It’s not easy to pin down exactly what we mean by the word ‘personality’. It seems obvious, but it can be hard to put into words. This can be because the words we use to describe people tend to have wide meanings – and these meanings often overlap. These words can also cover more than one kind of experience. For example, ‘shyness’ describes the feeling of awkwardness with other people, but also how we behave by being rather quiet in company.
It is also difficult because the way we behave – and appear to other people – can be very different in different situations. You can know a person well at work, but find that they behave quite differently in their private life.
In mental health, the word ‘personality’ refers to the collection of characteristics or traits that we have developed as we have grown up and which make each of us an individual. These include the ways that we:
By our late teens, or early 20s, most of us have developed our own personality. We have our own ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. These stay pretty much the same for the rest of our life. Usually, our personality allows us to get on reasonably well with other people.
However, for some of us, this doesn’t happen. For whatever reason, parts of your personality can develop in ways that make it difficult for you to live with yourself and/or with other people. You don’t seem to be able to learn from the things that happen to you. You find that you can’t change the bits of your personality (traits) that cause the problems. These traits, although they are part of who you are, just go on making life difficult for you – and often for other people as well.
Other people will often have noticed these traits from your childhood and early teens. For example, you may find it difficult to:
- make or keep close relationships
- get on with people at work
- get on with friends and family
- keep out of trouble
- control your feelings or behavior
- listen to other people
If this makes you
- unhappy or distressed
- often upset or harm other people
then you may have a personality disorder (see below for descriptions of the different types). Life is more difficult if you have a personality disorder, so you are more likely to have other mental health problems such as depression, or drug and alcohol problems.
With help, many people with personality disorder can start to lead a normal and fulfilling life. Most can, at least, cope more effectively with their difficulties. For more information about Personality disorders There is a website called Borderline Personality Resource Center. http://www.bpdresourcecenter.org/