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Posted in: Psychiatry

What do we mean by “Personality”?

Personality refers to a consistent way of thinking, feeling and behaving; these characterise a person’s response to life’s situations.  This is a distinctive behaviour pattern helps define a person’s identity. Personality types describe the differences between different individuals and are normal.  However, personality disorders are pathological.


Why are people different from each other?

There are several theories that try to answer this question.

Ancient Greeks thought it had to do with body fluid that is blood, phlegm or black or yellow bile respectively.   According to Hippocrates, a Greek Physician, there are four possible personality types:

Sanguine: Cheerful, optimistic and active; believed to have abundant blood

Phlegmatic:  Listless, tired and sluggish; they had less phlegm

Melancholic: Always brooding; resulting from too much bile

Choleric: Easy to excite & easy to anger


Freidman & Rosenman described three personality types:

Type A Personality: Aggressive, usually in a hurry, high levels of competitiveness & ambition, becomes easily irritated at delays or failure to meet deadlines.

Type B personality: Relaxed, agreeable

Type C personality: Highly sociable, bottling up emotions such as anger or anxiety, feel hopeless and helpless in the face of severe stress.  They tend to be passive, uncomplaining & compliant


Personality Disorders:

These refer to significant deviations from the way in which average individuals in a given culture perceive, think, feel & relate to one another.  They are as a result of emotional or behavioural traits that are inflexible & maladaptive.  They impair the functioning of the individual and cause distress.   These symptoms manifest in late childhood or adolescence (before 17 years) and persist in adulthood.



-Paranoid Personality Disorder:  They have this unwarranted tendency to interpret other people’s actions as demeaning or threatening.  They expect to be harmed by others, very suspicious and for no reason question fidelity of their spouse.

-Schizoid personality disorder: Appear cold & aloof, quiet, distant, seclusive and unsociable.  May invest heavily in nonhuman interactions such as mathematics or astronomy, may be very attached to animals.

-Schizotypal personality disorder: May be superstitious and have magical thinking.  They have few friends if any and their speech may have meaning only to them.

-Antisocial personality disorder:  Lying, truancy, running away from home, thefts, fights, substance abuse and illegal activities are typical experiences in childhood.  They are the so called con-men and have no remorse for their actions.

-Borderline personality disorder: Mood swings common, may slash their wrists to express anger and cannot tolerate being alone. They complain of emptiness and boredom.  They get short episodes of psychosis. Psychosis refers to delusions (false unshakable beliefs) or hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting things that don’t exist).

-Narcissistic personality disorder:  These have a heightened feeling of importance and expect special treatment.  They handle criticism very poorly and get enraged.

-Histrionic personality disorder: They exhibit attention seeking behaviour; they make everything sound more important than it really is. Seductive behaviour is common.

-Dependent:  They let others assume responsibilities for major areas of their lives, lack self-confidence and experience discomfort while alone even for very short periods.

-Avoidant Personality Disorder:   They are extremely sensitive to rejection and are shy.  They are best described as individuals with an inferiority complex.  They are afraid to speak in public or make requests of others thus end up withdrawn and lack close friends.

-Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder:  They exhibit orderliness, perseverance, stubbornness and indecisiveness.  They are perfectionists and inflexible.

-Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder: Characterized by stubbornness, inefficiency and procrastination.

-Depressive Personality Disorder: They are pessimistic, self-doubting and unhappy consistently.

Treatment: Different types of psychotherapy (talk therapy) are useful in the management of the different disorders. Medication is useful for agitation, anxiety or psychotic symptoms that are associated with the different disorders.  There are instruments used for the diagnosis and assessment of personality disorders. 

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