Understanding Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are complex mental health conditions that affect how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. Despite their prevalence, there are often misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding personality disorders. In this blog, we’ll delve into the intricacies of personality disorders, exploring their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options, to provide a comprehensive understanding of these often misunderstood conditions.

Understanding Personality Disorders: Personality disorders are characterized by enduring patterns of behaviour, cognition, and inner experience that deviate markedly from cultural expectations and cause distress or impairment in various areas of life. There are several types of personality disorders, grouped into three areas: Odd or Eccentric, Dramatic, Emotional, or Erratic, and Anxious or Fearful.


Types of Personality Disorders

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: Marked by distrust and suspiciousness of others, individuals with paranoid personality disorder often perceive threats where none exist and are reluctant to confide in others.

  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: Individuals with schizoid personality disorder tend to be detached from social relationships and have a limited range of emotional expression.

  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Marked by eccentric behaviour, odd beliefs or magical thinking, and difficulties with social relationships, schizotypal personality disorder shares some features with schizophrenia but is less severe.

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: Individuals with antisocial personality disorder disregard and violate the rights of others, lack empathy, and engage in impulsive and irresponsible behaviour.

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Marked by instability in mood, self-image, and interpersonal relationships, borderline personality disorder often involves intense fear of abandonment and self-destructive behaviours.

  • Histrionic Personality Disorder: Individuals with histrionic personality disorder seek attention and validation through dramatic and attention-seeking behaviour, often displaying exaggerated emotions and a need to be the centre of attention.

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Marked by a grandiose sense of self-importance, need for admiration, and lack of empathy for others, narcissistic personality disorder involves a preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, and beauty.

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder:
    Individuals with avoidant personality disorder have an intense fear of rejection and criticism, leading to avoidance of social situations and interpersonal relationships.Dependent Personality Disorder: Marked by an excessive need to be taken care of and a fear of separation, individuals with dependent personality disorder rely on others for decision-making and reassurance, often at the expense of their own autonomy.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder involves a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control, leading to rigid and inflexible behaviour patterns.


Common Symptoms and Characteristics: While each personality disorder has its own unique features, there are some common symptoms and characteristics that may be present across different types. These may include difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, unstable self-image, intense fear of abandonment, impulsivity, emotional instability, and impaired social functioning. Individuals with personality disorders may also experience significant distress and impairment in their daily lives.

Causes and Risk Factors: The exact causes of personality disorders are not fully understood, but they are believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Early childhood experiences, such as Trauma, neglect, or inconsistent parenting, may play a significant role in the development of personality disorders. Additionally, genetic predispositions and neurobiological factors may contribute to the risk of developing these conditions.

Diagnosis and Assessment: Diagnosing personality disorders can be challenging due to the complexity of symptoms and the overlap between different types. Mental health professionals typically use a comprehensive assessment process, including interviews, questionnaires, and observation of behaviour, to evaluate symptoms and determine the presence of a personality disorder. Diagnosis is guided by criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Treatment Options: Treatment for personality disorders often involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and support services tailored to the individual’s needs. Psychotherapy, particularly Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and schema therapy, is considered the cornerstone of treatment for many personality disorders. These therapies aim to help individuals develop coping skills, improve interpersonal relationships, and address underlying issues contributing to their symptoms.

Living with a Personality Disorder: Living with a personality disorder can present significant challenges, but with appropriate treatment and support, individuals can learn to manage symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. Building a strong support network, engaging in self-care practices, and adhering to treatment recommendations can all contribute to improved well- being and quality of life for individuals with personality disorders.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with NPD often have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, believing they are special or unique and deserving of special treatment. They may constantly seek attention, admiration, and validation from others, while showing little regard for the feelings or needs of others. People with NPD may have a sense of entitlement and expect others to cater to their needs and desires. They may also display arrogant and haughty behaviours, and have difficulty maintaining stable and healthy relationships due to their self-centredness and lack of empathy. NPD typically emerges in early adulthood and can significantly impact a person’s functioning and relationships. Treatment for NPD often involves therapy aimed at addressing underlying insecurities, improving interpersonal skills, and developing empathy and insight.

