Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression


traitsPersonality *traits* are patterns of thoughts and behavior that complicate social and occupational interaction. While these traits resemble the maladaptive patterns that we call *personality disorders,* the presence of a trait is not a diagnosis of a disorder.

We are all anxious at one time or another, but when that anxiety continues unabated and interferes with social and occupational functioning, it becomes an anxiety disorder.

Similarly, most of us have periods of depressed mood. When that depressed mood persists and results in significant eating, sleeping and cognitive dysfunction, we may be diagnosed with a mood disorder.

We all have personality traits, characteristics, and features that characterize how we interact, solve problems and address stressors.

Personality Disorders, however, are enduring rigid patterns of thought and behavior. These patterns are pervasive and inflexible and cause impairment in social functioning, at home and at work. These patterns are often not seen until adulthood but may have been present in some form much earlier in life. They have become integrated into the daily functioning of the individual and quite resistant to treatment or change.

They are considered *disorders* when they cause significant distress and impairment in daily interactions.

However, some individuals have very similar personality traits but are not impaired by them regardless of how problematic others may find them to be.

We often use personality traits to describe patients: “He is very paranoid, is very histrionic, seems paranoid, and/or is real O-C.”

These personality traits that we display have been learned, and we often see no reason to alter them. Indeed, we can blissfully go through life, annoying friends, family and co-workers, and be oblivious to how others see us. If we learn that our personality traits are an annoyance, we can seek to, and often successfully can, change.


A. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a sense of self-importance, exaggeration of achievements, pre-occupation with fantasies of success, power or brilliance, requiring excessive admiration. At its extremes, this person has a sense of entitlement, is exploitative and lacks empathy.

Narcissistic Traits – self-centered, demanding, arrogant

B. Histrionic Personality Disorder includes excessive emotionality and attention seeking behavior. This person must be the center of attention, often displays inappropriate provocative behavior, is self-dramatizing, and experiences rapidly shifting and shallow emotions.

Histrionic Traits – melodramatic, theatrical, flirtatious, superficial emotionality

C, Dependent Personality Disorder displays an excessive need to be taken care of, needs advice and reassurance, wants others to assume responsibility, feels helpless when alone, preoccupied with fears of abandonment
Dependent Traits – dependent and clingy, fears expressing disagreement, poor self-confidence

D. In Avoidant Personality Disorder, the individual displays prevision social inhibition, has preoccupying fears of criticism or rejection, views self as inept, unappealing and inferior, and refuses to engage in new activities believing they may prove embarrassing.

Avoidant Traits – Shy, inhibited, non-assertive

E. Paranoid Personality Disorder includes pervasive distrust, seeing the motives of others as malevolent, and constantly looking for the hidden meaning behind the actions of other.

Paranoid Traits – fearful of betrayal, concerned about the intentions of others

F. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder is characterized by preoccupation with perfectionism, details, rules, lists and schedules. Excessive devotion to work, inability to break from tasks, rigid mental and interpersonal control, inflexibility, stubbornness, and tendency to horde is noted.

Compulsive Personality Traits – prefers order, works from lists, is tightly organized, complicates task completion by others, is rigid and excessively organized

Even if not raising to the level of a personality disorder, personality traits can be abrasive and problematic.

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