concerned about. BUT, that said, if we're going to talk about those kinds of rigid OCD-esque characteristics you're worried about ("rigid attention to detail/following rules/perfectionism/intrusive and unplesant thoughts"), then it's important to learn that that type of symptomatology (the obsessive-compulsive-rigid) type is actually considered to be in the family of Anxiety Disorders. The behaviors you don't feel good about are actually attempts at dealing with ("binding" is the official term) anxiety.

So -- even though you're mostly concerned with the personality trait stuff you see in yourself, it's the anxiety that needs to be dealt with (that is, the emotional effects of a difficult and traumatic upbringing) first and foremost, not the symptoms that are an attempt to deal with the anxiety.

(and, "looking yourself up" and worrying about it are just more of the same -- trying to bind your anxiety by using rigid beliefs (in this case, those displayed in the DSM) to organize your experience, but having those attempts backfire into MORE anxious thoughts)

And that's why you're in therapy, and that's great. Stick with the part about your being a great person who deserves better.
posted by DMelanogaster at 10:11 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having a personality disorder is not the end of the world, nor is being crazy. I personally cannot diagnose you with one, and I don't think any of us here on the interweb can do so responsibly, but I just want to say that if you do have a personality disorder, it doesn't mean you're a bad person.

Personality disorders, categorically, are difficult to digest. The easiest, simplest, most harmful way to think of a personality disorder is to think that the sufferer is a bad person. And that is probably a good part of why therapists don't diagnose them more: they carry with them a certain degree of victim-blaming. Take, for instance, borderline personality disorder. If you look through the archives here on MeFi, you'll find that a lot of people are happy to say things like, "People with BPD are crazy and bad and should be cut out of your life immediately!"

Most of us don't have those kinds of negative reactions to depression, or anxiety, but when the larger diagnosis of a personality disorder comes to light, the stigma is overwhelming. I think part of that is because there is a suggestion that there is something wrong with your personality, the very thing that makes you you.

Realistically, though, if you have enough traits to qualify for a BPD diagnosis, or even a diagnosis of something as difficult and painful as anti-social personality disorder, you're ahead of the game by being in therapy and working on treating it. So don't worry about the actual diagnosis: instead think carefully about your actions, and your reactions, and work with your therapist to find strategies to deal with the specific problems you're having.

For instance, everyone has intrusive thoughts to some degree. For some of us, they're thoughts about how much we suck, and how we don't deserve to live. For others, the thoughts are about contagions or harmful behaviors. What matters is not that we have these intrusive thoughts, but that we learn to cope with them.

So please, don't jump to the conclusion that you're "bad" or "crazy," whether you do or don't have a personality disorder. It's not helpful to think along those lines. Remember that we're all crazy, to some degree, and that your own craziness can be addressed in therapy.
posted by brina at 11:00 AM on January 22, 2011

Seriously? You sound like someone on the path of growth and recovery.

When you grow up with a less than lovely family dynamic, it often takes work to undo the conscious and unconscious programming. You make poor relationship choices sometimes until you learn better. You try on and discard coping mechanisms. It's all a part of growing yourself into the person you've always imagined you can be.

That's about it.

Congratulations on being emotionally healthy and normal!
posted by jbenben at 11:01 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing what everyone else said about diagnostic criteria being a matter of degree and not type.

Wolfster: Also, can’t find the word for this phenomenon, but you describe with the car and other’s motivation is extremely common. There have been studies done and if someone cuts the driver off, he or she thinks the other person is a jerk, did it intentionally, etc. Now if the same driver cuts someone off, the driver thinks that he or she is distracted and had a good reason.

This is the fundamental attribution error.
posted by Fuego at 11:25 AM on January 22, 2011

I tend to adopt the position that, if I'm seeing a therapist, and I'm being open with my therapist, and the therapist isn't suggesting any sort of pathology or trying to refer me to someone who could address that stuff - then chances are, I don't have any obvious or apparent psychological disorder.
posted by Sara C. at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2011

So here's the thing. A lot of mental health professionals don't even take diagnostic criteria from the current DSM-IV-TR hard-and-fast-level seriously. For most MHPs, "Having X Disorder" is worlds less important than feeling afraid because of unpleasant thoughts, wanting to be more assertive, wanting happier and healthier connections with other people, etc...--all of the real ways that you feel things in your life, not whether you can be classified. I don't even document a diagnosis at all unless a client is paying by insurance. I might be thinking in my head, "hmm, lots of symptoms that appear like PTSD" but I'm spending my energy being far, far, far more concerned with how we work to help the person stop experiencing traumatic nightmares or flashbacks than with calling them a person with PTSD and waving my magical diagnosis wand over them.

