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Does My Parent Have a Personality Disorder?

By Crystal JoSeptember 17, 2018
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Many adult children will struggle with their relationship with their aging parent. Learning what a personality disorder is and common symptoms can help you see how to set appropriate boundaries and how to free yourself from guilt and obligation.

Read more about what to do if your senior parent has a personality disorder.

A Parent’s Personality Disorder

Have you always struggled in your relationship with your parent? Maybe your relationship has been stormy, but you never could figure out why.

Your parent may have a personality disorder if your relationship with your parent has been characterized by:

  • Alienation
  • Blame
  • Control
  • Criticism
  • Neglect
  • Rage
  • Stifling of your attempts to separate yourself from your parent

This disorder refers to specific patterns people have in how they see themselves, how they interact with others and in their way of looking at the world. A person with this disorder will have ways of thinking that are inflexible. Even when these ways of acting and thinking are causing problems in their relationships, they seem unable to change their attitude.

Your parent will most likely not be aware that the way they are acting is a problem. Typically, they will blame others when things go wrong – in particular, they blame the people who are closest to them.

The Types of Personality Disorders

The MSD Manual states that up to 10% of people may have a personality disorder. Some traits of the disorder will improve as a person gets older and others will become harder to deal with.

These disorders are grouped into three clusters based on character symptoms and traits. It is not unusual for a person to have traits from more than one disorder.

Cluster A Personality Disorders

If your parent has these personality disorders, you will typically see irrational and odd actions and thoughts. The types are:

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder (Distrustful and suspicious)
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder (Not interested in other people)
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder (Strange and unusual behaviors and ideas)

Cluster B Personality Disorders

In this group of personality disorders, you might have strong memories of your parent being attention-seeking, emotional, overly dramatic and unpredictable in their actions and thoughts. One moment they are laughing and loving and the next moment they erupt into raging behavior. These include:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (No regard for others and will lie and manipulate for their own benefit)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (Can’t handle being alone, strong fear of being abandoned, uncontrolled actions and emotions)
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (Attention seeking and dramatic)
  • Narcissistic Personality disorder (Constant need for admiration and has a focus on their self)

Cluster C Personality Disorders

A parent who has this category of personality disorder will be constantly anxious and demonstrate fearful and irrational thoughts and actions. They include:

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder (Afraid of rejection so avoid relationships)
  • Dependent Personality Disorder (Can’t survive on their own and need someone to care for them)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality disorder (A need for perfectionism and has behaviors and thoughts that are inflexible)

A parent with a personality disorder will have significant trouble in their relationship with you. Especially as your parent ages and the power dynamic shifts. As a child, your parent was in charge and you relied on them for love and care. Your elderly parent will often come to rely on you and as an adult, you may now recognize signs of a personality disorder.

Recognize That You Are Not to Blame

When you have a parent with a personality disorder, there can be heartbreaking consequences. You will need to recognize that your parent did not choose to have this disorder. But that does not mean that you need to let them harm you. What you need to do is to set boundaries in place that will protect you from further damage.

You must also remember that you cannot expect your parent to change. People with personality disorders are often not aware of how inappropriate their actions are. Your parent may not understand what is an acceptable, reasonable and safe way to treat other people.

The Borderline Personality Treatment website states that you will need to set your own boundaries in the relationship. Decide what behaviors you are not going to put up with and make it clear to your parent what the consequences will be.

You can be loving (or at least kind) but firm.

A child of a parent with a disorder will often suffer from feelings of guilt and obligation. These feelings can get stronger as your parent ages and relies more on you. Decide what is reasonable for you to do.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

Ways to Get Help

Most likely you will be experiencing feelings of anger, depression and worthlessness. A parent with a personality disorder can leave you with deep, painful wounds. It is important that you get help. Talk to family members and friends about what you are experiencing. Find a good therapist who is trained in dealing with these disorders.

Online forums and support groups of adult children of parents with personality disorders can be great places to talk about what you have experienced and to be understood. Reading books can also be instrumental in your healing process and learning to protect yourself. Some recommended books are “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride or “Understanding the Borderline Mother” by Christine Ann Lawson.

Dealing with someone with a personality disorder can leave you feeling emotionally exhausted. You may question your own actions constantly. If you are seeing signs of this disorder in your parent, you can seek help.

It is possible to move beyond the hurt you have (or still are) experiencing. You can learn how to form a relationship that will leave your dignity intact.

Do you see any of these personality characteristics in your parent? How have you dealt with your parent’s personality disorder and your relationship? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo