Writings from Christine

What’s In A Name

by on April 12, 2017

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet says in protest to Romeo’s last name in Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet. Her point is that a name is not always descriptive of who a person is. And so it is with psychological terms related to personality disorders.

There are some personality disorders with descriptive names that very much correctly summarize the disorder. And then there are names for which have little to no basis for understanding the disorder. This can be very confusing to a lay person and therefore deserves some mention here.

Some of the more descriptive names include:

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD). APD pretty much sums up the disorder in one name. In nearly every environment of family, work, or community involvement, APDs avoid social interaction.  Think of a recluse, hermit, outsider, lone wolf, or loner who likes being that way and in fact prefers to live that way and that is your APD. This person would not be on social media and does not understand the need for it.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). The word “dependent” is the perfect descriptive word to summarize DPD. DPDs need other people in all areas of emotional support and affirmation. Frequently, they are reliant on one particular person such as a spouse, parent, or adult child.  Often, their dependence is in direct contrast to the other person who is usually very independent.
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD). Some people truly believe that everyone is out to get them. They have baseless suspicions of family, friends, co-workers, the trash man, the police, or even the cashier at the grocery store intentionally harming them. They imagine hostile conversations and project their irrational fears as real motives of others. When confronting the accusations, they insist the problem is everyone else. This is PPD.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). The word “histrionic” is defined as overly dramatic or emotional but the personality disorder includes overly sexual or provocative behavior. Interestingly enough a HPD will see themselves as very sexual even when they are not sexually appealing or physically attractive.  It is almost as if they have rose colored glasses on when they look in the mirror and then take them off when they look at others.

Then there are personality disorders with historical meaning such as:

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The word “Narcissist” has its’ origins in Greek Mythology. Around 8AD, there is a story about a beautiful hunter named Narcissus who was exceptionally proud. In order to expose his arrogance, Nemesis (a long standing rival and the origin of the word nemesis) drew him to a pool of water. Narcissus, upon seeing his reflection and not realizing it was his own image, became so attracted to himself that he refused to leave. He later died there. Thus, the name Narcissist describes a person who is fixated on themselves.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In the 1930’s, psychoanalyst Adolf Stern first identified a group of people who seemed to be between neurosis and psychosis as borderline. Interestingly enough this group is now more in line with schizotypal than BPD. But since then, the official definition of BPD has drastically changed but the name has stuck. It is no way is characteristic of any trait of BPD.
  • Schizophrenia Disorder. While this is not a personality disorder, it is mentioned here only to help understand schizotypal and schizoid personality disorders. Schizophrenia is the Latin translation from a combination of two Greek words ‘skhizein’ meaning to split and ‘phrēn’ meaning mind. A split mind is a good description of a person who routinely struggles with hallucinations, faulty perceptions, frequent fantasies, and delusions. There are times when this person is very lucid and aware of reality and then times when they are not.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD). Pop quiz: what word is similar to “schizotypal”? If you said “schizophrenia”, then you are right.  Schizotypal is derived from the two words schizophrenia and genotype.  Schizophrenias see, hear and believe things that aren’t really there.  Genotype is the genetic makeup of an individual, think DNA.  So putting the two together a Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD) is someone who has may seem schizophrenic but is not a full-blown schizophrenic.

Misnamed personality disorders include:

  • Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). The name “Antisocial” does not adequately explain the disorder and is frequently misused in modern culture when describing someone is more Avoidant. ASPD is similar to calling an aggressively trained pit bull, an unfriendly puppy. The former names of psychopath or sociopath are much more understandable and create a more immediate comprehension.  Since ASPDs tend not to care too much about what other people think, this name is not likely the result of political correctness.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). The name Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) often gets confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but it is definitely not the same. It is however the same in that there are obsessive and compulsive traits, thoughts, and actions.  For instance, OCDs are obsessed with being clean and therefore do compulsive behaviors such as excessive hand washing.  Generally speaking the OCD is limited to a few areas or environments.  In contrast, OCPD is not. But the misnaming frequently leads to confusion rather than explanation.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD). The name “schizoid” was coined in the early 1900’s. Yet it is not similar to schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or schizotypal. Rather, it is closer in identity to avoidant personality disorder with many of the same characteristics and traits but adds the element of a blunt affect.  Perhaps the best definition of a schizoid is a person who pulls away from others and their own emotions or feelings thereby creating flat emotionless responses.


Posted under: Anti-Social Borderline Dependent Narcissism OCPD Personality Disorders Psychopath Sociopath

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