How Personality Disorders are Clustered

How Personality Disorders are Clustered

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot


When we think of friends and family, we might not always remember the details of their physical features, like their hair, freckles, or eyes, but instead we mostly tend to remember their personalities. Thoughts, emotions, and behaviors compose each person’s personality, making each person unique. Personality dictates how people interact and treat themselves, others, and the world. Environmental factors like where we grow up, family and friends that surround us, and the good and bad experiences from our childhood all make up the environmental factors that shape our personalities.  Family history of personality and mental health issues also influence our personalities through genetics (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016). 

There are currently 10 types of personality disorders divided into three clusters.  An individual with a personality disorder displays one or more aspects of unhealthy and often unyielding behavior from the normal expectations of culture (APA, 2013), typically becoming symptomatic by early adulthood.  People with personality disorders often don’t recognize the issues with their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors because their personalities seem right to them, and they instead feel that the issues lie within everyone else (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016).  Approximately 9% of the adult population in the United States has a personality disorder (Lenzenweger, Lane, Loranger, & Kessler, 2007). 

There are four common enduring features associated with personality disorders: 1) distorted thinking patters; 2) problematic emotional responses; 3) over or under-regulated impulse control; and 4) interpersonal difficulties (APA, 2013).  Depending on the type of personality disorder, issues can range from paranoid thoughts, to erratic emotions, or unpredictable behaviors. While each of the ten personality disorders is very different from the other, they are categorized into three groups called “Clusters.” 

  1. Cluster A.  The personality disorders in Cluster A are characterized by “odd and eccentric thinking or behavior.” Paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder are the three diagnoses that compose Cluster A (APA, 2013).  Symptoms range from odd beliefs, such as the belief in aliens, to concrete thinking or paranoia. Those with Cluster A personality disorders usually display social withdrawal or awkward behaviors.  A trick to remember the symptoms that typify Cluster A is “Cluster Abnormal,” because these personality disorders are dominated by abnormal thoughts or behaviors.
  2. Cluster B.  “Dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behaviors” characterize Cluster B personality disorders. There are four personality disorders in Cluster B: borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder (APA, 2013). Symptoms range from hyperbolic emotions, to lack of emotions, to erratic or violent behavior (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016).  Difficulty with impulse and emotional control is common in this cluster. To remember the symptoms for Cluster B, think “Cluster Bloated,” because the emotions and reactions of individuals with these personality disorders are often intensified.
  3. Cluster C.  The personality disorders in Cluster C demonstrate “anxious and fearful thinking or behaviors.” Avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder compose Cluster C (APA, 2013). Symptoms range from fear of rejection or failure to anxiety about things not being perfect (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016).  One way to remember the symptoms of Cluster C is to think “Cluster Concerned,” because these personality disorders typically demonstrate an extreme level of concerned or worried thoughts or behaviors.

It is important to recognize that all of us can exhibit some of these personality traits from time to time, but that does not mean we all have a personality disorder. In order to meet the diagnostic requirements, traits must display a long-term pattern of inflexibility, significant social, functional, or occupational impairment, and problems with interpersonal relationships. Diagnosing a personality disorder can be extremely complicated because so many of the personality disorders share the same symptoms. Treatment is different for each personality disorder, and each personality disorder can vary from mild to severe, with treatment varying accordingly as well. Pharmaceutical management may be helpful in treating some symptoms, but there are no specific medications to treat personality disorders. Varying types of psychotherapies have proven to be effective in assisting the individual in understanding their behaviors and learning coping skills to manage or reduce problem-causing behaviors. With treatment, people with personality disorders have an improved ability and opportunity to live a normal, healthy, and fulfilling life (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016). 

American Psychiatric Association, 2013. (APA). DSM-5/ Personality Disorders. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic Staff.  (2016).  Personality Disorders.  Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

Lenzenweger, M.F., Lane, M.C., Loranger, A.W., Kessler, R.C. (2007). DSM-IV personality disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.   Biological Psychiatry, 62(6), 553-564. 

October 21, 2020

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