Therapeutic Approaches for Personality Disorders

Therapeutic approaches for treating personality disorders encompass a diverse range of modalities and techniques tailored to address the complex and multifaceted nature of these conditions. By combining evidence-based interventions with a compassionate and collaborative therapeutic relationship, individuals with personality disorders can gain insight, develop coping skills, and experience meaningful change and growth. Both Online Therapy and in person therapy sessions can be beneficial for the treatment of any personality disorder.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a widely used therapeutic approach for treating borderline personality disorder (BPD) and other personality disorders characterized by emotional dysregulation and interpersonal difficulties. DBT combines elements of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with mindfulness techniques to help individuals learn to manage their emotions, tolerate distress, and improve interpersonal relationships. Skills taught in DBT include emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness.

Schema Therapy: Schema Therapy is an integrative therapeutic approach that combines elements of cognitive behavioural therapy, attachment theory, and psychodynamic principles to address maladaptive patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaviour associated with personality disorders. Schema therapy focuses on identifying and challenging deeply ingrained schemas or core beliefs developed in childhood that contribute to dysfunctional coping mechanisms and interpersonal problems. Through experiential techniques and therapeutic strategies, individuals learn to develop healthier coping skills and build more adaptive ways of relating to themselves and others.

Transference-Focused Psychotherapy (TFP): Transference-Focused Psychotherapy (TFP) is a psychodynamic therapy developed for the treatment of borderline personality disorder. TFP focuses on exploring and interpreting the transference—the unconscious feelings, thoughts, and fantasies individuals project onto their therapist—within the therapeutic relationship. By examining and working through distortions in the therapeutic relationship, individuals gain insight into their internal conflicts, relational patterns, and emotional struggles, leading to greater self-awareness and change.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based therapy that aims to help individuals with personality disorders develop psychological flexibility—the ability to be present, open, and engaged with life’s experiences while acting in accordance with one’s values. ACT teaches mindfulness skills to help individuals observe and accept their thoughts and emotions without judgment, clarify their values and goals, and take committed action towards living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Benefits to Therapy for Personality Disorders

Living with a personality disorder can present significant challenges, impacting various aspects of one’s life, including relationships, emotions, and overall well-being. Our experienced therapists offer the potential for individuals with personality disorders to embark on a journey of healing, growth, and self-empowerment. By fostering self-awareness, enhancing coping skills, improving relationships, promoting emotional regulation, and fostering personal growth, therapy offers a path towards greater resilience, well-being, and fulfillment.

Developing Self-Awareness: One of the key benefits of therapy for personality disorders is the opportunity to develop self-awareness. Through introspection, reflection, and exploration of thoughts and feelings, individuals can gain insight into the underlying patterns and dynamics driving their behaviours and relationships. Increased self- awareness allows individuals to identify maladaptive coping strategies, challenge negative thought patterns, and make positive changes towards healthier ways of functioning.

Enhancing Coping Skills: Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals with personality disorders to learn and practice effective coping skills. Whether through cognitive behavioural techniques, mindfulness practices, or interpersonal skills training, therapy equips individuals with the tools they need to manage distressing emotions, regulate impulses, and navigate interpersonal challenges more effectively. By developing adaptive coping strategies, individuals can experience greater resilience and empowerment in the face of life’s difficulties.

Improving Relationships: Personality disorders often manifest in difficulties with interpersonal and Intimate Relationships, leading to conflict, misunderstandings, and feelings of isolation. Therapy offers a space for individuals to explore and address relational patterns, communication styles, and attachment issues that may contribute to relationship problems. Through therapy, individuals can learn to cultivate healthier boundaries, communicate assertively, and build more fulfilling and supportive connections with others.

Promoting Emotional Regulation: Many individuals with personality disorders struggle with emotional dysregulation, experiencing intense and overwhelming emotions that are difficult to manage. Therapy provides tools and techniques to help individuals regulate their emotions more effectively, such as mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques, and emotion-focused strategies. By learning to tolerate distress and regulate emotions, individuals can experience greater stability and balance in their emotional lives.

