Should I Protect My Family from My Personality Disorder?

Reader’s Question

In your answer to the question entitled “Ending a Friendship with a Personality Disorder” you say: “Personality disorders make up 9 to 15 percent of the adult population. When we identify them, we protect ourselves by keeping them at a safe distance emotionally and socially.”

As I have been diagnosed having a personality disorder, does this mean that, to be a good person, I should severe all my friendships and stop interacting with my family to protect them from my illness? My doctor has been stressing seeking the support of friends — is she wrong and would the virtuous answer be to end the friendships to protect the other people, who should not suffer from my illness?

What should I use instead of former friendships? Should I only interact with counsellors and medical professionals until the disorder gets cured? Should I leave the family and seek hospitalization so as to protect my family?

Psychologist’s Reply

As I mention in my article on understanding personality disorders in relationships, there are ten types of personality disorders divided into three “clusters”. Cluster A (Paranoid, Schizoid, and Schizotypal) describes individuals who appear odd and eccentric in their behavior, emotions, and attitude. Cluster B (Antisocial, Histrionic, Borderline, and Narcissistic) appear dramatic, emotional, and erratic. Cluster C (Avoidant, Dependent, and Obsessive-Compulsive) appear anxious and fearful. You do not mention the actual diagnosis of your personality disorder.

If you have a Cluster A diagnosis, you are likely to have poor social skills and have difficulty relating to others. You may be emotionally cold, suspicious, and eccentric in your behavior. You may have a history of problems in relating to others. For individuals with Cluster A symptoms, a variety of treatment programs may be helpful in relearning skills needed to effectively relate to others. Education with family and friends will also be helpful as they may have difficulty relating to your behaviors.

If you have a Cluster C diagnosis such as Dependent or Avoidant Personality, then the support of others is very important. You may benefit from treatment aimed at educating you about your attitudes and behavior, building social confidence, and increasing your social functioning in the home and community.

If you have a Cluster B diagnosis, there is a good chance that your personality and behavior has damaged others, often emotionally, physically, socially, and even financially. With Cluster B personality disorders, your friends and family may need to take steps to protect themselves from your behavior. Cluster B behaviors and difficulties are outlined in my Personality Disorders article on this website. In Cluster B disorders, treatment often involves a recognition of not only the behaviors and attitudes, but how they damage those around you. If you accept and understand that your Cluster B issues are harmful to those around you, you can consider operating as though you were medically contagious. When we are medically contagious, we keep a safe distance from those we love, encourage them to be cautious when around us and follow protection procedures; we understand their concerns for our situation and their need to protect themselves, and we understand that our loved ones may have already been harmed by our behavior.

When Cluster B individuals are honest with themselves, they recognize why family and friends:

  1. keep their physical distance,
  2. encourage professional help,
  3. protect their finances/assets,
  4. seek the help of law enforcement,
  5. are reluctant to help due to our past behavior,
  6. emotionally distance themselves for their own protection, and
  7. don’t believe our promises and excuses.

Like a person who is bankrupt, a Cluster B personality disorder often must reestablish their credit with those around them. They don’t require hospitalization, but they recognize that they must fix their behavior, not the people around them. You’re not required to end friendships, but you are required to acknowledge that your personality traits will interfere with those friendships.

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