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Personality disorders decoded: When to seek help

by Zahid Jadwat

Personality disorders affect a person’s interactions with others. [Picture: Midwest Recovery Center]


The digital age has exposed us to vast information on practically any topic we’d like to learn about. But the other side of this is that we often find serious issues being thrown around lightly, and personality disorders are no exception.

That’s according to Mumtaaz Cajee, a counselling psychologist at Conscious Psychology. It’s easy to read up about narcissism and suddenly find everyone around you to be guilty of narcissism, she says, but doing so can be problematic.

“With social media, a lot of people are just self-diagnosing people within their families or [their] partners with narcissism or borderline personality disorder,” she says, before adding a word of caution.

We have all met someone who would just not shut up about themselves even if they tried to (“Okay, enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”). Or we’ve had to work with someone who insists on dictating how things work or they’d sooner take the reins themselves. A quick Google search and we suddenly think we’re surrounded by narcissists, to borrow the phrase from an actual book titled so.

“It’s very important for us to avoid that. Only a professional can, through a very critical analysis, diagnose somebody with a personality disorder.”

According to Cajee, many such tendencies might be inherent to everyone, but they become personality disorders when they affect the social, educational or occupational functioning of the individual.


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So what are personality disorders, really?

Cajee explains that personality disorders are “a set of rigid, unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning and behaving”. What makes a person disorderly, she says, is that “these tend to influence a person’s social functioning”.

Generally manifesting themselves during teenage years but stemming from childhood experiences way back, people diagnosed with personality disorders tend to have difficulty relating to other people and situations normally.

“If somebody is struggling to communicate or function within the home environment or at school, that’s when we know intervention is needed,” says Cajee, before going on to outline the various personality disorders out there.

As she puts it, there are ten main personality disorders, divided into three clusters based on the varying characteristics of disorders.

Cluster A refers to paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder. This category refers to people who are mistrustful of others and shy away from social relationships, she says.

Cluster B “is what we see more on social media and people speak about, which is your dramatic or overly emotional, unpredictable presentation of a personality disorder”.

These include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder as well as social media’s darling, narcissism. Such people can behave recklessly and range from people with a poor self-image to those with inflated egos.

Finally, Cluster C comprises those disorders that make people feel more fearful and anxious. These are avoidant, dependent and obsessive compulsive personality disorders. They lead to the individual veering from criticism, depending on others to get by, and even those who prefer to do things themselves because they can’t forfeit control.

A word of caution from Cajee, “People on the internet and in general will just throw out this diagnosis of ‘Oh, I am OCD’. It’s a huge misconception because what they’re actually referring to is OCPD, which is a preoccupation with details and perfectionism, needing things to be a certain way, up to their standards.”


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How to get help?

Cajee says although preconceptions about seeking help for mental health issues have stuck for generations, there is a growing keen interest in seeking help. But finding the right help, and being open to receiving help, is crucial.

“What we’re finding, especially within our brown communities, is that trauma and neglect is the main reason that results in people having these unhealthy patterns of thinking, which then influence their functioning and behaviour.

“Previously, mental health was very Western oriented. It never focused on our struggles; on our context; and that was a big issue. What we are finding now is through social media and through awareness being created is a lot of people who are recognising that ‘I experienced this, I thought it was normal, and now I can seek help’.”

“A good place to start,” she recommends, is to find a professional who can help you to unpack past trauma. “What that looks like for our brown community is unpacking what was childhood like for you.”

She adds a prevailing trend – particularly within the brown community – is that of emotional neglect from a young age.

“What we are finding is a very big trend of emotional neglect. Emotions are not spoken about, we’re not taught the skills to deal with our emotions or to even identify them. We are not taught how to support each other emotionally.”

While there are endless sources of information out there, Cajee cautions against using so-called self diagnosis tools.

“A lot of people try these online self-diagnosis tools which are not helpful at all. Even for psychologists, we don’t just need a person once and say ‘here’s your diagnosis, here’s your treatment, you can go home now’.”

Instead, healing past trauma and addressing personality disorders is a long process of understanding the person’s experiences and then unpacking it through long term therapy.

Najma Khota and Mumtaaz Cajee also spoke about the best ways to seek help and the issue of affordability barring access to professional mental health assistance. Watch the full discussion here. You can also watch the video to learn more about what each of these disorders entail.

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