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Understanding Anxiety and Personality Disorders

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
Understanding Anxiety and Personality Disorders

Anxiety often seems like it's a part of your personality. But anxiety is not a personality disorder. Personality disorders are psychological disorders that are characterized by personality types that are vastly different than cultural norms, to the point of causing significant distress and interpersonal problems.

Several personality disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and some, like borderline personality disorder, often have anxiety as one of the main symptoms.

Personality Disorders Are More Common Than You Think

According to experts, personality disorders may be the most common psychological disorder on the planet. Part of this is because personality disorders are meant to account for nearly every type of non-normal behavior. In fact, there is an "obsessive compulsive personality disorder" that is considered a separate disorder from obsessive compulsive disorder, despite sharing a similar name.

In order to learn more about yourself and your anxiety, you shouldn't pay too much attention to labels in the beginning. You should focus on the idea of becoming more psychologically healthy than of worrying about whether or not you have a "disorder."

Types of Personality Disorders and Their Links to Anxiety

The psychological manual that psychologists use to evaluate personality disorders and other mental health disorders (The DSM-V) lists personality disorders in the following categories:

Nearly all personality disorders have some links to anxiety. Personality disorders in the anxious/fearful category are often characterized by their anxiety, and most personality disorders coincide with a severe disruption in coping ability, which in turn makes developing stress and anxiety problems much more likely.

How to Combat Anxiety From Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are incredibly complex, with each one responding to different types of treatment. Some, like antisocial personality disorder, are notoriously difficult to treat. Others, like dependent personality disorder, may be somewhat easily treated by psychological intervention (therapy).

Your ability to treat anxiety depends primarily on whether or not you're also addressing your personality disorder, and whether you're also committed to the anxiety treatment you choose to adopt. It's often a struggle to value your anxiety and try to learn new coping strategies, but ideally if you can manage to make that commitment you'll enjoy a better outcome with your anxiety levels.

Article Resources
  1. Goodwin, Renee D., and Steven P. Hamilton. "Lifetime comorbidity of antisocial personality disorder and anxiety disorders among adults in the community." Psychiatry Research 117.2 (2003): 159.
  2. Zanarini, Mary C., et al. "Axis I comorbidity of borderline personality disorder." American Journal of Psychiatry 155.12 (1998): 1733-1739.
  3. Lieb, Klaus, et al. "Borderline personality disorder." The Lancet 364.9432 (2004): 453-461.
  4. Comtois, Katherine Anne, et al. "Relationship between borderline personality disorder and Axis I diagnosis in severity of depression and anxiety." The Journal of clinical psychiatry 60.11 (1999): 752.
  5. Schneider, Robert B. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Rorschach Assessment of the Personality Disorders (2005): 311.
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