The 4 Cluster B Personality Disorders: What you need to know

From Hollywood cinema to original films streaming on popular platforms, personality disorders are very present in the fictitious characters and docu-series everywhere. Identifying someone with a personality disorder can be difficult. Personality disorders can be as different as the individuals who are burdened with them. While there are some common indicators, true diagnoses must be given by a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. There are currently 4 categories of the Cluster B personality disorders that are recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

Cluster B Personality Disorders

The four personality disorders which fall under the classification of “cluster B” are grouped together due to the overall nature of these disorders being dramatic, erratic or otherwise involving high intensities of emotional outbursts and occurrences. Common traits of these disorders include:

  • Selfish nature
  • Erratic behavior
  • Reckless, risk-taker
  • Lack of empathy

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) often manifests within an individual by him or her having an inflated ego or sense of entitlement. These individuals are typically very charismatic and seem to have an insane amount of confidence. These individuals can often appear arrogant and judgemental. They expect special treatment and awards, even when they are not deserving of these luxuries.

Many times, narcissists believe that they are above other individuals and cannot understand when their own limitations, whether mental, emotional, or physical, leave them underperforming to their own expectations. They often take advantage of those around them, using them as a source of narcissistic supply that feeds and encourages their already enlarged ego. Narcissists often want to be worshipped without asking for worship because they believe their superiority is so evident, others should want to admire and love them without prompting.

What most people fail to realize about those with NPD is that they often suffer from a very fragile ego and lack true self-esteem. For some individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder, there is an inner voice which is just as judgemental about themselves. In many cases, when a narcissist experiences a failure or limitation in their lives, they become overly critical of their own performances. Their inflated ego demands the highest level of perfection and when it is not achieved, they can feel defeated and worthless. They do not accept responsibility for their actions and will often blame others for these feelings or actions.

This is often when many narcissists seek out the love and adoration from those they have labeled as their narcissistic supply. Their loud and mostly obnoxious behaviors boasting their seemingly perfect traits, talents, and skills are more like a mask they wear to establish dominance. It is this self-deprecation of perceived inferiority in their own minds that not only drives them to attempt to fake the life they want but is also the source which drives them to find tools of manipulation strong enough to help them achieve the feelings of superiority over others. In their minds, if they can make others appear weaker, then they are achieving the ability to establish dominance, control, and demand adoration from all those they encounter.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

When many individuals hear the term “Antisocial personality disorder” (ASPD), they often manifest an image of someone who is awkward, withdrawn or otherwise a social wallflower only appearing in the background of any given setting, if at all. However, this description is more fitting for someone suffering from social anxiety. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder are a horse of a different color altogether.

The term “anti” typically refers to the opposite or negative instance of a thing or event. Anti-prejudice movements are those which were against prejudice legislation or social expectations. When considering its use in the term ‘antisocial’, the literal and possibly most correct meaning of this is the opposite or negative of social. This does not mean that those with ASPD avoid social engagements. Instead, it simply means that the respect for moral and social expectations and norms is not accepted, or possibly even comprehended, by the individual with ASPD.

ASPD is one of the many mental disorders in which those individuals who suffer often begin demonstrating symptoms and signs of the disorder earlier in life. For some, this can be evident in childhood, with episodes of bullying behavior, torturing small animals for pleasure, and other reckless and dangerous behaviors. These dangerous and reckless impulses can put themselves or others at risk, yet for those with ASPD, this is of no concern.

Individuals with ASPD are defiant, showing no genuine remorse, regret, or empathy for the repercussions of their actions to others. They can destroy property and people without even batting an eye. When confronted with the devastation caused at their hands, a person with ASPD may not even seem to understand why you are upset. However, it is a common occurrence for those with ASPD to attempt to appear remorseful or apologetic when it is benefitting to them.

Much like the narcissist, those with ASPD are not those to willingly accept the blame for their actions and will often find a scapegoat in their midst who is at fault for whatever tragedy, disappointment, or devastation that has occurred. Individuals with ASPD are more likely to have aggressive in their behaviors making them appear to be socially awkward or someone who is very disturbed.

Histrionic Personality Disorder

Individuals with Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) are the drama queens (or kings) of the Cluster B personality disorders. These individuals are excessively emotional, demanding to always be the center of attention, praise for the most mundane task completion, and be the ideal partner in all ways sexual and sensual for any man, woman, or other individual alive. It’s the personality disorder most often categorized by the excessive behavior tendencies in just about any scenario possible.

An HPD sufferer will bankrupt themselves and others trying to have the flashiest cars, jewelry, high-tech gadgets, and luxurious homes just to remain the talk of the social circle. They will purposefully and tactfully involve themselves into any scandal that is guaranteed to put their name, and image, in the mouths of everyone and anyone they can possibly reach.

