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Personality Disorders and Dysregulated Eating
Many clients think that they’re mentally healthy because they don’t have depression, anxiety or any combination of the two that would constitute a mood disorder. They don’t understand that there are other mental health conditions that might lead to mindless, binge or emotional eating. Welcome to learning about personality disorders.
“A person’s personality typically stays the same over time. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.” (American Psychiatric Association, “What are personality disorders?,” https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/personality-disorders/what-are-personality-disorders, accessed 10/5/19)
It’s also described as “. . . a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social activities, work, and school.” (Mayo Clinic, Personality disorders/Symptoms and causes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354463, accessed 10/5/19)
Here’s a brief characterization of the personality disorders (PDs) associated with dysregulated eating that I see most often in my practice. Do not use them to self-diagnosis. If you think a diagnosis might fit you, read more about it online, then meet with a therapist to get a professional opinion.
- Borderline PD: impulsive, unstable self-image, emotionally fragile, mood swings, self-harming behaviors, a chronic feeling of emptiness and insufficiency
- Avoidant PD: highly sensitive to criticism or rejection, feels inadequate and inferior, fears disapproval, extreme shyness leads to avoids people
- Dependent PD: overly dependent on others, needy for others’ care, tolerates abuse, fears self-dependence, lacks confidence, submissive, needs to be in a relationship
- Obsessive-compulsive PD: over-focused on details, rules, and order, desires to control people and tasks, is rigid and stubborn, unwillingness to delegate
Moreover, there are two PDs that dysregulated eaters often find in the intimates they choose as romantic partners or friends. These people are very difficult to have relationships with and may trigger emotional eating. By far, my clients choose people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), characterized by having little or no empathy, feeling superior to others, expecting constant attention and praise, rejecting criticism, fantasizing about success, and being highly competitive. Unfortunately, my clients with eating problems also find partners who have Anti-social Personality Disorder (aka Sociopathy or Psychopathy). These are people who don’t care about right and wrong, ignore others’ feelings and rights, lie, manipulate, deceive, have no empathy or remorse, and can be aggressive, cold or charming.
Remember that personality disorders don’t cause eating problems per se. However, their traits can reinforce having dysregulated eating. Equally, when you get treatment for a PD, you will most likely find that your eating—and your life—improve greatly.