If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who has a personality disorder (PD), it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into, according to Megan Hosking, a psychiatric intake clinician at Akeso Clinics.
A PD is a type of mental disorder in which one has a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. This person may have trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people, including relationships, but this does not mean they can’t be in one – if their disorder is effectively managed.
“Breaking up with someone because they have a mental disorder is not necessary – however, it is important to look at the bigger picture and the effect their illness has on both or one of the partners, particularly if it’s not sufficiently understood or managed,” said Hosking.
It is possible for someone with a personality disorder to be functioning well and managing their disorder appropriately, which means the possible negative impact would be far less.
Here are seven things you should know, before you enter a relationship with a person who presents with PD.
1. Personality disorders are a mental illness
They did not “make it up”. Personality disorders are a class of mental disorders.
Some experts believe that events occurring in early childhood exert a powerful influence upon behaviour later in life, while others believe that people are genetically predisposed to personality disorders.
2. There are different types
The types are grouped into three categories:
- Suspicious – paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal and antisocial personality disorders
- Emotional and impulsive – borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders
- Anxious – avoidant, dependent and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders
Many people with one personality disorder also have signs and symptoms of at least one additional personality disorder, and it’s not necessary to exhibit all the signs and symptoms listed for a disorder to be diagnosed, notes the U.S. Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms are also varied, depending on the type of disorder the individual is experiencing.
3. How soon can it be noticed?
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, symptoms of personality disorders are usually first displayed in childhood or adolescence, and usually go on for a long time. However, this depends to some extent on the type of personality disorder and the situation or events surrounding the individual.
Borderline personality disorder, for example, usually peaks in adolescence and early adulthood, and may become less prominent by mid-adulthood in some individuals, or not. On the other hand, narcissistic personality disorder may not be identified until middle age
4. They can be effectively managed
“It is possible for someone with a personality disorder to be functioning well and managing their disorder appropriately, which means the possible negative impact would be far less,” said Hosking.
There is evidence to suggest that a number of treatments are helpful in reducing distress and symptoms, and improving quality of life. Intensive individual or group psychotherapy, combined with antidepressants, can be quite effective for some people.
5. Managing conflict might be difficult, but not impossible
According to Hosking, with any relationship the potential for conflict exists – but it may be more prevalent with a partner with a personality disorder. “Managing conflict effectively is far better than trying to avoid it; this should preferably be done in a safe environment using statements such as ‘I feel’ rather than pointing fingers with a ‘You are…’ (which is then followed by a negative labelling word).
“You can, for instance, support your partner through finding out how they are doing or feeling, how their treatment is going – and also finding out what they may need from you in the relationship too.
6. You may need to provide extra support
“Support can vary, so it’s best to have an open and honest discussion with your partner about the expectations in your relationship and your active role in their ongoing recovery. This could include support groups or sessions, or participating in mindfulness exercises together,” Hosking explains.
7. Be honest with yourself
Can you handle it?
Not only your partner’s, but your own mental health and wellbeing will also need to be understood well by yourself, as should your understanding of your own emotions and responses, Hosking advises. “If you find that the relationship is wearing you down, or you feel tired and drained from it, or you feel anxious and worried, these could all be signs that the relationship is not beneficial to you, and may be causing unnecessary stress in your life.”