By Angélica Pérez-Litwin
New Latina: Psychology Corner
“¿Yo, loca? Of course not…I’m just a little out there…”
Mental illness continues to be a taboo subject for many Latinos. The stigma is so strong within our culture, that mental illness problems are often ignored, denied or not talked about. We use limited phrases like: está loco (crazy); le falta un tornillo (has a loose screw); está mal (she’s not well) to describe individuals with odd behaviors and psychiatric conditions. The lack of information, education and conversation on mental health problems leads to under-recognition, under-reporting and low treatment rates within our Latino community.
In fact, most people think about mental illness as either a mood disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety) or a psychotic condition (e.g., schizophrenia). Personality disorders, a group of mental disorders that affects as many as twenty percent (20%) of young individuals in this country, are rarely discussed and understood among Latinos.
Defining Personality Disorders
First, let’s clarify what the word personality means. Personality is a collection of physical, emotional and social characteristics (traits), behavior styles and patterns that makes an individual’s character. Our attitudes, thoughts, feelings and perception of the world all are part of our personality.
Individuals with healthy personalities are able to cope with everyday life events and stressors. Those who are challenged with a personality disorder have a really difficult time responding to the demands of life, relationships and work. Personality disorder must meet several criteria (reference):
- A deeply ingrained, inflexible pattern of relating, perceiving, and thinking that is serious enough to cause distress or impaired functioning.
- These disorders typically aren’t diagnosed until an individual is a young adult (in their 20′s and 30′s).
Most individuals with personality disorders lead normal lives, but seek professional help when they experience increased stress that they can’t cope with. As you learn more about personality disorders, you might notice that we all have personality disorder traits. The key difference between someone with a personality disorder and someone who does not, lies in the degree to which these traits affect the person’s daily functioning.
What Causes a Personality Disorder?
According to research studies and experts, personality disorders are believed to be influenced by events occurring in early childhood. Genetic factors may also predispose individuals to personality disorders. Environmental stress can cause a person with a genetic vulnerability (for a personality disorder) to develop one. While a few research studies have found ethnic variations in personality disorders, this area of research is not conclusive.
Types of Personality Disorders
There are three different categories (or clusters) of personality disorders, each with their own set of symptoms and behaviors.
- Cluster A: Odd or eccentric behavior
- Cluster B: Dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior
- Cluster C: Anxious fearful behavior
There are many personality disorders. Below are three personality disorders under each cluster (reference):
Schizoid Personality Disorder. Schizoid personalities are introverted, withdrawn, solitary, emotionally cold, and distant. They are often absorbed with their own thoughts and feelings and are fearful of closeness and intimacy with others. For example, a person suffering from schizoid personality is more of a daydreamer than a practical action taker.
Paranoid Personality Disorder. The essential feature for this type of personality disorder is interpreting the actions of others as deliberately threatening or demeaning. People with paranoid personality disorder are untrusting, unforgiving, and prone to angry or aggressive outbursts without justification because they perceive others as unfaithful, disloyal, condescending or deceitful. This type of person may also be jealous, guarded, secretive, and scheming, and may appear to be emotionally “cold” or excessively serious.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder. A pattern of peculiarities best describes those with schizotypal personality disorder. People may have odd or eccentric manners of speaking or dressing. Strange, outlandish or paranoid beliefs and thoughts are common. People with schizotypal personality disorder have difficulties forming relationships and experience extreme anxiety in social situations. They may react inappropriately or not react at all during a conversation or they may talk to themselves. They also display signs of “magical thinking” by saying they can see into the future or read other people’s minds.
Antisocial Personality Disorder. People with antisocial personality disorder characteristically act out their conflicts and ignore normal rules of social behavior. These individuals are impulsive, irresponsible, and callous. Typically, the antisocial personality has a history of legal difficulties, belligerent and irresponsible behavior, aggressive and even violent relationships. They show no respect for other people and feel no remorse about the effects of their behavior on others. These people ware at high risk for substance abuse, especially alcoholism, since it helps them to relieve tension, irritability and boredom.
Borderline Personality Disorder. People with borderline personality disorder are unstable in several areas, including interpersonal relationships, behavior, mood, and self-image. Abrupt and extreme mood changes, stormy interpersonal relationships, an unstable and fluctuating self-image, unpredictable and self-destructive actions characterize the person with borderline personality disorder. These individuals generally have great difficulty with their own sense of identity. They often experience the world in extremes, viewing others as either “all good” or “all bad.” A person with borderline personality may form an intense personal attachment with someone only to quickly dissolve it over a perceived slight. Fears of abandonment may lead to an excessive dependency on others. Self-multilation or recurrent suicidal gestures may be used to get attention or manipulate others. Impulsive actions, chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness, and bouts of intense inappropriate anger are other traits of this disorder, which is more common among females.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People with narcissistic personality have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, are absorbed by fantasies of unlimited success, and seek constant attention. The narcissistic personality is oversensitive to failure and often complains of multiple somatic symptoms. Prone to extreme mood swings between self-admiration and insecurity, these people tend to exploit interpersonal relationships.
Avoidant Personality Disorder. Avoidant personalities are often hypersensitive to rejection and are unwilling to become involved with others unless they are sure of being liked. Excessive social discomfort, timidity, fear of criticism, avoidance of social or work activities that involve interpersonal contact are characteristic of the avoidant personality. They are fearful of saying something considered foolish by others; worry they will blush or cry in front of others; and are very hurt by any disapproval by others. People with avoidant personality disorder may have no close relationships outside of their family circle, although they would like to, and are upset at their inability to relate well to others.
Dependent Personality Disorder. People with dependent personality disorder may exhibit a pattern of dependent and submissive behavior, relying on others to make decisions for them. They require excessive reassurance and advice, and are easily hurt by criticism or disapproval. They feel uncomfortable and helpless if they are alone, and can be devastated when a close relationship ends. They have a strong fear of rejection. Typically lacking in self-confidence, the dependent personality rarely initiates projects or does things independently. This disorder usually begins by early adulthood and is diagnosed more frequently in females than males.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Compulsive personalities are conscientious and have high levels of aspiration, but they also strive for perfection. Never satisfied with their achievements, people with compulsive personality disorder take on more and more responsibilities. They are reliable, dependable, orderly, and methodical, but their inflexibility often makes them incapable of adapting to changed circumstances. People with compulsive personality are highly cautious, weigh all aspects of a problem, and pay attention to every detail, making it difficult for them to make decisions and complete tasks. When their feelings are not under strict control, events are unpredictable, or they must rely on others, compulsive personalities often feel a sense of isolation and helplessness.
Do You Have a Personality Disorder?
If you have struggled with these characteristics over a long period of time and they interfere with your level of functioning (i.e., your work, relationships, daily demands of life), a diagnostic evaluation with a mental health professional is recommended.
National Mental Health Consumer Self-Help Clearinghouse
Phone Number: (215) 751-1810
Toll Free Number: (800) 553-4539
Fax Number: (215) 636-6312
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Website URL: http://www.mhselfhelp.org/
Center for Mental Health Services
National Mental Health Information Center
PO Box 42557
Washington, DC 20015
Phone Number: (800) 789-2647
TTD Number: (866) 889-2647
Fax Number: (240)747-5470
Website URL: http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/