Every relationship between a Personality-Disordered Individual and a Non Personality-Disordered Individual is as unique as the DNA of the people involved. Nevertheless, there are some common behavior patterns.
The list below contains descriptions of some of the more common traits of people who suffer from personality disorders, as observed by family members and partners. Examples are given of each trait, with descriptions of what it feels like to be caught in the crossfire.
Please note: these descriptions are not intended for diagnosis. Refer to the DSM Criteria for Personality Disorders for clinical diagnostic criteria. No one person exhibits all of the traits and the presence of one or more of these traits is not evidence of a personality disorder. Read our disclaimer for more info.
One common criticism of Out of the FOG is that this list of traits seems so "normal" - more like traits of an unpleasant person than traits of a mentally ill person. This is no accident. Personality disordered people are normal people. Approximately 1 in 11 people meet the diagnostic criteria for having a personality disorder. Personality-disordered people don't fit the stereotypical models for people with mental illnesses but their behaviors can be just as destructive. These descriptions are offered in the hope that non-personality-disordered family members, caregivers and loved-ones might recognize some similarities to their own situation and discover that they are not alone.
Want to know more about a specific trait? Use the search bar below!
Abusive Cycle - This is the name for the ongoing rotation between destructive and constructive behavior which is typical of many dysfunctional relationships and families.
The Abuser Profile - A description of what a typical abuser "looks like"
Alienation - The act of cutting off or interfering with an individual's relationships with others.
"Always" and "Never" Statements - "Always" and "Never" Statements are declarations containing the words "always" or "never". They are commonly used but rarely true.
Anger - People who suffer from personality disorders often feel a sense of unresolved anger and a heightened or exaggerated perception that they have been wronged, invalidated, neglected or abused.
Avoidance - The practice of withdrawing from relationships with other people as a defensive measure to reduce the risk of rejection, accountability, criticism or exposure.
Baiting - A provocative act used to solicit an angry, aggressive or emotional response from another individual.
Belittling, Condescending and Patronizing - This kind of speech is a passive-aggressive approach to giving someone a verbal put-down while maintaining a facade of reasonableness or friendliness.
Blaming - The practice of identifying a person or people responsible for creating a problem, rather than identifying ways of dealing with the problem.
Bullying - Any systematic action of hurting a person from a position of relative physical, social, economic or emotional strength.
Catastrophizing - The habit of automatically assuming a "worst case scenario" and inappropriately characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.
Chaos Manufacture - Unnecessarily creating or maintaining an environment of risk, destruction, confusion or mess.
Cheating - Sharing a romantic or intimate relationship with somebody when you are already committed to a monogamous relationship with someone else.
Chronic Broken Promises - Repeatedly making and then breaking commitments and promises is a common trait among people who suffer from personality disorders.
Circular Conversations - Arguments which go on almost endlessly, repeating the same patterns with no resolution.
Confirmation Bias - The tendency to pay more attention to things which reinforce your beliefs than to things which contradict them.
"Control-Me" Syndrome - This describes a tendency which some people have to foster relationships with people who have a controlling narcissistic, antisocial or "acting-out" nature.
Cruelty to Animals - Acts of Cruelty to Animals have been statistically discovered to occur more often in people who suffer from personality disorders than in the general population.
Denial - Believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.
Dependency - An inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another individual for their health, subsistence, decision making or personal and emotional well-being.
Depression - People who suffer from personality disorders are often also diagnosed with symptoms of depression.
Dissociation- A psychological term used to describe a mental departure from reality.
Domestic Theft - Consuming or taking control of a resource or asset belonging to (or shared with) a family member, partner or spouse without first obtaining their approval.
Emotional Abuse - Any pattern of behavior directed at one individual by another which promotes in them a destructive sense of Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).
Emotional Blackmail - A system of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control someone’s behaviors.
Engulfment - An unhealthy and overwhelming level of attention and dependency on another person, which comes from imagining or believing one exists only within the context of that relationship.
Escape To Fantasy - Taking an imaginary excursion to a happier, more hopeful place.
False Accusations - Patterns of unwarranted or exaggerated criticism directed towards someone else.
Favoritism and Scapegoating - Systematically giving a dysfunctional amount of preferential positive or negative treatment to one individual among a family group of peers.
Fear of Abandonment - An irrational belief that one is imminent danger of being personally rejected, discarded or replaced.
Feelings of Emptiness - An acute, chronic sense that daily life has little worth or significance, leading to an impulsive appetite for strong physical sensations and dramatic relationship experiences.
