The Spectrum of Brokenness: What to Do When You’re Dealing With a Personality Disorder

Dr. Keith Witt Audio, Conversations, Free, Perspectives, Psychology, Psychology Now: Conversations Exploring Our Inner World Leave a Comment

This discussion will help you begin to protect yourself and your own boundaries when encountering someone afflicted with a personality disorder, while providing a way to better understand and empathize with these individuals.

This audio dialogue was lovingly produced for Integral Life members.

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Nearly 1 in 10 people possess some form of personality disorder. Which means there’s a very good chance that you will encounter someone with this disorder at some point in your life… if you haven’t already. They might be your boss, your lover, your parent, your spiritual teacher, or even your presidential candidate.

How can we engage these personalities with care and compassion, while remaining fully attentive to our own personal boundaries? Listen to find out!

Mark and Keith explore the following:

  • What causes personality disorders?
  • How can trauma lead to these disorders?
  • How do we tell the difference between narcissistic personality disorder and more dangerous antisocial disorders?
  • How can I tell if I have a personality disorder? What can I do about it?
  • What do I do if my partner or family member has a personality disorder?
  • What do I do if the leader of my spiritual community has a personality disorder?
  • What are the warning signs I should look for before engaging with a charismatic leader who may be displaying traits of a personality disorder?


“Personality disorder” is a term used to describe a range of mental disorders afflicting nearly 9.1% of the general population1. These disorders are characterized by maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience, often the result of extreme trauma, and often resulting in patterns of deceit, manipulation, self-absorption, and abuse of power. Unlike other common mental health issues – like depression, anxiety, or substance abuse – personality disorders tend to be consistent and persistent over the life span.

Common types of personality disorder include:

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder (e.g. sociopathy, psychopathy)

…and many others.

What’s more, because these disorders tend to be so deeply ingrained into an individual’s sense of identity, it can be nearly impossible for someone afflicted with one of these disorders to recognize their own dysfunction. In many cases they are likely to feel that their behaviors are 100% justified and appropriate, regardless of the feedback they receive from the world. There is some part of their subjective experience that cannot be seen as object, and, as such, people with these disorders can be incredibly difficult — and sometimes directly harmful — to engage with.

Which is why Mark and Keith had this conversation. It can be exceptionally difficult to know how to handle people with these disorders when we encounter them. This discussion will help you begin to protect yourself and your own boundaries when encountering someone afflicted with a personality disorder, while providing a way to better understand and empathize with these individuals — allowing you to extend your careful compassion to them without risking your own career, integrity, or sanity.

1 Lenzenweger MF, Lane MC, Loranger AW, Kessler RC (2007). DSM-IV personality disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 62(6), 553-564.

Written by Corey W. deVos

Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Mark Forman

About Mark Forman

Mark Forman, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist whose text — A Guide to Integral Psychotherapy Complexity, Integration, and Spirituality in Practice – is considered one of the seminal works in the field of Integral Psychotherapy.

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