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Personality Disorder In The Family

A family with a personality disorder can be such a challenge to deal with.  Problems are always someone else’s fault.  They either love or hate everything.  Life’s always filled with drama and exaggeration.  I have met and worked with a few people with personality disorders and I find the experience unlike anything else.

Some people with personality disorders have come to understand them, often with professional counseling help.  These people have been persistent and patient, finding ways to live with less distress and greater satisfaction.  What I describe below will be true largely of someone who hasn’t progressed that far with treatment, or who may not have had any help at all.

I’ll give you the basics on personality disorders so you know where I’m coming from.  Someone’s personality is the collection of personal traits, behaviors, patterns, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, and thoughts.  When all of these things are generally healthy and positive, a person can cope fairly well in the world on most occasions.

For someone with a personality disorder, these patterns and traits are much more rigid and inflexible.  This makes it very difficult for them to cope with the ups and downs of life.  A key part of this is their viewpoint on their own behaviors and attitudes.  They are always “normal” and “correct.”  They attempt to make everything fit into their narrow world view, rather than incorporating new information and various viewpoints when needed.

If you give them feedback about something they do that constantly makes problems for their life, they won’t understand what you mean.  Their extreme mood swings and dramatic comments all make sense to them and seem perfectly justified.  They aren’t being flippant by dismissing your concerns – they truly don’t see their inflexibility or extreme nature as part of the problem.

Unfortunately, this huge blind spot prevents them from taking opportunities to learn about themselves, make changes, and have healthier happier lives.  A few examples of personality disorders include Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Like most things, personality disorder symptoms can range from mild to severe and can change over time.  Many people eventually experience milder symptoms as the years pass, but they may go through a lot of difficulty before this happens.

Imagine a parent being very self focused, emotionally erratic, and unable to take another person’s perspective very well.  Can you see how even these few traits could be a problem?  A parent who cannot be very flexible is likely to get highly stressed in some situations – managing a cranky two year old, staying up all night with a sick baby, giving discipline to teenager who likes to talk back.

Also, they are apt to have difficulty with social relationships.  That can mean some trouble with friendships or even keeping a marital relationship intact.  The instability of this parent’s mood and behaviors can make childhood unsettling if not highly stressful.  It’s likely that their child will experience some disruption in their young life as well.

It’s important yet sometimes challenging for someone with a personality disorder to get into regular counseling.  It requires a good fit with a counselor who’s well trained and patient.  Also, it requires the person following through with their appointments and doing their part.  But when a counseling connection works, there is hope.

Unfortunately, many people who are urged to get help simply refuse.  If your spouse has these kinds of symptoms, you may need to make a choice about how much you can live with.  Or, perhaps you have found ways to minimize problems with their symptoms and still have some good aspects of a life together.  Either way, you need support and guidance to keep your mental state healthy.

Personality disorders are not extremely common, but they are out there.  It’s a complex issue, not nearly as simple as one blog post can cover.  If you have an experience you’d like to share, please do.  I like introducing a topic like this because I know people are out there living with it, and I want them to feel heard and validated.  But truly, your personal story may be the thing someone else needs to hear today.

Personality Disorder In The Family

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). Personality Disorder In The Family. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Oct 2009
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