Personality disorders

Posted by | December 02, 2018 | Mental health problems, Personality | No Comments

I often talk about personality disorders as part of Introductory Psychology at the University of New England. When I do, I ask students which personality disorder they consider closest to their own personality. Students raise their hand for this disorder or that, and I raise my hand for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which involves a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control. One year I told my research assistant about my putting myself closest to the obsessive-compulsive category, and she said: “Oh, no, you are not obsessive-compulsive; you are narcissistic.”

Narcissism  involves being self-centered, grandiose, and low in empathy, with an overwhelming need for admiration.  If Donald Trump comes to mind, you are not alone. Many psychology instructors use him as an example of the characteristic. Other political leaders fit the category as well.

Personality disorders as a group entail a rigid approach to life that interferes with functioning. Both men and women can have a personality disorder. It usually starts before the person reaches adulthood.

A person with a personality disorder usually does not want to change,  and even if he or she tries to change, the person may find the going difficult. The individual may have to overcome a genetic push in the direction of the personality disorder and usually has to change long-established habits. Making a positive change takes persistent, strong effort.

Short of having a personality disorder, a person might have traits of a personality disorder. The traits, such as having a very high level of self-confidence, can be adaptive, particularly in some situations. For  instance, politicians need a high level of self-confidence. So do musical and athletic performers. Even being low in empathy might have value in certain circumstances such as fighting in combat or playing an aggressive sport.

Usually, though, traits of personality disorders cause trouble, especially in relationships. The debonair man with perfect hair, who adores the new woman in his life one day, may reject her in a devastating manner the next day. That is particularly likely if she fails to show great admiration for him. The person who brags about how rich and popular he is may go into a rage when he is criticized for exaggerating his accomplishments.  

So how did I get pegged by my research assistant with best fitting narcissistic personality disorder? The following experience may have contributed. The research assistant and I published about a dozen research articles together – all studies that were my idea. As we worked on designing yet another study I had in mind, she disagreed strongly with some research method I wanted to use. I tried to persuade her that the method I had in mind was better than her idea. I could not budge her. Then I said to her: “Look at your CV and tell me whose name is listed first on every one of your publications. That is why we are going to do it my way.”

Maybe there is a bit of Donald Trump in all of us.


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