Personality Disorders Articles

Taking Personal Responsibility

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

meringue pieI don’t generally watch television during the day. However, I have an injury that requires me to sit down with an ice pack a few times a day. So, I ended up watching a bit of the hearings with James and Rupert Murdoch (the family that runs News Corporation–a mega media conglomerate) at the English Parliament. During the time I was watching, someone in the audience threw, what appeared to be a plate of shaving cream, into Mr. Murdoch senior’s face.

After a break in the proceedings to clean up, the hearings continued. Mr. Murdoch was praised for his bravery in continuing after the trauma he experienced. The reason for the hearing was to establish who was responsible for hacking into phones of crime victims (including a young murder victim), deceased soldiers, politicians, celebrities, and possibly 9/11 victims.


Helping People with Borderline Personality Disorder

Friday, June 24th, 2011

help for borderline personality disorderA few years ago when Chuck and I were asked to write Borderline Personality Disorder For Dummies, we knew we would be looking closely at the work of Marsha Linehan, the creator of a program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

We had both been to a number of workshops offered by Dr. Linehan. Once, we spent a lovely week at Cape Cod taking morning classes and having the rest of the day to explore.


Life's Biggest Challenges: Are You A "Coper" or a "Victim"?

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

In my over thirty years in clinical practice, I have run into many challenging problems and issues. These challenges included severe treatment-resistant depression, debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder, and extreme cases of borderline personality disorder among many others. In the vast majority of cases, most clients eventually manage to get much better. But the most vexing issue I have ever dealt with did not involve a diagnosis at all–in the usual sense. It has nothing directly to do with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or behavioral problems. It is not listed as a symptom of any particular personality disorder.

However, before I tell you what it is, I’d like to ask therapists, counselors, and clients what problems they have found to be the most difficult to deal with in their lives. What issues put up the greatest fight when you’ve tried to confront them? What, if anything, has confounded you and left you feeling stuck over and over again? Did you finally manage to move ahead?  If so, how did you do it?

I’d love to know!


Borderline Personality Disorder and Anxiety

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

When the topic of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) comes up, you’ll probably hear the conversation focusing on the issue of anger and rage. Indeed, people who suffer from BPD often struggle with explosive emotional flare-ups. Those episodes capture everyone’s attention.

Other symptoms of BPD such as self-harm, impulsive actions, and unstable relationships stand out as well. However, people with BPD also suffer greatly from profound anxiety. Some people with BPD describe their anxiety as excruciatingly painful and debilitating. Quite often their anxiety centers on deep fears of abandonment. They believe that others will inevitably leave them and, once that happens, they will be left totally unable to cope.


Personality Disorders Disappearing?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV), a book that defines and describes the symptoms of emotional problems, has been in the revision process for years. Health professionals (and insurance companies) routinely use the manual to guide diagnosis and treatment. Recently, considerable attention has been given to the proposed changes in preparation for the fifth edition of the book (to be released in 2013). The possible changes to the section on personality disorders will certainly generate much discussion and controversy.


What’s the difference between swine flu, depression, and pregnancy?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

When I meet new people, they often tell me about someone they know that has some sort of emotional problem. Many people give me a synopsis of symptoms and ask whether or not a person has obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression, or borderline personality disorder. I’m pretty quick to say that I don’t ever make a diagnosis without seeing a person, but can talk about some qualities that might suggest this or that. I almost always point out that emotional problems are different than physical ailments; they tend to be more dimensional and less categorical. At this point, most people are stifling a yawn and moving on to the next topic (or in your case blog).

But our blog readers tend to be persistent, so let me continue. In the medical model, which psychology too often tries to emulate, a person has a disease and that disease can, in most cases, be verified by a medical test. For example, your biopsy reveals cancerous tissue or your blood test suggests that you have been invaded by parasites. Or the sore throat, fever, and a positive culture are consistent with a diagnosis of strep throat. Good medical diagnosis then hopefully leads to specific, specialized treatment.