Frivolous Litigation - The use of unmerited legal proceedings to hurt, harass or gain an economic advantage over an individual or organization.
Gaslighting - The practice of brainwashing or convincing a mentally healthy individual that they are going insane or that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false. The term “Gaslighting” is based on the 1944 MGM movie “Gaslight”.
Grooming - Grooming is the predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position that makes them more isolated, dependent, likely to trust, and more vulnerable to abusive behavior.
Harassment - Any sustained or chronic pattern of unwelcome behavior by one individual towards another.
High and Low-Functioning - A High-Functioning Personality-Disordered Individual is one who is able to conceal their dysfunctional behavior in certain public settings and maintain a positive public or professional profile while exposing their negative traits to family members behind closed doors. A Low-Functioning Personality-Disordered Individual is one who is unable to conceal their dysfunctional behavior from public view or maintain a positive public or professional profile.
Hoarding - Accumulating items to an extent that it becomes detrimental to quality of lifestyle, comfort, security or hygiene.
Holiday Triggers - Mood Swings in Personality-Disordered individuals are often triggered or amplified by emotional events such as family holidays, significant anniversaries and events which trigger emotional memories.
Hoovers & Hoovering - A Hoover is a metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abuse victim trying to assert their own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship, gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior.
Hysteria - An inappropriate over-reaction to bad news or disappointments, which diverts attention away from the real problem and towards the person who is having the reaction.
Identity Disturbance - A psychological term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view
Imposed Isolation - When abuse results in a person becoming isolated from their support network, including friends and family.
Impulsiveness - The tendency to act or speak based on current feelings rather than logical reasoning.
Infantilization - Treating a child as if they are much younger than their actual age.
Intimidation - Any form of veiled, hidden, indirect or non-verbal threat.
Invalidation - The creation or promotion of an environment which encourages an individual to believe that their thoughts, beliefs, values or physical presence are inferior, flawed, problematic or worthless.
Lack of Conscience - Individuals who suffer from Personality Disorders are often preoccupied with their own agendas, sometimes to the exclusion of the needs and concerns of others. This is sometimes interpreted by others as a lack of moral conscience.
Lack of Object Constancy - An inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision.
Low Self-Esteem - A common name for a negatively-distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.
Magical Thinking - Looking for supernatural connections between external events and one’s own thoughts, words and actions.
Manipulation - The practice of steering an individual into a desired behavior for the purpose of achieving a hidden personal goal.
Masking - Covering up one's own natural outward appearance, mannerisms and speech in dramatic and inconsistent ways depending on the situation.
Mirroring - Imitating or copying another person's characteristics, behaviors or traits.
Moments of Clarity - Spontaneous periods when a person with a Personality Disorder becomes more objective and tries to make amends.
Mood Swings - Unpredictable, rapid, dramatic emotional cycles which cannot be readily explained by changes in external circumstances.
Munchausen's and Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome - A disorder in which an individual repeatedly fakes or exaggerates medical symptoms in order to manipulate the attentions of medical professionals or caregivers.
Name-Calling - Use of profane, derogatory or dehumanizing terminology to describe another individual or group.
Narcissism - A set of behaviors characterized by a pattern of grandiosity, self-centered focus, need for admiration, self-serving attitude and a lack of empathy or consideration for others.
Neglect - A passive form of abuse in which the physical or emotional needs of a dependent are disregarded or ignored by the person responsible for them.
Normalizing - Normalizing is a tactic used to desensitize an individual to abusive, coercive or inappropriate behaviors. In essence, normalizing is the manipulation of another human being to get them to agree to, or accept something that is in conflict with the law, social norms or their own basic code of behavior.
"Not My Fault" Syndrome - The practice of avoiding personal responsibility for one's own words and actions.
No-Win Scenarios - When you are manipulated into choosing between two bad options
Objectification - The practice of treating a person or a group of people like an object.
Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior - An inflexible adherence to arbitrary rules and systems, or an illogical adherence to cleanliness and orderly structure.
Panic Attacks - Short intense episodes of fear or anxiety, often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as hyperventilating, shaking, sweating and chills.
Parental Alienation Syndrome - When a separated parent convinces their child that the other parent is bad, evil or worthless.
Parentification - A form of role reversal, in which a child is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent or of the family’s other children.
Passive-Aggressive Behavior - Expressing negative feelings in an unassertive, passive way.
