We have seen in other articles published on this site that if we experience significant trauma during our childhood we are at higher risk than average of developing psychological problems (such as an impaired ability to cope with stress, complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder) in adulthood, which, in the absence of appropriate therapy, can potentially devastate our lives.
Indeed, even if we are fortunate enough to avoid developing a formally diagnosable psychiatric condition as a result of our childhood trauma, our early traumatic experiences can still, along with our genetic make-up and other factors, have a marked adverse effect upon the type of personality we develop.
The Four Personality Types : A,B,C and D.
Researchers into personality have identified four distinct personality types : A, B, C and D. Let’s look at each of these in turn:
Individuals with Type A personalities tend to:
– be very driven and have a high need to achieve
– be impatient
– feel a sense of urgency and a need to hurry
– be materialistic / have a strong need to acquire expensive possessions
– be highly competitive
– be intolerant of errors
– be suspicious
– find it hard to relax
Shockingly, research suggests that Type A personalities suffer 90% of all heart attacks.
Those with a Type B personality tend to:
– have a relaxed attitude towards their work
– NOT be easily angered
Those with Type C personalities tend to:
– hostile, easily angered, intolerant and mistrustful in their dealings with others
– have a generally negative thinking style and a negative attitude to life in general
– have difficulty controlling/managing their emotions (this is sometimes referred to as emotional dysregulation or emotional liability; in informal terms, it may be referred to as being ‘prone to ups and downs’).
Those with Type D personalities tend to:
– be prone to both anxiety and depression
– be highly self-critical
– uncomfortable / awkward / lacking confidence in social situations
– be prone to feelings of insecurity
NB: It should go without saying, of course, that the human personality is an extremely complex phenomenon, therefore the above A,B,C,D model of personality represents something of an oversimplification.
What Factors In Childhood Have A Significant Effect On Whether We Develop A Healthy Or Unhealthy Personality Type?
We are more likely to develop a healthy personality in adulthood if:
– as infants, our primary caregivers help us to develop a sense of security, trust and calm by soothing/holding/hugging/stroking/being spoken to softly and comfortingly etc. In relation to this, it is important to remember that if our primary caregivers frequently interact with us in a state of anxiety when we are infants we are likely to sense/pick up on this anxiety and are thereby at higher than normal risk of developing an anxious personality ourselves.
– as children, our feelings are accepted and affirmed by our primary caregivers and they display empathy towards us. Having our feelings minimized, dismissed or invalidated with derogatory remarks such as: what are you crying about you big baby? are psychologically damaging as they result in us repressing our emotions which stores up problems for the future.
– as children, our primary caregivers help us to develop our own problem-solving skills and strategies to help enable us to deal with life’s inevitable myriad problems and difficulties in practical and constructive ways rather than being overwhelmed by the anxiety they may evoke in us.
– as children, we learn by modelling our behaviours upon those of our primary caregivers. Thus, it is important our role models set a positive example and show us how to deal with difficult emotions such as fear and anger in an effective manner.
– as children, our primary caregivers encourage us to talk about feelings and emotions that trouble us
– as children, our primary caregivers set boundaries for us by using fair and consistent rules and discipline.
– as children, our primary caregivers spend sufficient time interacting with us in a positive manner
– as children, our primary caregivers help us to develop the skills and confidence necessary eventually to become independent
– as children, our primary caregivers help us to learn how to balance our rights with our responsibilities.
Childhood Trauma Can Increase Our Risk Of Developing A Personality Disorder :
The experience of childhood trauma can contribute to many other personality disorders; the main personality disorders are shown below :
- SCHIZOID, DEPRESSIVE
PERSONALITY DISORDER AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM :
About FIVE MILLION people in the UK suffer from a personality disorder and approximately one hundred thousand of those are, at any one time, caught up in the criminal justice system (e.g on bail, on probation, undertaking community service). Also, at any one time, about 50,000 of those suffering from a personality disorder are in jail. It is also shown that 1,000 individuals have a personality disorder which warrants detainment in a mental health institution and that 3,000 have a serious personality disorder making them a very high risk to the welfare of others.
DEFINITION OF PERSONALITY :
It is difficult to precisely define personality; this is because of the way we feel and behave often varies across different situations. For example, we may behave one way at work, another way with friends, and yet another way with family. However, by about the early twenties, most people have developed a core set of characteristics/personality traits in relation to how s/he thinks, feels and behaves. These attributes and qualities remain fairly consistent over time and can be said to form the basis of personality. If the personality is relatively healthy, it will enable the person to function at least reasonably well in relation to his interaction with others and with the world in general.
One of the best-known theories (formulated in the 1980s) of personality is the OCEAN model which suggests that the ‘Big Five’ personality traits that combine to make up our personality are :
- Openness to experience
(See diagram above for more detail about these personality traits.)
PERSONALITY DISORDER :
Unfortunately, however, some people, due to adverse childhood experiences and other factors (such as having a poor social support network) do not develop a healthy personality; the most severely affected of these will, instead, develop a personality disorder. In essence, this means they will have aspects of their personalities which, without therapy, they find extremely difficult to overcome, even when they repeatedly experience these personality characteristics causing significant problems in their own lives as well as in the lives of those with whom they interact.
Often, the person who goes on to develop a personality disorder will start to show significant problems relating to how they feel and behave around the beginning of puberty (it is very important to remember, however, that this is a time of life when many young people experience emotional turmoil so it is necessary to exercise extreme caution when making formal diagnoses in relation to a person’s mental health at this age – an expertly trained professional is called for if such diagnoses are to be considered). These problems are likely to involve severe difficulties with forming and maintaining relationships at school, within the family and in social situations. Also, it is likely, as time goes on, that the individual will repeatedly get into trouble, seemingly unable to listen to advice or to learn from experience. There will, too, be a general inability to control feelings (this is sometimes referred to as emotional dysregulation) or behaviour (the individual may well be highly impulsive and prone to dangerous risk-taking). The person may frequently be extremely aggressive, often have temper tantrums and be constantly disobedient. Underneath these displays of problematic behaviour, the person is very likely to be in a state of deep unhappiness and emotional distress, for which therapy is vital.
Once a personality disorder is established and ingrained, it can lead to a vicious downward spiral which becomes, essentially, out of control (click here to read my article about the process that underlies such a downward spiralling) and may lead the individual to turn to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to dull the pain of his/her chaotic and perpetually problematic existence. This, of course, will invariably make things even worse.
There are five main types of personality disorder, and I have provided a summary of them in an article you may read by clicking here.
As I’ve already alluded to, adverse childhood experiences tend very much to play a very significant role in the development of personality disorders; these include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, having parents/carers who misuse substances and growing up in a household where a parent/carer has a significant mental health problem.
Indeed, if a child’s upbringing is extremely stressful, his/her brain development can be harmed leading to the kinds of emotional and behavioural problems that may precede the development of a full-blown personality disorder (click here to read my article about how severe stress in early life can adversely affect neurological development).
FACTORS WHICH CAN EXACERBATE SYMPTOMS OF PERSONALITY DISORDER :
Research shows that stress can very significantly worsen the symptoms of a personality disorder. Stresses which should, as far as possible, be avoided include :
– financial worries
– stressful interpersonal relationships (especially if these involve family or partners)
– situations that give rise to significant anxiety
Until relatively recently, personality disorders were poorly understood and little effective treatment was available. Now, however, it has been established that many of those with a personality disorder can be given therapies that are potentially highly effective. These include dialectical behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Childhood Trauma And Its Link To Borderline Personality Disorder by David Hosier MSC
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).