10 Mental Illnesses We Often Mistake for Character Traits

Very often we explain a person’s extravagant actions by their character. But what if there is much more hiding behind it? The outstanding American psychotherapists Aaron T. Beck and Arthur Freeman have revealed some secrets of the human temper in their book, Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders.

We have carefully studied the work of these scientists and prepared a guide of 10 personality traits that can cause people problems if they don’t control them.


1. Negligence

This category includes people who always want to have more rest and less work. Of course, it is a simple human wish, however, some of us often go too far. For example, if a company’s employee has taken several sick leaves within a year, took a couple of vacations and many non-paid days off, and also managed to be late for work many times, a psychologist would likely diagnose them with an antisocial personality disorder. However, there are a couple more symptoms that this causes:

Frequent unmotivated lies
A wish to live at the expense of others
Frequent dismissal without further employment plans, which means “going nowhere”
Making unplanned purchases and therefore, wasting money (a person was going to buy necessary products but bought a new game for his Play Station instead)
Time management and rewards can help fight antisociality. It can be a good idea to write down what gift you’ll give yourself for this or that achievement (for example, live according to the plan for a couple days) and stick to the schedule for at least one month to develop a habit. Also, when having such disorders, psychologists recommend the exercise, “the overview of choices”. When a problem is written down and all possible ways out of it are considered along with their advantages and disadvantages, it can help to make rational decisions.

2. Shyness

Encouraged shyness can develop into total isolation and unwillingness to establish links with the outside world over time. People who are on the edge of a mental disorder stop feeling strong emotions and try to limit themselves from getting in contact with others which is why they often choose remote work or other activities that are not connected with communicating.

Hypertrophied introversion leads to a schizoid personality disorder, which has the following symptoms:

Indifference to critique or praise
The absence of close friends or the presence of only one close friend
A tendency to dream often and unrealistically
A hypersensitivity that a person feels scared to show to their surroundings
It’s possible to prevent the disease with the help of several methods. One of the most useful ones is any group activity such as drawing lessons, learning a foreign language, attending yoga, or pilates training.

You can use a simple life hack for fighting an increasing misanthropy — instead of using the phrase, “I don’t love people…” say, “I don’t like this thing…” (trait, clothing item, appearance, habit etc.). This approach will help you generate a new concept that there is something good in people apart from bad.

3. Procrastination

This category includes rebels who don’t want to follow the rules of society. It is expressed by putting off necessary actions for later. Practicing procrastination can lead to a passive-aggressive personality disorder, which often entails chronic depression.

A little rebellion in school or college is a normal thing and there is no need to search for a disease in it. However, the following symptoms can indicate that procrastination is shifting to a new phase of development:

Irritability in response to requests to do something not very pleasant but ordinary for most people such as washing the dishes, cleaning a cat’s litter box, taking out the trash, etc.
A very slow pace of work and of bad quality
Offensiveness toward helpful pieces of advice from surroundings on how to make work better and faster
Unreasonable angry criticism of people who are endowed with power
The complexity of prophylaxis lies in the fact that a person usually thinks that it’s not their guilt. The exercise, “the overview of choices” that has already been described above will suit this situation well. Also, the social game where one can imagine themselves in the place of other people to understand their feelings can help greatly. Such therapy will stop the progress of procrastination and make the person more sensitive to others.

4. Impulsiveness and temper

A person who is not trying to control their anger has high risks of developing a borderline personality disorder. One of the typical symptoms of such a disease can be a sharp and not motivated change of opinion to completely opposite ones. Let’s say, today you think that fried eggs affect your stomach badly and hate them but the day after tomorrow you start cooking them for breakfast.

Of course, a simple impulsiveness doesn’t hide any dangers. However, if it goes together with temper and the following symptoms, it’s worth paying attention to:

Unstable friendships and romance
Frequent unthoughtful money waste (you were going to buy a coffee machine but bought a second TV set, for example)
Uncareful driving on the edge of getting into an accident
A change of mood for no apparent reason and a feeling of chronic boredom
A good prophylaxis for this would be anger management and various training on self-identification. Self-control with small rewards can be helpful too. For example, if you are going to buy a coffee machine and you buy it without getting half of the items from the store, reward yourself with something that you had been dreaming about for a long time.