A few more points:
- Personality disorders are undergoing a huge overhaul in the new version of the DSM, because the way they're currently defined is admittedly weird, and a significant portion of the professional psychological community doesn't think it works that way anymore.
- You are never going to be qualified to diagnose yourself anyway because you can't see your own traits objectively, whereas a MHP is able to ask the right questions or take context into account such that we can see what things might be connected or correlated or sometimes just red herrings. Checking out the DSM criteria for anything will mean that you think you have every diagnosis, because you'll relate a little to everything (which is normal, because humans are built to be empathetic and seek out ways to relate themselves to others--but that is NOT the same as meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCPD or BPD, which it sounds like you have looked up). This happens to mental health professionals and medical students during their training, too, but we all learn at some point not to take it seriously.
- In general, people who really and truly have personality disorders are: a) totally un-self-aware and don't worry that they have a personality disorder, b) not of the opinion that anything is wrong with them, c) not concerned about or motivated to change very much (because they're not really feeling like anything's going poorly for them or not working well), and d) not likely to change, even with therapeutic treatment.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:17 PM on January 22, 2011

I think you have quite a few traits associated with OCD. That's not so out of the ordinary, though - I looked up the incidence of anxiety disorders and it's quite high, around 18%. It might be a good idea to find a specialist in anxiety disorders to help you with your treatment. It sounds like you are doing CBT, and you may find even more effective strategies with a proper diagnosis, especially if your current therapist isn't aware of treatments in that particular area.

The other reason to get a diagnosis is that you seem to be very interested in why you are the way you are, and that is something that CBT tends not to be concerned with. I think you might be mixing psychodynamic explanations that draw on family relationships in your childhood with neurochemical and genetic accounts of anxiety. It might be that your intrusive thoughts of harming your parents were triggered by the way they treated you, but if that hadn't happened, you'd probably have intrusive thoughts about something else. Talking to an anxiety specialist could help you figure out which parts of yourself are rooted in your brain chemistry and which come from your history.

You also seem to be concerned about "correct" behavior, and making sure that you fit in with society and other people's expectations. CBT might be encouraging you to think that way, as abnormal you vs. normal others, because that's the only standard you have for deciding if your behavior ought to be different. So you might benefit from talking to a different kind of therapist to talk through some things and help you decide for yourself how you want to be, in conjunction with your current approaches.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:50 PM on January 22, 2011

Personality disorders are largely unscientific bullshit.

so_gracefully is right, except for this : c) not concerned about or motivated to change very much (because they're not really feeling like anything's going poorly for them or not working well), and d) not likely to change, even with therapeutic treatment.

People with borderline personality disorder tend to use a lot of mental/physical health services because they certainly do feel like something is wrong. They also tend to change with appropriate therapeutic treatment. I can't speak to the other personality disorders because I'm not as familiar.

Anyway, seems like you think you have obsessive compulsive personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, but realistically, they're so dissimilar I have to think that you're way off base. They're not mix-and-match, either; having a few traits from one disorder and a few traits from another disorder doesn't give you a general personality disorder.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:05 PM on January 22, 2011

(By personality disorders are largely unscientific bullshit I mean that the diagnostic criteria for many of the personality disorders are sketchy and unreliable. Certainly there is some validity to the criteria for some of the personality disorders, but it's a very troublesome category. Hope that makes sense.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:07 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about your question. How much does anxiety affect your life? Are you generally able to keep a job? Do you maintain friendships? Is there a lot of diagnosed mental illness in your family? If you're able to live pretty successfully, you're probably reasonably healthy. Maybe your ex- identified you as vulnerable and easily exploited, and is making you feel like there's something wrong with you.

Work on the issues that limit you, esp. the negative thoughts. Develop an idea of the person you want to be, and work on becoming that person, not just moving away from the negatives. You sound like you're very introspective and self-critical. Try to make those traits work for you, and become the person you want to be.
posted by theora55 at 11:35 AM on January 23, 2011

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