People With Personality Disorders Can Destroy Your Life
Let’s get this out of the way first: Mental illness is a term used for a wide range of conditions that include various mental health disorders. This article addresses only one section of it: The personality disorders. Any reference made to mental illness refers to the personality disorders only and is used synonymously to signal the seriousness of this condition.
Let’s be honest, it happens quite often that you think: “this person is sick”. But you don’t mean it. Not that you’re sorry for calling out someone’s idiocy — what you don’t consider is — what if the person IS actually sick?
In a clinical, expert-verified way — sick. Not the ‘crazy’ that you associate with their behavior, but the ‘crazy’ that experts call mental illness.
We use these figures of speech, but how often do we think that a person may actually be ill? To what extent would your reaction change if you knew they were sick?
Who is sick and who is ‘crazy’?
When you think of mental illness, you think of people in a dire mental state. A state that clearly shows that something with the person “isn’t right“. At the low-end of craziness, we often see homeless people talking to themselves — would that qualify as mental illness? Or is this still the kind of crazy that would pass as acceptable?
I think, we recognize that it’s a bit weird, but I doubt anyone would classify it as mental illness. The old “clochard” may even have a special charm of his own. I don’t think we can put him there.
The context in which you meet someone is crucial for recognizing whether there’s “something wrong“ with the person or not. When visiting a psychiatry, one will certainly expect to meet people with the classification of being “mad“. This is what most people would see as the top-end of the spectrum.
But you must wonder where the gray area is and to which extent it matters. It can’t be either or. In one moment you’re sane, and in another, you’re insane. There must be a gradual disintegration of sanity into insanity. And it must happen slowly, in fact, too slowly to be recognized.
Recognizing mental illness in others
When former Pink Floyd band member Syd Barrett appeared at the recording studio overweight, with shaved off hair and eyebrows, initially no one recognized him. They hadn’t seen him in a while - and according to his former band members — they were in a shock when they saw him. He was like a ghost; physically and mentally he was a different person.
But even in his case, it was a gradual process, the only difference being, they were not around when the change happened.
Of course, there are also instances where someone “loses his or her mind“ because of a sudden external mental shock brought on by a catastrophe, accident, or loss where the change happens immediately.
To recognize this is relatively easy, and it does not take any special knowledge to understand the difference. As stated earlier, the true challenge is to realize mental illness while it is progressing in front of you.
Especially when you live with a person, the changes may initially be subtle, subtle to such an extent, that your adaptations to those changes happen simultaneously, and when that happens, it becomes difficult to catch.
It’s like the process of ageing. When you are with a person every day, you hardly recognize the incremental steps that occur through the weeks, months, and years. But when you meet a friend you haven’t seen in a while, he or she may comment on your looks — because they saw you “before“ and now they see you “after“ the change happened. They can see the difference more clearly from someone who sees you every day.
A “difficult character” may be a personality disorder
Accustomization is key in this process. It is the same accustomization that happens when you are — for instance — born into a family where a member may suffer from mental illness without others ever noticing it. It is buried inside the privacy sphere, and stays unrecognized because there’s no one to call it what it is.
Narcissists Have 2 Types of Interests in Their Children
A deep dive into a devastating control mechanism
But expect to find mental illness in various settings — which because of their nature — give shelter to people who otherwise would not go unrecognized. That may be in a school setting, in the military, but also in your regular workplace. There are many ways how to slip under the radar and pass unnoticed.
The problem with mental illness is that not only is the affected person suffering, but more so, the people who live or work with someone who gets qualified as “difficult“.
Mental illness is one of the top reasons — if not the top reason — for a number of difficulties one encounters in one’s life without ever understanding where it originated. We are used to putting the blame on ourselves, and although that is a reasonable and sane response to do, it is good to know that many of the adversities one faces are directly tied to other people’s undiagnosed, untreated mental illnesses. The majority of people with personality disorders remain undetected.
“Because they do not believe they have a disorder, people with personality disorders often do not seek treatment on their own.”
Personality Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
Personality is vital to defining who we are as individuals. It involves a unique blend of traits-including attitudes…
We often attribute erratic and strange behaviors to “their character“, and hardly does anyone try to investigate deeper into an issue for which our upbringing teaches us to exercise tolerance, especially when it comes to family members. The idea of a difficult character is not entirely wrong as long as the person manages to abide to basic principles of human interaction.
But let me emphasize this clearly: Not every person one perceives as “difficult“ is automatically a mentally ill person. It may, in fact, often be the other way around, so be careful to judge without educating yourself thoroughly on this issue!
Types and treatment
The most often unrecognized mental illnesses are the personality disorders, which are grouped into 3 main clusters:
- Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior. They include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.
- Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
- Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by anxious, fearful thinking or behavior. They include avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
When it comes to mental illnesses, our main attention is focused on people who undergo treatment under professional guidance. Those extreme cases are recognized more easily, but the true threat to your own mental soundness comes from undiagnosed friends and families, co-workers and acquaintances of which we would never dare to think of “people with personality disorder“. Which is not something you just sweep under the rug, hoping it’ll go away by itself — because it won’t.
Even hoping for an incremental change is pointless too. Treatment for those illnesses is extremely difficult because it requires full cooperation with the affected — which in cases like the narcissistic personality disorder is on a scale from rare to impossible.
Personality disorders--Treatment for the 'untreatable'
Up to 30 percent of people who require mental health services have at least one personality disorder…
Treatment of personality disorders like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders) may show much better results because of the nature of the disease itself, but even here without full cooperation, success is not guaranteed. There is no magic pill to swallow which will make it go away.
