What are personality disorder clusters?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What are personality disorder clusters?
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What are the three main groups of personality disorders?

The newest edition of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders divides personality disorders into three categories based on their similarities.  Personality disorders are long-term or enduring patterns of behavior.  The old way of thinking about these issues was that this is just the way someone is and treatment was not likely to be successful.

Recently treatments for many of the personality disorders have become available.  Currently, we think of many of these personality disorders as problems of living which may occur in varying degrees.  Someone who is low in self-esteem might be described as low in narcissism.  If they were high in narcissism they might be lacking in the ability to empathize with others.  Below is a list of the clusters of Personality disorders with brief descriptions of the disorders in that cluster.  For longer discussions of the personality disorders see separate posts on the specific personality disorder.

Cluster A personality disorders.

This group of personality disorders includes people who appear odd or eccentric.  Among the Cluster A personality disorders, are Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder.

Paranoid Personality Disorder involves people who are more fearful of people, life, and events that would be warranted.  They are especially likely to think that other people are out to get them.

Those with Schizoid Personality Disorder are detached from others and seem to have little desire to have close personal relationships. They have less ability to express emotions.

In Schizotypal Personality Disorder, people are very uncomfortable in close relationships, have eccentric behavior and may have thinking or perceptual difficulties.

Cluster B personality disorders.

Cluster B personality disorders include things like Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Those with antisocial personality disorder seem to have little regard for others and their rights.  They don’t mind taking advantage of people around them.  This is different from those people who may make a life out of crime and intentionally steal from, or harm other.  Career criminals get a diagnosis of Adult antisocial behavior Z72.811.

People with Borderline Personality Disorder are likely to have a poor self-image, low self-esteem, fluctuating emotions and often are very impulsive in their relationships.  Those with Borderline Personality Disorder may also self-harm.

Histrionic Personality Disorder might be described as the typical “Sarah Bernhardt” actress.  Someone with histrionic personality disorder is excessively emotional and is always looking for more attention.

Cluster C personality disorders.

Cluster C personality disorders include disorders related to relationships with other people.  These personality disorders in Cluster C are thought to begin in early childhood. They include unusual ways of relating to close people in their life. This includes Avoidant Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.

People with Avoidant Personality Disorder avoid other people, feel that they’re inadequate, and are often very sensitive to criticism.

Those with Dependent Personality Disorder are the people likely to become co-dependents.   They are often submissive, clingy, with an excessive need to find someone who will take care of them and control their lives.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is different and separate from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  When the pattern of being obsessive-compulsive becomes a preoccupation with orderliness, perfection, control, having everything exactly the way they need it to be at all times, this moves from a single obsessive-compulsive behavior to the level of a continuing personality disorder.

In addition to the three personality disorder clusters, two other personality disorder characteristics are described in the DSM-5.  Sometimes a personality disorder can be the result of medical conditions.  The DSM-5 also allows for other specified personality disorder or other unspecified personality disorder when one exists that does not fit this list.

Each of these personality disorders is described more completely in other “What is” posts about that specific personality disorder.

As with the other things we are calling a mental illness this needs to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, your relationships your enjoyable activities or cause you personal distress.

Having mild forms of these disorders does not qualify unless it causes you problems.  In that case, you may have the issues, but you will not get the diagnoses. If the only time this happens is when under the influence of drugs or medicines or because of some other physical or medical problem these characteristics need to be more than your situation would warrant. These other issue needs treating first, then if you still have symptoms you could get this diagnosis.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

See also Recommended Books.    “What is.” and Personality Disorders

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