The diagnosis of mental disorders is not so black and white. You don’t catch depression. And the symptoms of depression can look very different among people. Some with depression sleep too much or eat too much. Some toss and turn all night and lose their appetite. Some weep; others rage. There’s no blood test or MRI for assessing a diagnosis of depression. And unlike pregnancy, you can be just a little anxious or depressed.

The same diagnostic issue is even truer for what are known as the personality disorders. For example, the diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (which is different than the more commonly known, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) requires a person to demonstrate four of the following eight symptoms (according to the DSM IV TR):

  • Preoccupation with details, rules, and lists
  • Perfectionism that interferes with finishing projects
  • Unable to throw away worthless objects
  • Unable to delegate tasks
  • Miserly spending
  • Inflexible, scrupulous over conscientiousness
  • Devotion to work to the …

Do You Have Borderline Personality Disorder?

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

In the past several decades, we’ve watched the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) evolve from a virtually hopeless status with no clear answers as to what may work, to a far more sophisticated and hopeful array of possibilities (see our earlier blog on Increasing Hope for the Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder). Have you ever wondered or worried that you might have BPD? The actual, current approach to diagnosing BPD is quite complex, but the four components that most folks with BPD demonstrate include:

  • Mood instability: A person with BPD may flip from feelings of joy to despair, sadness to profound anxiety, or affection to rage within minutes or hours. Sometimes these shifts occur many times throughout a given day. People with Bipolar Disorder, on the other hand, tend to have somewhat longer lasting moods though they also may demonstrate frequent shifts in mood.
  • Impulsivity: People with BPD tend to do things without thinking about the consequences first. Perhaps not surprisingly, this tendency often lands them in trouble. People with BPD also speak without thinking. They may lie to get out of trouble, exaggerate reality, or to lash out at others.
  • Disturbances in Thinking: We’re not talking about psychosis here although people with BPD do sometimes experience fleeting departures from reality. Rather, the more common disturbances in thinking that they have involve tendencies to see things in all or not, black and white terms with no shades of gray. Sometimes they are also inclined to having somewhat paranoid thoughts and see other people as maliciously motivated (though this “paranoia” does not reach psychotic levels very often).
  • Unstable Relationships: People with BPD are notorious for having struggles with interpersonal relationships. They get drawn into conflicts with other people and feel exquisitely hyper-sensitive to criticism or rejection.

If this description seems to fit you, please see a licensed mental health professional for a diagnosis. Although we see the mental health diagnostic system as highly flawed, there’s enough value in understanding the nature of your problems that we do recommend you get yourself checked out.

But if you discover that you have something like BPD, what should you do next? First, try …


Beyond Mindfulness

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

My wife, Dr. Smith, and I are big fans of mindfulness approaches to therapy and we’ve included discussions of mindfulness in most of our self help books within the For Dummies series (including Borderline Personality Disorder For Dummies). In brief, Mindfulness is typically described as involving focused attention on experiences in the present moment as well as acceptance and openness to whatever the present entails. Experiences are observed and noticed rather than evaluated and judged.

A real advantage of taking a Mindful approach to experience is that relatively few present moment experiences are truly “awful” or intolerable. In fact, the vast majority of things that gravely upset people have to do with imagined, future catastrophes or guilt, shame, and self loathing over past actions.

One of our favorite discussions was about me learning the value of mindfulness in our earlier book, Depression For Dummies and it goes as follows:

Charles never feels as grounded and at peace as when he takes our dogs on a long jog three or four times each week. He heads out the door and in just a few minutes makes it to the West Mesa overlooking Albuquerque. You can see the entire city laid out at the footstep of a majestic mountain range. The view is stunning and you can see many miles out to the horizon.

The mesa is laced with dirt roads and gullies created by occasional downpours that blow through the otherwise parched land. Rabbits routinely dart across the running path. And once in a while, you can spot a coyote in the distance. Charles connects with the experience by noticing the rhythm of his running, the obvious joy the dogs exhibit, the quiet, and the (usually) gentle breezes.

