Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness

Disorders of Personality

If your environment supports your behavior, do you still have a personality disorder?

By definition, a psychiatric disorder in DSM-IV needs to cause distress or dysfunction and must be outside the norms of one’s culture. Nonetheless, there are circumstances when people may meet criteria for a DSM-IV personality disorder, but they are shielded from distress or dysfunction from a protective environment. For example, people who are very powerful, wealthy, or famous may be protected from the negative social consequences of behavior that would not be tolerated in less privileged individuals. In fact the newspapers are full of reports of outrageous behavior on the part of celebrities and politicians. If these people continue to succeed in their lives in spite of such behavior, does their behavior still meet criteria for a personality disorder? Such a question is not easily answered, but we can assume that those individuals who truly do suffer from personality pathology will not be able to modify their behavior when it does start to cause negative consequences. Healthier people will be able to adapt as needed.


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