Personality disorders

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There are a number of personality disorders, with the most widelyknown being the narcissistic personality, the borderline personality and the obsessive-compulsive personality.  These disorders are, in a sense, character traits that we all have, but which are magnified so that they become pervasive to the point of impairing a person’s ability to function properly. In general, people who have a personality disorder have a hard time getting along with others. Their rigid personality — they can be irritable, demanding, hostile, fearful or manipulative — harms their relationships with others and causes great distress.

Since personality is formed throughout childhood, a good start in life promotes the acquisition of a whole range of protective factors that will influence health status throughout life. As a result, living in a warm and safe family environment allows a child to develop a deep sense of attachment and security. As the child grows older, it will be easier for him or her to forge ties with friends, colleagues at work, a life partner, etc.

Questions to ask

  • Do I find it hard to get along with others?
  • Am I too irritable, demanding, hostile, fearful or manipulative?
  • Do I feel distressed?


Marie*: Learning how to live
*True story; just the name has been changed.

Ups and downs. And more ups and downs. Everything is black or white, all the time. Marie’s “all or nothing” view makes things worse in every sphere of her life. So does her emotional instability. For Marie, people and her own actions are either useless or perfect, nothing in between.

Put this on “repeat” for a decade or two, along with as a fairly enviable, but obviously very demanding, academic and professional career. Marie is exhausted — like many of her colleagues — but that isn’t the problem. Marie doesn’t know how to “live”: no one has taught her how. Time goes by.

More ups, more downs. An incorrect diagnosis. As a result, she’s on medications that are ineffective.

Downs, and more downs. She stops working once, twice, then three times.

For some people, borderline personality disorder is like Isabelle Blais in the movie Borderline. For Marie, it was like trying to walk a tightrope with skidoo boots, a motorcycle helmet, a burning desire to be on the other side already and countless bruises from falling so many times.

A visit to a psychiatric emergency ward is the start of a new chapter for her. It’s the beginning of a “normal” life, although Marie doesn’t know it at the time. A discerning psychiatrist encourages her to go into the day hospital. What is a day hospital? It’s a job, although unpaid, at the hospital, with people “like Marie”. For one of the first times in her life, Marie finds herself with a group of people who are brought together by their difficulties: the “Relational Disorders Clinic”. People, like Marie, who have a lot of trouble relating to people. People whose parents were alcoholics, absent or emotionally deficient and who raised their child in what came naturally to them: excess, drama, hangovers – ups and downs…

The day hospital is like a job in that Marie goes there from 9 to 5 every business day for several weeks. Every day, she feels ashamed. The day hospital is like a job, because Marie has to write a long motivational letter to be accepted. It is a multifaceted public program: occupational therapy, leisure and recreation, group therapy. Learning about herself, who she is, how she does things, her strengths, her preferences.

Time goes by. Marie becomes wiser and more peaceful. She discovers happiness, and patience too. Grey areas, leading a balanced life and imperfections become tolerable, and eventually she comes to accept them.

Sometimes, Marie can hardly believe that she is in good health and has had a full-time job for so many years now. It used to be that it was the days off she desperately lived for. Similarly, Marie is amazed that the suicidal thoughts that once obsessed her no longer come into her mind at all.

Marie’s doctor told her that after her 30’s, Marie would figure things out and the disorder would go away. Wisdom, which is something that comes only with time, would enable her to figure out her milieu, her centre, grey areas, an equilibrium… All that was true. Marie now knows — because the dedicated professionals in our health care system have taught her — how to walk, how to stay in balance, how to manage herself on the tightrope, how to feed herself, how to think in healthy ways. Marie doesn’t know anything about tightrope walking, but she imagines that everyone must fall down from time to time, even if they’re good at the tightrope.

Marie’s psychiatrist tells her each year, at her follow-up appointment, that she probably is no longer borderline. Having her tested would take resources, and it obviously isn’t a priority since she has been doing very well for many years now. Marie smiles and points out that 10 years ago, she would have insisted on taking the test, “just to make sure”. Today, she is able to live with grey areas and uncertainty.

Marie is convinced that she will never again be obsessed with suicidal thoughts. She can enjoy the beauty of a sunrise while being stuck in rush-hour traffic. She still takes a small dose of her medication…and laughs when she thinks of how she used to dream of the day that she wouldn’t have to take it anymore. Time has taught her that medication and help — more generally — are not synonymous with weakness!

So what does Marie think is the key? “Letting people help you… I know that’s not easy for many lawyers and law students.” A family doctor? “That’s already a great first step.” A psychologist? “Ultimately, everyone needs one!” A physician who specializes in mental health? Because that’s what the campaign is talking about. “I’ve never practised criminal law, but if I had a question about that area of law, I wouldn’t hesitate to refer to a criminal law specialist… It’s the same thing for mental health.”

There are also lots of community organizations out there, and many offer extremely useful services at no cost. “Revivre” ( offers support groups for free four times a week. Marie sometimes returns there just for the pleasure of it, because she says this organization truly taught her how to live.


Resources are available for help and to obtain further information :

To receive care or services, or to find a psychotherapist with whom you are comfortable, contact one of the following resources :