Abnormal Behavior and Personality

The concept of personality disorders requires an understanding of their role in the study of abnormal behavior. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM ) is considered the bible of mental disorders by psychologists and psychiatrists. The first official edition, published in 1952, was heavily influenced by previous systems established by the Army and the Veterans Administration to assist in understanding the mental health problems of World War II servicemen. In time, the DSM evolved beyond its original military purpose, becoming the standard or compendium for all of abnormal behavior. Now in its fourth edition, the DSM-IV is widely considered the official classification system or taxonomy for use by mental health professionals. It describes all mental disorders widely believed to exist, as well as a variety of others provisionally put forward for further research. Twelve personality disorders are included in DSM-IV, 10 of which are officially accepted, and 2 of which are provisional. In addition, this text briefly discusses two others that appeared in the revised third edition of the DSM. Although deleted from the latest edition, their diagnostic labels remain in widespread clinical use. Table 1.1 gives brief descriptions of these 14 personality disorders, an overview to the later chapters of this book.

Basic Vocabulary

Abnormal psychology has its own special vocabulary, or jargon. Many terms used in the discussion of abnormal behavior appear repeatedly in this book. Learn them now, for you will see them again and again. Diagnostic criteria are the defining characteristics used by clinicians to classify individuals within a clinical category. Essentially, diagnostic criteria constitute a checklist of features that must be present before a diagnosis can be made. Each disorder has its own unique list. Some lists are short; others are longer. For example, seven criteria are used to diagnose the antisocial personality. One of these is "deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure" (DSM-IV 1994, p. 650). Eight criteria are used to diagnose the histrionic personality. One of the most interesting is "interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior" (p. 657).

The criteria list for each personality disorder includes either seven, eight, or nine items, each of which details some characteristic trait, attitude, or behavior strongly related to that particular disorder. In the antisocial criteria, deceitfulness is considered a personality trait, a long-standing pattern of behavior expressed across time and in many different situations. The histrionic criteria can also be considered as tapping the personality trait of seductiveness, because histrionics are known for inappropriately sexualizing their communications. Where many such personality traits typically occur together, they may be said to constitute a personality disorder. Antisocials, for example, are much more than just deceitful; they are often manipulative, reckless, aggressive, irresponsible, exploitive, and lacking in empathy and remorse. When all of these characteristics are taken together, they constitute what is called a personality

TABLE 1.1 Brief Description of the Fourteen Personality Disorders of DSM-III,


Schizoid Apathetic, indifferent, remote, solitary. Neither desires nor need human attachments. Minimal awareness of feelings of self or others. Few drives or ambitions, if any.

Avoidant Hesitant, self-conscious, embarrassed, anxious. Tense in social situations due to fear of rejection. Plagued by constant performance anxiety. Sees self as inept, inferior, or unappealing. Feels alone and empty.

Depressive1 Somber, discouraged, pessimistic, brooding, fatalistic. Presents self as vulnerable and abandoned. Feels valueless, guilty, and impotent. Judges self as worthy only of criticism and contempt.

Dependent Helpless, incompetent, submissive, immature. Withdraws from adult responsibilities. Sees self as weak or fragile. Seeks constant reassurance from stronger figures.

Histrionic Dramatic, seductive, shallow, stimulus-seeking, vain. Overreacts to minor events. Exhibition-istic as a means of securing attention and favors. Sees self as attractive and charming.

Narcissistic Egotistical, arrogant, grandiose, insouciant. Preoccupied with fantasies of success, beauty, or achievement. Sees self as admirable and superior, and therefore entitled to special treatment.

Antisocial Impulsive, irresponsible, deviant, unruly. Acts without due consideration. Meets social obligations only when self-serving. Disrespects societal customs, rules, and standards. Sees self as free and independent.

Sadistic2 Explosively hostile, abrasive, cruel, dogmatic. Liable to sudden outbursts of rage. Feels self-satisfied through dominating, intimidating and humiling others. Is opinionated and close-minded.

Compulsive Restrained, conscientious, respectful, rigid. Maintains a rule-bound lifestyle. Adheres closely to social conventions. Sees the world in terms of regulations and hierarchies. Sees self as devoted, reliable, efficient, and productive.

Negativistic1 Resentful, contrary, skeptical, discontented. Resist fulfilling others' expectations. Deliberately inefficient. Vents anger indirectly by undermining others' goals. Alternately moody and irritable, then sullen and withdrawn.

Masochistic3 Deferential, pleasure-phobic, servile, blameful, self-effacing. Encourages others to take advantage. Deliberately defeats own achievements. Seeks condemning or mistreatful partners.

Paranoid Guarded, defensive, distrustful and suspiciousness. Hypervigilant to the motives of others to undermine or do harm. Always seeking confirmatory evidence of hidden schemes. Feels righteous, but persecuted.

Schizotypal Eccentric, self-estranged, bizarre, absent. Exhibits peculiar mannerisms and behaviors.

Thinks can read thoughts of others. Preoccupied with odd daydreams and beliefs. Blurs line between reality and fantasy.

Borderline Unpredictable, manipulative, unstable. Frantically fears abandonment and isolation. Experiences rapidly fluctuating moods. Shifts rapidly between loving and hating. Sees self and others alternatively as all-good and all-bad.

1 Listed as a provisional disorder in DSM-IV.

2 From the Appendix of DSM-III-R.

3 Called Self-Defeating in DSM-III-R appendix.

prototype, a psychological ideal found only rarely in nature. The disorder is the prototype, put forward in terms of its purest expression.

Real persons, however, seldom are seen as "pure types." The DSM does not require that subjects possess each and every characteristic of a personality disorder before a diagnosis can be made. Typically, some majority of criteria will suffice. For example, five of eight criteria are required for a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder, and five of nine are required for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. Many different combinations of diagnostic criteria are possible, a fact that recognizes that no two people are exactly alike, even when both share the same personality disorder diagnosis. Although Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer might both be considered antisocial personalities, for example, their personalities are nevertheless substantially different. Determining exactly what separates individuals such as Dahmer and Man-son from the rest of us requires a great deal of biographical information. Each chapter in this text, therefore, focuses on factors important in the development of a personality disorder. For example, a chummy relationship between father and daughter is one of the major pathways in the development of an adult histrionic personality disorder.

Categorical typologies are advantageous because of their ease of use by clinicians who must make relatively rapid diagnoses with large numbers of patients whom they see briefly. Although clinical attention in these cases is drawn to only the most salient features of the patient, a broad range of traits that have not been directly observed is often strongly suggested. Categories assume the existence of discrete boundaries both between separate personality styles and between normality and abnormality, a feature felicitous to the medical model, but not so for personality functioning, which exists on a continuum. The arguments of those who favor the adoption of dimensional models enter mainly around one theme: The categorical model, because it entails discrete boundaries between the various disorders and between normality and abnormality, is simply inappropriate for the personality disorders. Although trait dimensions have a number of desirable properties, there is little agreement among their proponents concerning either the nature or number of traits necessary to represent personality adequately. Theorists may "invent" dimensions in accord with their expectations rather than "discovering" them as if they were intrinsic to nature, merely awaiting scientific detection. Apparently, the number of traits required to assess personality is not determined by the ability of our research to disclose some inherent truth but rather by our predilections for conceiving and organizing our observations. Describing personality with more than a few such trait dimensions produces schemas so complex and intricate that they require geometric or algebraic representation. Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such quantitative formats, they pose considerable difficulty both in comprehension and in communication among clinicians.

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