These promiscuous individuals often will be the most scantily clad at a club or a party. A man with HPD might wear shirts that are fitted to show off their physique while a female with HPD may wear a dress leaving little to the imagination.  

These individuals thrive off the attention they receive from their sexual nature and will use any ploy to capture the attention of anyone in the room. This can include using baby voices (female) or flaunting their multiple love interests as a means to make them as desirable as possible. They may amorously greet near strangers with such vigor and sensuality that to an outsider, it would appear they were lovers.

Some individuals with HPD will admit a specific thrill capturing the attention of an otherwise unavailable individual. It is not uncommon for these individuals to engage in sexual activity with the partners of others in their social circles.

While an obvious need for attention is present in those with HPD, their emotional range is very shallow. These individuals are known for being the type to “cause a scene” in a public setting, but they do not comprehend the emotional anguish experienced by those who are embarrassed or humiliated by the scene. These individuals do not understand the lack of desire to be the center of every situation. If you’ve got an HPD individual in your social circle, be prepared for drama greater than any network television show.

Borderline Personality Disorder

The fourth category of Cluster B personality disorders and the most researched of them all is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD sufferers have a range of behaviors and emotional responses, but they do not have a steady idle in their tool bag. These individuals will become enraged over the smallest thing, with explosive behaviors and thoughts. For example, someone in a relationship with a BPD sufferer might find themselves flooded with messages threatening the end of the relationship, infidelity, and worse over an opposite-sex friend commenting something positive on a social media post.

Where you or I might see the black, white, and 1000 shades of gray, the individual with BPD will only see the black and white. For these individuals, there is no middle ground or in-between. They are polarized and their behaviors and thoughts align with this mentality of all or nothing. In relationships, they are either entirely in-love, praising their partner and showering them with affection, attention, and gifts or they are completely checked out, emotionally and physically cold to their partner, and may engage in acts of infidelity.

Individuals with BPD are also incredibly impulsive, acting on a whim and doing whatever their mood suits. They may randomly decide to engage in acts of prostitution as a vengeful tactic against a lover or impulsively get a tattoo of a cartoon character because it struck their fancy. While these actions may not seem to be too dangerous, many individuals with BPD will engage in very risky and dangerous actions due to their impulsivity and polarized mentality.

Another common symptom of individuals with BPD is a poor sense of self. Like the narcissist, these individuals do not have a strong sense of self-confidence or esteem. However, unlike the narcissist, the BPD individual does not seek to always place the blame on others. Instead, they take an internal view on themselves befitting the polarized mentality they apply to every scenario. Individuals either see their actions as exactly right or exactly wrong.

They cannot see both good and bad in their actions, relationships, or even themselves overall. They are likely to be fad dieters switching diets every two weeks, job hoppers working only short stints at any one place before moving on, and a serial relationship killer who finds, lures in, and destroys new partners due to their inability to process a middle ground mentality.

There is a coined term for relationships with BPD called The BPD Relationship Cycle. This cycle describes the processes of emotional and behavioral polarization for BPD individuals in a relationship. The cycle goes:

  • BPD becomes overly emotionally invested in a new love interest
  • BPD recognizes only the positive emotional signals of reciprocated affection
  • Partner has an off day, makes a short response, references plans with others, or other small, unimportant action
  • BPD’s polar mentality allows the action to be thrown into complete negativity “He/she doesn’t love me anymore”
  • BPD then begins struggling to control this quick and intense shift from one event to another
  • BPD explodes with rage, anger, and may act impulsively (cheating, throwing out belongings, moving, etc).
  • After confusion and possible reaction from the partner, BPD begins self-doubting
  • BPD begins extreme judgment of their own actions and begins the self-hate process (this often leads to self-harm)

In many cases, the partner feels manipulated or otherwise played and may end the relationship, furthering the impulsive behavior and self-deprecation until a new love interest can be found. The cycle then repeats.

Therapy Options

Despite the differences in each of these personality disorders, for both the individual and those around him or her, the suffering and life disruption are shared. Each disorder presents its own challenges for those who are close. If a family member is afflicted with any of the Cluster B personality disorders, managing some semblance of a routine or consideration from that individual can be extremely difficult. One of the biggest challenges for any of these types of individuals is the unawareness of their actions, lack of empathy,  and the inability to take true responsibility for their actions.

If you have someone in your life who is affected by a Cluster B personality disorder, therapy options can provide some balance and resources to helping adjust their behavioral patterns. Many will resist the requests to seek treatment but with a supportive atmosphere, it is possible for them to receive the professional care that will help them to lead happier and healthier social lives.

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