Pathological Lying - Persistent deception by an individual to serve their own interests and needs with little or no regard to the needs and concerns of others. A pathological liar is a person who habitually lies to serve their own needs.
Perfectionism - The maladaptive practice of holding oneself or others to an unrealistic, unattainable or unsustainable standard of organization, order, or accomplishment in one particular area of living, while sometimes neglecting common standards of organization, order or accomplishment in other areas of living.
Physical Abuse - Any form of voluntary behavior by one individual which inflicts pain, disease or discomfort on another, or deprives them of necessary health, nutrition and comfort.
Projection - The act of attributing one's own feelings or traits to another person and imagining or believing that the other person has those same feelings or traits.
Proxy Recruitment - A way of controlling or abusing another person by manipulating other people into unwittingly backing “doing the dirty work”
Push-Pull - A chronic pattern of sabotaging and re-establishing closeness in a relationship without appropriate cause or reason.
Ranking and Comparing - Drawing unnecessary and inappropriate comparisons between individuals or groups.
Raging, Violence and Impulsive Aggression - Explosive verbal, physical or emotional elevations of a dispute. Rages threaten the security or safety of another individual and violate their personal boundaries.
Relationship Hyper Vigilance - Maintaining an unhealthy level of interest in the behaviors, comments, thoughts and interests of others.
Riding the Emotional Elevator - Taking a fast track to different levels of emotional maturity.
Sabotage - The spontaneous disruption of calm or status quo in order to serve a personal interest, provoke a conflict or draw attention.
Scapegoating - Singling out one child, employee or member of a group of peers for unmerited negative treatment or blame.
Selective Memory and Selective Amnesia - The use of memory, or a lack of memory, which is selective to the point of reinforcing a bias, belief or desired outcome.
Selective Competence - Demonstrating different levels of intelligence, memory, resourcefulness, strength or competence depending on the situation or environment.
Self-Aggrandizement - A pattern of pompous behavior, boasting, narcissism or competitiveness designed to create an appearance of superiority.
Self-Harm - Any form of deliberate, premeditated injury, such as cutting, poisoning or overdosing, inflicted on oneself.
Self-Loathing - An extreme hatred of one's own self, actions or one's ethnic or demographic background.
Self-Victimization - Casting oneself in the role of a victim.
Sense of Entitlement - An unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others.
Sexual Coercion - Sexual Coercion is the act of using subtle pressure, trickery, emotional force, drugs or alcohol to force sexual contact with someone against their will and includes persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused. At it’s core, Sexual Coercion/Abuse is about an imbalance in power and control.
Sexual Objectification - Viewing another individual in terms of their sexual usefulness or attractiveness rather than pursuing or engaging in a quality interpersonal relationship with them.
Shaming - The difference between blaming and shaming is that in blaming someone tells you that you did something bad, in shaming someone tells you that you are something bad.
Silent Treatment - A passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse in which displeasure, disapproval and contempt is exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence.
Situational Ethics - A philosophy which promotes the idea that, when dealing with a crisis, the end justifies the means and that a rigid interpretation of rules and laws can be set aside if a greater good or lesser evil is served by doing so.
Sleep Deprivation - The practice of routinely interrupting, impeding or restricting another person's sleep cycle.
Splitting - The practice of regarding people and situations as either completely "good" or completely "bad".
Stalking - Any pervasive and unwelcome pattern of pursuing contact with another individual.
Stunted Emotional Growth - A difficulty, reluctance or inability to learn from mistakes, work on self-improvement or develop more effective coping strategies.
Targeted Humor, Mocking and Sarcasm - Any sustained pattern of joking, sarcasm or mockery which is designed to reduce another individual’s reputation in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.
Terminal Uniqueness - Is the false belief that the situation a person is facing is unlike anything anyone has ever faced before. Is so unique that therapy and treatment or recovery programs that work for others will not work for them because they are a special case.
Testing - Repeatedly forcing another individual to demonstrate or prove their love or commitment to a relationship.
Thought Policing - Any process of trying to question, control, or unduly influence another person's thoughts or feelings.
Threats - Inappropriate, intentional warnings of destructive actions or consequences.
Triangulation - Gaining an advantage over perceived rivals by manipulating them into conflicts with each other.
Triggering -Small, insignificant or minor actions, statements or events that produce a dramatic or inappropriate response.
Tunnel Vision - The habit or tendency to only see or focus on a single priority while neglecting or ignoring other important priorities.
Verbal Abuse - Any kind of repeated pattern of inappropriate, derogatory or threatening speech directed at one individual by another.