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What is a Personality Disorder?


Updated August 18, 2008

Question: What is a Personality Disorder?
What is a personality disorder and what are the criteria for diagnosing a personality disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition) (DSM-IV) a personality disorder is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior” that meets the following criteria:

  • deviates from the expectations of the individual’s culture (e.g., is not what would be normally expected from a person in their particular culture)
  • is pervasive and inflexible (e.g., affects all aspects of a person’s life and is not easily modified depending on the situation)
  • has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood
  • is stable over time
  • leads to impairment or distress

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of 10 personality disorders that are recognized in the DSM-IV. Other personality disorders include: paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

In addition, the DSM-IV designates the category of Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or PD-NOS, for individuals who meet the general criteria for a personality disorder and have symptoms of one or more personality disorders but not enough to meet criteria for any specific personality disorder. A person may also be diagnosed with PD-NOS if they meet the general criteria for a personality disorder but have symptoms of a personality disorder that are not formally recognized in the DSM-IV at this time.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition. American Psychiatric Association: 2000.

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