Evolutionary Model for Personality Disorders

We have seen that severe and protracted childhood, interpersonal trauma can increase our risk of developing various personality disorders as adults (with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, having received the most interest from researchers).

Personality disorders are (in theory, at least) diagnosed by looking at a variety of an individual’s personality traits and determining if certain ones of these have become so extreme, dysfunctional and maladaptive in relation to the culture and society within which the individual exists that they can be considered to have become pathological. According to which personality traits are affected, how many are affected and the way in which they combine, a diagnosis of a particular personality disorder may be given. For example, someone who is highly emotionally unstable, prone to outbursts of extreme rage, extremely impulsive, shifts dramatically between idealizing and demonizing others and has only the vaguest and most nebulous sense of their own identity may be diagnosed as suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD).

However, just because these extreme personality characteristics are ultimately dysfunctional when exhibited chronically within our present society and culture, does not imply that, on an evolutionary time scale, they have never been adaptive, Indeed, all of the characteristics that make up personality, in their basic form, evolved for a reason (i.e. to increase our chances of survival and reproduction). And, with this in mind, it is interesting to consider the evolutionary reasons why the basic traits that can combine in an extreme form to create what we, today, conceptualize as personality disorders, developed in the first place.

One way to do this is to consider each personality disorder and determine what drives and motivations they galvanize in the individual and what ‘functional strategy’ underpins them (see also my previously published article:

One model that seeks to do that is the EVOLUTIONARY MODEL FOR PERSONALITY DISORDERS:

NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: To outcompete others for status; self-advertisement

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Assertion of specialness, demand to be treated specially. 

ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Exploitation of others; viewing others as objects to be attacked, deceived, stolen from and controlled; individualism and detachment from social opinion.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Competition and expansion of domain.

OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: To set up internally derived systems of control and evaluation; to develop standards

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Control and expansion of domain.

AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Avoidance of situations not felt to be entirely safe; avoidance of devaluation.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Self-protection.

PARANOID PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Hypervigilance; personalization of threats; counterattack.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Self-defence and protection.

SCHIZOID PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Lack of interest in other people; isolation and detachment (both physical and emotional) from others.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Self-defence and protection.

HISTRIONIC PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Attract and expand.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Engage and entertain.

DEPENDENT PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Attach, expand.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Assert needs, please others.

PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE:  Control, protect.

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Resist external control, argue.

DEPRESSIVE PERSONALITY DISORDER:

DRIVE: Critique, protect

FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Complain, surrender, retreat, brood.

BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD): BPD is manifested by many of the drives and behaviours described by the entire range of personality disorders listed above. This often results in the BPD sufferer being driven by deeply conflicting motives and producing severe psychological distress. (See also my previously published article: Some BPD Traits May Have Been Adaptive For Our Ancestors And Helped Them To Survive).

A NOTE ON WHAT IS MEANT BY FUNCTIONAL STRATEGY: Whilst, within the model, the term ‘functional strategy’ is used, this does not imply that the strategy is a conscious strategy.

REFERENCES:

Frederick L. Coolidge and Daniel L. Segal EVOLUTION OF PERSONALITY DISORDER DIAGNOSIS IN THE DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL OF MENTAL
DISORDER University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Clinical Psychology Review, Vol. 18, No. 5, pp. 585–599, 1998

McDougall, William (1960), An Introduction to Social Psychology  University Paperbacks Methuen & Co (London)

Millon, T. (1990). Wiley series on personality processes.Toward a new personology: An evolutionary model. John Wiley & Sons.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).