Fostering Personal Growth: Therapy offers a transformative journey of personal growth and self-discovery for individuals with personality disorders. Through the therapeutic process, individuals have the opportunity to explore their strengths, values, and goals, and to work towards a more authentic and fulfilling life. Therapy encourages individuals to embrace their unique identity, cultivate self-compassion, and pursue meaningful goals aligned with their values and aspirations.

Taking the First Step: Therapy for BPD, NPD and OCD

Beginning therapy for a personality disorder marks a brave and empowering stride towards healing and self-awareness. Seeking professional guidance offers invaluable assistance and resources for managing the complexities linked with a personality disorder.

Recognize the Need for Help: The first step in getting started with therapy for a personality disorder is recognizing the need for help and acknowledging that you deserve support. This may involve reflecting on your symptoms, challenges, and patterns of behaviour, and recognizing the impact they have on your life and relationships. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and reaching out for support is an important act of self-care and self-compassion.

Matching with the Best Suited Therapist: Once you’ve acknowledged the need for help, the next step is to be matched with one of our experienced therapists with expertise in treating personality disorders and who will work to create a safe and supportive therapeutic environment. This will include an intake session followed by finding the appropriate therapeutic approach based on your individual needs.

Set Realistic Goals and Expectations: As you begin therapy for a personality disorder, it’s important to set realistic goals and expectations for the process. Understand that therapy is a collaborative journey that takes time, effort, and commitment. Progress may not always be linear, and there may be setbacks along the way. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, and trust in the therapeutic process as you work towards healing and growth.

Embrace the Journey: Finally, embrace the journey of therapy for a personality disorder with an open mind and a willingness to explore and learn about yourself. Be open to new insights, perspectives, and coping strategies that may emerge during therapy. Remember that change is possible, and each step you take towards therapy is a step towards greater self-awareness, resilience, and well-being.


Yes, therapy can be highly effective in helping individuals with BPD, NPD, and OCD manage their symptoms, improve functioning, and enhance overall well-being. Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for exploring underlying issues, developing coping skills, and making positive changes in behaviour and thought patterns.

Medication may be prescribed as part of the treatment plan for certain personality disorders, particularly when symptoms are severe or co-occurring with other mental health conditions such as Depression or Anxiety. However, medication is typically used in conjunction with therapy rather than as a standalone treatment.

Yes, therapy can be instrumental in improving relationships affected by personality disorders. Through therapy, individuals can gain insight into their interpersonal patterns, develop effective communication skills, and learn healthy boundaries. Therapists can also work with couples or families to address relational issues and improve understanding, empathy, and connection.

Integrating therapeutic insights and skills into your daily life is an essential aspect of the therapeutic process. Your therapist can help you identify practical strategies and techniques to apply outside of therapy sessions, such as mindfulness exercises, coping skills, and communication techniques. Consistent practice and reflection can help reinforce positive changes and promote continued growth and progress.

Setbacks and relapses are a natural part of the recovery process, and it’s important to approach them with compassion and resilience. If you experience setbacks or relapses during therapy, don’t be discouraged. Instead, use them as opportunities for learning and growth. Communicate openly with your therapist about your challenges, and work together to identify strategies to overcome obstacles and continue moving forward on your healing journey. Remember that progress is not always linear, and each step you take towards recovery is a testament to your strength and resilience.

Therapy for personality disorders serves as a source of hope and encouragement for individuals grappling with conditions such as BPD, NPD, and OCD. By addressing common inquiries and apprehensions surrounding therapy, our goal is to inspire individuals to embrace the next stages of their healing and recovery journey. Reach out to connect with one of our therapists to help aid you in your pursuit of enhanced well-being and resilience.


We are located in both Cambridge and Windsor, Ontario and are currently offering in-person as well as virtual appointments. Book your free 15-minute consultation today.

Atlas Psychotherapy LGBTQ