Personality disorders are mental health disorders causing a person to have abnormal thought patterns and behaviors that limit the individual’s ability to function appropriately in social situations. If an adolescent displays signs of a personality disorder it is often diagnosed as a borderline or emerging personality disorder. This is because the brain is still developing during this time for adolescents and teenagers. Their personalities are also still developing.
Treating emerging personality disorders in teens can prevent this condition from having a huge negative impact on a person’s life into adulthood. Treatment in the early stages can reduce the prevalence of a personality disorder and provide teens with tools to manage their mental health. Ironwood is a residential mental health program in Maine that offers specialized treatment for teens. We offer therapeutic support for families with teens who struggle with their mental health. Learn more about our treatment for emerging personality disorders here.
Teenage personality disorders are characterized by four defining features; distorted thinking, inappropriate emotional responses, over-or under-regulated impulse control, and difficulty functioning in social situations. Thought and perception distortion manifests as cognitive and perceptual distortions. For example, a teen with a personality disorder may exhibit paranoid thoughts, constantly perceiving others as being against them or interpreting neutral interactions as hostile. Teens with emerging personality disorders may also have problematic emotional responses, such as sudden anger outbursts or chronic feelings of emptiness.
Teenage personality disorders are also characterized by having an over or under-regulated impulse control. This may lead to impulsive behaviors like substance abuse or self-harm, or alternatively, extreme inhibition and avoidance. Difficulty functioning in social interactions and relationships is also prominent in teens with personality disorders.
They may struggle with establishing and maintaining healthy relationships due to trust issues, manipulative behaviors, or a lack of empathy. An example could be a teenager who consistently interprets innocent comments from friends as personal insults, leading to persistent feelings of anger and a strained social life.
Diagnosing personality disorders in teenagers can be challenging due to ongoing personality development. The patterns observed should be steady and enduring, rather than a display of typical adolescent behavior. Diagnosing personality disorders in teens requires a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), provides the criteria for diagnosing personality disorders.
- Significant impairments in identity
- Unstable self-image or sense of self
- Self-destructive behavior
- Significant impairments in interpersonal functioning
- Lack of empathy
- Difficulty establishing close relationships
- Being excessively distrustful of others
- Detachment from relationships
- Lacking facial expression
- Inability to show an appropriate emotional response
- Being manipulative, deceitful, and callous
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviors
- Holding unusual beliefs or paranoia
- Being eccentric
In order to receive a diagnosis it’s essential that any impairments in personality functioning are relatively consistent over time and across various situations. An evaluation will also disqualify other mental disorders that may have similar criteria or symptoms.
There are ten types of personality disorders which are categorized into three clusters based on the common behavior or thought patterns that help define each type of personality disorder.
Cluster A Personality Disorders
The personality disorders that fit in the Cluster A category involve an eccentric thinking pattern and abnormal social behaviors.
- Paranoid Personality Disorder: Individuals with paranoid personality disorder have a pervasive distrust and suspicion of others. They’re constantly on guard for potential harm or betrayal, even when there is no evidence to support their beliefs. They may interpret innocent actions as threatening and have difficulty establishing close relationships due to their intense distrust.
- Schizoid Personality Disorder: People with schizoid personality disorder typically display a pattern of detachment from social relationships and limited emotional expression. They often prefer solitary activities, have little desire for close connections, and may appear indifferent to praise or criticism. They tend to have a rich internal fantasy world and may be perceived as loners.
- Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by eccentric behavior, unconventional beliefs or superstitions, and difficulty forming close relationships. Individuals with this disorder may display peculiar thinking and perceptual distortions. Their eccentricity may also manifest in odd speech patterns or strange appearance.
Cluster B Personality Disorders
The personality disorders categorized as Cluster B involve dramatized feelings and thoughts. The behaviors and thoughts caused by these types of personality disorders are unpredictable.
- Antisocial Personality Disorder: A teen with an antisocial personality disorder may show a consistent pattern of violating societal norms and disrespecting boundaries. Individuals with this disorder may engage in impulsive, irresponsible, and often illegal behaviors without remorse or empathy for the consequences it has on others.
