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Saturday, 17 November 2018

Are Personality Disorders Real?

The NHS website describes a person with a personality disorder as 'someone who thinks, feels and behaves differently to the average person.' However, I have a few issues with this. Firstly, what is 'the average person'? Don't we all have problems and difficulties? Is there any such thing as one standard metric for average normality? Also, personality disorders tend to involve 'abnormal' character traits and thought patterns. But again, sometimes I look through these and think 'don't loads of people feel like this?'

Before you roll your eyes, I know extensive psychological research must have gone into investigating personality disorders and diagnosing people with them. But human behaviour and personality has many dimensions to it, and maybe someone who is or isn't a certain way is just that way and they don't have some kind of 'disorder.' I have several traits of someone who might have borderline personality disorder or histrionic personality disorder. But maybe that's just my personality. I know a lot of people who are very sensitive, emotional, intense, prone to feelings of anxiety and being low. Maybe this is just a normal part of being human and doesn't need to be turned into some kind of clinical problem?

We're living in an age right now where everyone has some kind of mental illness. There are two sides to this: lots of awareness is being brought around the topic of mental illness and less stigma is getting attached to it. At the same time, thanks to the internet anyone can self-diagnose themselves because they think their behaviour is strange or uncertain. Once when I was about fifteen I thought I had cyclothymia and even recently wondered if I may have bipolar disorder. Of course I don't, but it's so easy now to think you have a problem and then create it in your head.

I am aware I've suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. I have a few very sad poems I wrote as a child which express this. I've been on antidepressants for two years and non-coincidentally been a lot less angry and empty. I've spent years being caught up in feelings of blank emptiness. Depression isn't the same as being sad, it's more like feeling nothing, like there's an empty hole in your chest and you're wondering around from place to place like a zombie. Anxiety is terrifying and manifests itself more physically for me, in that I start to shake or talk really fast or become nauseous.

I also know that there are actual neurological differences in the brains of certain people. Autistic people process things differently from the 'average' human brain. So do psychopaths; they lack empathy and remorse due to the way their brain is structured. Ditto schizophrenics. This is all due to brain wiring. I am sure addicts like myself have some kind of problem regarding our reward system - something in our brain doesn't know when to 'stop' so we have to keep on taking the thing that feels good.

But these differences are due to the way the brain is chemically designed. Personality is typically formed via genetics and via social circumstances. I suppose this brings us back to the classic nature-nurture debate - how much of supposed 'personality disorders' are really just a string of personality types deemed 'atypical' due to social engineering? Moreover, socio-cultural expectations of how people are supposed to behave have a major impact. The way people behave in the UK and normalise certain patterns of behaviours are going to be different to those in Japan.

Perhaps we are all just a bunch of crazy people with crazy personalities. Yes, some people do have some very extreme traits - narcissism, anti-social personalities, hysteria, severe mood swings - but maybe these are just part of the varying degrees within the human personality spectrum.

Do you think personality disorders are real, or are we all just filled with varying characteristics that modern psychology is attempting to turn into a clinical diagnostic problem?

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