Personality,” we saw that despite having certain characteristic views of the world and ways of doing things, people normally can adjust their behavior to fit different sit- uations. But some people, starting at some point early in life, develop inflexible and mal- adaptive ways of thinking and behaving that are so exaggerated and rigid that they cause serious distress to themselves or problems to others. People with such personality disorders range from harmless eccentrics to cold-blooded killers.
One group of personality disorders, schizoid personality disorder, is characterized by an inability or desire to form social relationships and have no warm or tender feelings for others. Such loners cannot express their feelings and appear cold, distant, and unfeeling. Moreover, they often seem vague, absentminded, indecisive, or “in a fog.” Because their withdrawal is so complete, persons with schizoid personality disorder seldom marry and may have trouble holding jobs that require them to work with or relate to others (American Psychological Association, 2000).
People with paranoid personality disorder often see themselves as rational and objec- tive, yet they are guarded, secretive, devious, scheming, and argumentative. They are suspi- cious and mistrustful even when there is no reason to be; they are hypersensitive to any possible threat or trick; and they refuse to accept blame or criticism even when it is deserved.
A cluster of personality disorders characterized by anxious or fearful behavior includes dependent personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder. People with dependent personality disorder are unable to make decisions on their own or to do things indepen- dently. Rather, they rely on parents, a spouse, friends, or others to make the major choices in their lives and usually are extremely unhappy being alone. In avoidant personality dis- order, the person is timid, anxious, and fearful of rejection. It is not surprising that this social anxiety leads to isolation, but unlike the schizoid type, the person with avoidant per- sonality disorder wants to have close relationships with others.
Another cluster of personality disorders is characterized by dramatic, emotional, or erratic behavior. People with narcissistic personality disorder, for example, display a grandiose sense of self-importance and a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited suc- cess. Such people believe that they are extraordinary, need constant attention and admira- tion, display a sense of entitlement, and tend to exploit others. They are given to envy and arrogance, and they lack the ability to really care for anyone else (American Psychological Association, 2000).
Borderline personality disorder is characterized by marked instability in self- image, mood, and interpersonal relationships. People with this personality disorder tend to act impulsively and, often, self-destructively. They feel uncomfortable being alone and often manipulate self-destructive impulses in an effort to control or solidify their per- sonal relationships.
One of the most widely studied personality disorders is antisocial personality disorder. People who exhibit this disorder lie, steal, cheat, and show little or no sense of responsibil- ity, although they often seem intelligent and charming at first. The “con man” exemplifies many of the features of the antisocial personality, as does the person who compulsively cheats business partners, because she or he knows their weak points. Antisocial personali- ties rarely show any anxiety or guilt about their behavior. Indeed, they are likely to blame society or their victims for the antisocial actions that they themselves commit. As you might suspect, people with antisocial personality disorder are responsible for a good deal of crime and violence.
Approximately 3% of American men and less than 1% of American women suffer from antisocial personality disorder. It is not surprising that prison inmates show high rates of personality disorder, with male inmates having a rate as high as 60% (Moran, 1999). Not all people with antisocial personality disorder are convicted criminals, however. Many manipulate others for their own gain while avoiding the criminal justice system.
Antisocial personality disorder seems to result from a combination of biological predis- position, difficult life experiences, and an unhealthy social environment (Gabbard, 2005; Moffitt, Caspi, & Rutter, 2006). Some findings suggest that heredity is a risk factor for the later development of antisocial behavior (Fu et al., 2002; Lyons et al., 1995). Research sug- gests that some people with antisocial personalities are less responsive to stress and thus are more likely to engage in thrill-seeking behaviors, such as gambling and substance abuse, which may be harmful to themselves or others (Pietrzak & Petry, 2005; Patrick, 1994). Another intriguing explanation for the cause of antisocial personality disorder is that it arises as a consequence of anatomical irregularities in the prefrontal region of the brain dur- ing infancy (Boes, Tranel, Anderson, & Nopoulos, 2008; A. R. Damasio & Anderson, 2003).
Some psychologists believe that emotional deprivation in early childhood predisposes people to antisocial personality disorder. The child for whom no one cares, say psycholo- gists, cares for no one. Respect for others is the basis of our social code, but when you can- not see things from another person’s perspective, behavior “rules” seem like nothing more than an assertion of adult power to be defied.
Family influences may also prevent the normal learning of rules of conduct in the preschool and school years. A child who has been rejected by one or both parents is not likely to develop adequate social skills or appropriate social behavior. Further, the high
paranoid personality disorder Personality disorder in which the person is inappropriately suspicious and mistrustful of others.
avoidant personality disorder Personality disorder in which the person’s fears of rejection by others lead to social isolation.
dependent personality disorder Personality disorder in which the person is unable to make choices and decisions independently and cannot tolerate being alone.
narcissistic personality disorder Personality disorder in which the person has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and needs constant admiration.
borderline personality disorder Personality disorder characterized by marked instability in self-image, mood, and interpersonal relationships.
antisocial personality disorder Personality disorder that involves a pattern of violent, criminal, or unethical and exploitative behavior and an inability to feel affection for others.