How do personality disorders develop ?

Personality disorders develop secondary to a complex interaction between one’s genetics and a variety of detrimental environmental experiences. All personality disorders are modestly to moderately heritable, however, genetics do not generally follow the DSM 5 diagnostic pattern, children may inherit features like emotionality, impulsivity and introversion from their parents. There is evidence to suggest that several environmental factors can overcome genetic disadvantage when it comes to personality disorders.

To understand how personality traits appear, we need to remember that all personality traits, at some point in time, was a means to cope with the world.

They story of every human on earth.

Even before we are born, several factors, such as maternal physical and mental health have a bearing on how we relate to the world. At birth, we may be endowed with caretakers who prioritize us and support us so we may at some point become secure enough in ourselves. We might go out there and explore earth without beating ourselves up, taking failure with grace and ultimate responsibility of our lives OR We may be exposed to parents with problems of their own, environments that seem hostile and scary and we may have to dig ourselves out of a terrifying childhood. Adverse events in childhood are a proven risk factor in the development of problematic personality traits.

Genetic vulnerability and/or a set of averse environmental factors may lead to the development of personality disorders. Traits such as impulsivity and reward dependence may be inherited irrespective of associated personality traits.

K was a single child. K’s father had his own problems, he was a very anxious man. Every time K seemed close to a relative, he would reprimand K and remind him how they might utilize him. K constantly witnessed to interactions between his parents that usually ended with his dad screaming at his mom “claiming she was the cheating him”. K was trashed when he did something “wrong”, no explanations given. When he did something cool, like folding a paper aeroplane, it was dismissed. Now for K to become a confident adult, this child would need gifted resilience and/or an adult who made the world seem less scary to him.

Disorganized parenting and internalized parenting values

At a certain age, our parents (and other significant adults) seem like gods and superheroes. We want to emulate them, and keep them happy. When our gods and super heroes fall from their throne and we are left confused, it is difficult for us to form a stable picture of the world. Children sometimes internalize parents and significant others in such a way that the traits of the external object are incorporated into the self and the child ends up owning the traits. We sometimes end up becoming out parents.

The adolescent resentment that arises from not being understood, coupled with an environment that tries to thrust itself on the child is fertile ground for all sorts of emotional turmoil. Including the development of problematic personality traits.

-A kid whose academic achievements are celebrated and failures ignored may grow up to be someone who is unable to deal with failure.

-A kid whose parent exhibits constant clingy and manipulative behavior, may carry this behavior into the other relationships he has.

-A child whose parents are constantly insecure and thrust it on their child, may never find the confidence to explore his/her potential.

Attachment issues

Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. It is vital for young children to form secure attachments with a significant other in order for their personality to develop in an adaptive manner. When a child develops a secure attachment, it presents as a healthy bond. In other words, they learn to expect the best from the other person and believe that the world(or at least parts of it) is good. In people with insecure attachment, however, their expectation is of the world to somehow sabotage them. Childhood abuse, negligence and disorganized parenting are factors that negatively impact attachment.

Insecure and disorganized attachment lead to emotional and behavioral problems in later life.

More about attachment here.

These issues lead to the formation of problematic personality traits, however at some point the sufferers themselves have to take responsibility of their own behavior, this would be a valuable first step in dealing with personality disorders. If the children and young adults of today do not take steps to manage their issues, they may pass it on to the generation after them, no only via their genetics, but via social learning and modelling as well.

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