Because he runs a long way, sometimes predicting a sudden downpour is impossible. The first few times rain started to drizzle, Charles cursed his fate and picked up the pace to return home as quickly as possible. But frequently Charles got soaked before he arrived home, and he felt distressed at his soaked condition. After all, everyone knows it’s awful to get drenched in the rain.


Should You Stay With Someone Who Has Borderline Personality Disorder?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

People sometimes ask us if they should stay with a partner who has Borderline Personality Disorder. They tell us that their loved one can flip from wonderful to horrible in a split second. They wonder whether they should keep working on the relationship or abandon ship.

We tell those asking this question that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) indeed engage in a wide variety of behaviors and states of mind. Not surprisingly, people who care about those who have BPD often ask which of these various states represent the “real” person–the difficult states or the endearing ones? In order to answer that question, let’s first take a look at some of the disagreeable states as well as what may cause them. Then we’ll review the positive behaviors and the causes for those. We’ll conclude by filling you in on which ones reflect the “true” person at the core. And most importantly, we’ll give you a few issues that may help guide you in making this difficult relationship decision.

Negative Behaviors and States of Mind
People with BPD often inflict harm on those they love (sometimes quite intentionally; other times without conscious intent at all). They can say and do things that are perceived as astonishingly hurtful. Furthermore, people with BPD often fail to understand appropriate limits and boundaries of those they care about. Thus, a man with BPD might attempt to control his partner by demanding that she cut herself off from her family because they don’t “like him.”

In addition, those with BPD often criticize their partners for not “doing enough or earning enough” for them or their family. They may burst into rage, anger, or impulsive actions with seemingly little provocation. Often their partners who don’t have BPD find that their self-esteem suffers and they begin to question their own sanity, thinking that their partner is right–they really aren’t doing enough or they’re doing things the wrong way.

What causes such distressing, yet inappropriate behaviors in those with BPD? All too often, people with BPD completely fail to understand the nature of their behavior and how it affects those they care about. In addition, people …


How and Why Do Those With Borderline Personality Disorder Hurt Themselves?

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

People with Borderline Personality Disorder sometimes engage in acts of self harm. These acts of self harm are wide ranging; they’re also dramatic and startling in many cases. These behaviors include:

  • Blunt force trauma: This type of self harm includes banging one’s head on a hard surface, punching oneself, and using a hammer or other tool to inflict damage and pain to the body.
  • Cutting: This is one of the most common and widely known types of self harm that those with BPD engage in. Cutters use a variety of tools such as scissors, razor blades, knives, needles, and broken glass. Scars often result and many people who cut try to cover up their injuries while some people actually try to put them on display.
  • Burning: People resorting to this tactic use cigarettes, matches, lighters, and hot objects to burn themselves. They usually only burn a small area each time, but the resulting scars can often occur over a large part of the body.
  • Intentional accidents: Folks who set themselves up for accidents may not look like they’re trying to hurt themselves, but their failure to take even the most basic, reasonable precautions tips you off to their true motives. These people often end up in far more than their share of mishaps and investigation often reveals that they set ladders on obviously unstable ground or fail to use essential safety equipment.
  • Miscellaneous self injurious behaviors: These include swallowing harmful objects, inserting objects into body cavities, hair pulling, consuming harmful chemicals, pushing one’s eyeballs, or biting one’s body.

You’re probably wondering what the motivation is for these various acts of self harm that seemingly would result in no gains for the person who does them. The answer to your question is that there is no single motivation for self harm. Both mental health professionals and those with BPD have suggested a variety of possible motivations including:

  • To distract from emotional pain: You can’t underestimate the unbearable nature of inner pain experienced by those with BPD. Although the pain from self injurious acts rarely matches the internal, emotional pain, it does pull one’s attention away from the overwhelming emotions for a little while.
  • To …

Anxiety & OCD Exposed



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Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. are authors of many books, including Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies and Child Psychology & Development for Dummies.

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