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Personality Disorder Families

The process of going through a difficult time with a loved one can be an overwhelming experience. That process can be even more of a challenge when you do not know how to help them. There is an ongoing struggle and at times it can feel like a losing battle, especially when the person you are trying to help does not see their symptoms as problematic. In some situations, they might blame you for being the source of their problems.


Personality can be described as a summation of a person’s character and their traits. While traits are inborn, characters are often learned behaviour through interaction with environment. The degree to which these characters and traits express themselves consistently and compatibly in an environment will determine their levels of functionality. For example, a person who struggles with interpersonal relationships, meaning that they often have problems with nearly everyone in their life or experiences challenges in establishing meaningful relationships based on mutual trust and understanding may be a sign indicative of a personality disorder. Evidently, there are many symptoms to a personality disorder and interpersonal problems can be one of them.


Sometimes, personality disorders are as result of traumatic experiences such as physical and sexual abuse during childhood. The coping skills that the child develops in such extreme situations will later become part of their dysfunctional behaviour in adulthood. It is important to clarify that developing a personality disorder is not the person’s choice or fault because an interaction of genetic predispositions along with harsh environmental factors facilitates the development of such disorders and in many circumstances, it is not the parents’ fault either. Therefore, understanding the background information to the disorder is an important step towards helping and working effectively with the person.


Families of patients who suffer from personality disorders often come across feelings of confusion and self-doubt when it comes to helping their family member, and sometimes these feelings may lead to hopelessness and helplessness in caregivers and partners which can end up in anxiety and/or depression. It is difficult to know that one does not have control over the situation and as result they might feel angry and resentful. To be fair and acknowledge the fact that this is a difficult process for anyone to go through and as result here are a few tips for families which might be helpful.




Nothing is more important than taking care of yourself to be able to look after a loved one with a personality disorder. Often caregivers and family members come to me with their entire focus on the patient and their needs to the point of self-neglect and they are usually surprised when I bring their attention towards themselves. I use the analogy of oxygen mask in airplanes especially when the airhostesses emphasize to put on your own mask first before helping the person right next to you. In other words, you need to be healthy enough (e.g., hydrated, well fed, well rested) to help other people.


Establishing boundaries:


It is very important to establish consistently enforced boundaries with individuals who suffer from personality disorders. A lack of boundary can lead to the increase and reinforcement of a dysfunctional behaviour. Sometimes, some patients have difficulty controlling their anger and rage and they can become very violent; therefore, as caregivers and family members it is important to continuously communicate those boundaries and enforce them at the times when needed.


Applying skills:


Some of the skills that can help families to communicate and understand the person’s experiences such as the use of empathy or placing yourself in their shoes as well as validating their feelings and thoughts by reflecting it back to them. The challenging and most important skill is the ability to listen attentively to what being said and communicated even if it does not make sense to you. Dismissive and invalidating statements to people suffering from personality disorders can increase their symptoms of rage and violent behaviour.


Seek Therapy:


Caring for an individual with severe psychological symptoms can be taxing on the body and the mind; therefore, it is important that family members have their own individual therapists to express and process their emotions which can enhance their sense of control and empowerment as well as develop insights to their own vulnerabilities and other inner processes.


I assume that your loved one you are caring for is already receiving psychotherapy, but if not, encouraging them to seek help is the first step towards positive change. Sometimes finding the right professional help can be challenging as not all professionals are trained in symptom identification and providing the right treatment. Thus, doing some homework and searching for the right services before visiting a therapist can save many months of unsuccessful treatments.


If you or a family member is suffering from personality disorder, book your appointment with your therapist today.


Khobi Attai, MA, specializes the areas of abuse and domestic violence, as well as a variety of other subjects. For more information on Khobi and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.