“However, hope [like in this case for borderline personality disorder] is on the horizon as researchers begin the search for effective treatments”, says Thomas R. Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Duke University and the Duke University Medical Center.
So it depends on what we are dealing with, but in all those cases we speak of personality behaviors which will have a tremendous effect on every relationship involved (therapists included).
Knowledge is power
It holds true every time. If you want to find out where your difficulties come from, it helps to investigate into this topic, because it pulls the curtain on many superstitions that we keep alive in our relationships for no other reason but tradition.
“Honor your parents“, “be faithful to your spouse“, “be loyal“ — those are powerful statements which are deeply ingrained in our psyche, ingrained to such a level that we are willing to suffer and sometimes even die for to fulfill those commands. It is one of the most beautiful things about human beings. The willingness to let noble, dignified morals and values rule our lives. But those very high standards may blind our view to recognize that something is wrong.
There is no rule that expects you to destroy yourself for people with mental illness to prosper. ‘Tolerance for others’, should not be confused with allowing abuse of any kind.
But where do you draw the line? The best option is: you don’t draw it. The lines have already been drawn by mental health experts, all one has to do is, educate oneself on the issue, and act from a position of knowledge.
Instead of wasting energy on pointless fights and discussions that lead nowhere, time is much better spent reading and learning about this thing that we call “difficult characters“ and experts call — personality disorders.
Once you start learning about it, a new perspective opens up on a very old issue which we deemed unsolvable. And in a way it will stay like this, but it will also open up new possibilities to deal with it on a level we never believed possible.
You can’t beat a dinosaur with a knife in your hand. It’ll take more than that. If you are suffering in a relationship, there are only two possibilities — either it is your fault or the other’s (I assume one of you is mentally healthy, because other’s rarely do research on personality disorders). Your task is to find out who it is, and work on it from there.
If you believe that normality does exist, and that it is not just a “relative thing“, depending on “how you look at it“, then you have a great chance of pulling yourself up, if necessary — even with your fingernails.
At the end, I’ve chosen a great little example where — once you’ve learned how to spot a personality disorder — you’ll be able to instantly recognize a dysfunctional personality trait and label it appropriately. It’s not enough to say: “Oh, this person is SICK!“ Because, in a way, you don’t really think that this person is sick, you just want to emphasize that the person is exercising “strange behavior“ — without knowing that it is far more than that.
German film director Werner Herzog on what he witnessed when filming with world-famous actor Klaus Kinski:
“During one of his shots in the jungle, there was a lumberman who was bitten by a snake while cutting a tree. This only happened once in three years with hundreds of woodcutters in the jungle who always worked barefoot with their chainsaws. The snakes naturally flee from the smell of gasoline and the noise. Suddenly this chuchupe struck the man twice. This was the most dangerous snake of all. It only takes a few minutes before cardiac arrest occurs. He dropped the saw and thought about it for a five seconds… then he grabbed the saw and cut off his foot. It saved his life, because the camp and serum was 20 minutes away.”
Werner Herzog told this story to describe Kinski’s reaction and his egocentric character who only saw that — because of the incident — he did not receive the attention he deserved.
“Kinski would start raving with some trifling excuse, because now he was just a marginal figure.“
He also mentions a plane crash where 6 people died and Kinski having a similar reaction and behavior.
Maybe Herzog didn’t want to label it that way, but it seems that even he who knew him so well, could not see that a lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement, and extreme self-centeredness were not just signs of an eccentric and unusual personality, but clear symptoms of a personality disorder. If you watch the full video, you’ll find that he exhibited many more behaviors that indicated that he indeed suffered from mental illness.
If you want to watch other stories he experienced with Kinski — here’s the full video (the snake incident starts at 6:15):
You can spend a lifetime trying to figure out a person’s insanity without ever calling it anything like that. You call it “giving it another try“, “not giving up on someone“, “they deserve another chance“, and so on. While all you really want to say is: I don’t know how to end this, nor do I dare to.
Personality disorders are serious mental illnesses which don’t exclusively reside in closed door facilities, they are far more common than we might think. The overall prevalence of personality disorders in the general population is consistently around 10 percent of which the majority is not receiving any mental health treatment.
Personality Disorders: A Nation-Based Perspective on Prevalence - PubMed
To date, five major studies have examined the prevalence and type of personality disorders in community samples in the…
Overview of statistics for personality disorders. Personality disorders represent "an enduring pattern of inner…
Often we speak about those suffering from mental illnesses, but rarely do we mention those who keep up with the abuse when living with people who have these conditions. Often the affected suffer less than family members around them.
Relationships that involve people with personality disorders have difficulties that never resolve. A constant stagnation that erodes everything it comes in contact with. Mentally healthy people have a genuine wish for peace and prosperity, they want things to be good. On the other hand, people with personality disorders may have that wish as well, but — because of their illness — have lost all connection to normal functioning.
Too often we beat ourselves up, thinking our effort to save the relationship was insufficient without considering we may not be dealing with a normal situation. Sacrifice is good up to a point, but when you start destroying your own mental health, your physical health, your chance for progress and improvement, an evaluation of the situation is needed.
The understanding that you’re not dealing with a difficult character but with a personality disorder changes the whole dynamics of your decision making. It enables you to adjust your reaction and behavior to the situation you’re facing. Taking the right steps from a position of ‘knowing’ is still difficult, but much easier than from a state of confusion.
*** This article expresses the author’s personal views and opinions only, and is not meant to serve as medical advice. Please seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding yours or someone else’s condition. Never delay or disregard professional medical help because of something you’ve read here. All you read on this Site is for informational purposes only. Reliance on any of the information is solely at your own risk. ***
Follow the author here on Medium or on Twitter.