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Borderline personality disorder is characterized by intense and unstable emotions. People with this mental disorder also have difficulties with self-image and identity. They may also have intense and unstable relationships, engage in self-harming behaviors, and experience chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Histrionic Personality Disorder: Someone with a histrionic personality disorder has an unhealthy need for attention and exaggerates their emotions and behaviors. Individuals with this disorder may display attention-seeking behaviors and have a strong desire to be the center of attention.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Narcissistic personality disorder involves an excessive sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with this disorder often have grandiose fantasies, believe they are superior to others, and may exploit or disregard the feelings and needs of those around them.
Cluster C Personality Disorders
Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by anxious thoughts and behaviors.
- Avoidant Personality Disorder: Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by pervasive feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity to rejection. Individuals avoid social interactions due to fear of criticism or embarrassment. They also have a strong need for acceptance and may be reluctant to engage in new activities or take risks.
- Dependent Personality Disorder: Dependent personality disorder involves an overwhelming fear of being alone and an excessive need to rely on others for decision-making and emotional support. Individuals with this disorder may have difficulty making everyday decisions, lack self-confidence, and feel helpless or clingy in relationships.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterized by a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control. Individuals with this disorder may be excessively focused on rules, details, and organization, often at the expense of flexibility and openness. This is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Causes and Risk Factors
Teen personality disorders can arise from a combination of various causes and risk factors. Some common risk factors for the development of personality disorders in teens include:
- Family history of mental health disorders
- Childhood trauma or abuse such as neglect or physical abuse
- Inconsistent or invalidating parenting styles
- Genetic predisposition
- Diagnosis of other mental health conditions
Additionally, factors such as social isolation, peer rejection, chronic stress, and a lack of positive role models can contribute to the development of personality disorders in teenagers. It’s important to note that personality disorders in teens can be influenced by a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Our team at Ironwood offers specific treatment for teens with emerging personality disorders. The Ironwood Maine campus creates a safe space for your teen to stabilize and receive intensive mental health treatment. Each resident who joins our program is paired with a therapist who spends time evaluating and getting to know the teen. This includes getting a comprehensive medical history of the individual and their family so a treatment plan can be created for your teen.
Our goal is to assess mental health disorders in teens and help them heal through the cultivation of life skills and promoting positive changes. Therapeutic elements of our program include:
Using individual therapy, a therapist will meet with your teen to learn more about disruptive thoughts and behaviors. We use a psychotherapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) which helps teens develop insight into their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and learn healthier coping strategies. DBT is useful in managing symptoms of personality disorders in teens and teaching them ways to control impulses, regulate emotions, and identify negative or abnormal thought patterns.
Group therapy provides a supportive environment where teens can learn from and connect with peers facing similar challenges. It helps develop social skills and empathy. Group therapy also offers opportunities for constructive feedback and support. At Ironwood we have Seeking Safety Group, which teaches healthy coping skills. While this group caters to addiction recovery, it uses trauma-based therapy techniques which can be useful in treating some types of personality disorders.
We offer other types of group therapy including equine therapy and animal therapy. This type of therapy helps teens with emotional or behavioral problems. In our equine therapy program, teens take responsibility for the care of horses and learn communication skills. Caring for animals also helps teens focus on healing and overcoming fears.
Involving the family in therapy can address family dynamics, and communication patterns, and enhance understanding and support within the family system. It can help improve relationships and provide a stable and nurturing environment for the teen. We know that involving parents in their teen’s recovery is crucial for building a healthier more supportive relationship between them.
Parents receive weekly calls about the progress their child is making. We also have events on weekends to invite families to join their teens on campus and participate in activities.
Find Help at Ironwood
It’s important to note that treatment for personality disorders in teens is often long-term and requires a multidisciplinary approach involving mental health professionals, family support, and consistent follow-up. The specific treatment plan will depend on the individual’s needs, symptoms, and severity of the personality disorder. For more information about how Ironwood Maine can help your teen, contact us today.