5. Self-reproach

People prone to self-reproaching can be easily called ostriches because they tend to hide their heads into the sand every time they want to hide from problems. This syndrome in psychology is called an avoidant personality disorder. Panic attacks, depression, and sleep disorders can appear in advanced cases.

Self-criticism is helpful in small doses and it pushes us to self-develop more but it’s extremely dangerous for mental health in excessive amounts. You should feel anxious if you noticed the following:

strong and instant resentment of criticism or disapproval;
avoiding new contacts reaching absurdity (for example, a refusal from promotion if it requires communicating with new people);
exaggerating potential difficulties, physical hazards or the risk of ordinary actions;
holding yourself back from communicating with people because of the fear to say something wrong.
Denial of false predictions will be a helpful exercise in this case. You should write down your predictions about an action that you are going to perform. For example, “If I go to an unknown shop late in the evening, I will be robbed.” After you perform this action, write down the result. Therefore, next time you have doubts or negative predictions about something, open your notebook and read your notes to make sure that nothing scary is going to happen.

6. Suspiciousness

We all are paranoid from time to time and it’s quite normal. But some people cross all possible boundaries in their suspicion — they hack social media accounts, overhear telephone conversations and even hire private detectives. A person whose suspicion makes them perform such desperate actions can be suffering from a paranoid personality disorder. This disorder goes together with the following symptoms:

Unreasonable distrust of their partner
Searching for hidden meanings in people’s ordinary actions (for example, your neighbor slamming the door shut especially to irritate you)
A tendency to consider everyone around you guilty
The absence of a sense of humor and an inability to see funny things in everyday situations
A good method to fight chronic distrust is to create a list of acquainted people and put plus signs opposite to their names every time they meet your expectations. For example, you were afraid that your date would forget about your existence at a corporate party but they kept paying attention to you throughout the whole evening. Therefore, next time you get suspicious about something, simply look at the number of plus signs and your distrust will disappear.

7. Dedication

Being dependant on close friends and family members is a hallmark of all mammals including humans. It’s quite normal to rely on others, however, an excessive dependency is considered to be a dependent personality disorder in medicine. The main sign pointing at having a mental illness is having difficulty or even the inability to make decisions without getting the approval from a person of authority. Additionally, the disease goes together with the following symptoms:

An agreement with their surroundings even if they’re not right
A feeling of discomfort when being alone and a need to do anything to prevent staying alone
Committing unpleasant or degrading actions to please someone
Unreasonable obsessive thoughts that everyone around you is betraying you
The best way to fight this disorder is to collect evidence of your competency. For example, “I am a good driver,” or “I’ve prepared a good report at work,” etc. Every time you wish to ask for approval from someone, simply look at the list and it will give you confidence.

8. Emotionality

Excessive emotionality and sensitivity can be a symptom of a histrionic personality disorder which is also called hysteria. The desire to attract attention is natural for a person unless it grows into bursts of anger and paroxysms. The significant feature of this disorder is highly emotional speech and the absence of details in it at the same time. For example, the answer to the question, “What did your mom look like,” will likely be something like, “She was very good.”

Here are some other signs of the disorder:

A constant search for support, approval, and praise from a highly respected person
The inability to concentrate on one task for a long time
Emotions quickly changing
An intolerance to procrastination with a constant desire to do something
One of the best ways to fight hysteria is to work with a timer. You should set the timer for 30 minutes or 1 hour and perform only one task within this time. Though it seems easy, in fact, this exercise will be difficult to perform because it’s quite hard for excessively emotional people to stay in one place. Moreover, it’s difficult for them to set goals because they usually dream about something wonderful but indefinite which is why another useful method would be to set precise goals. For example, get a promotion in 2 months, learn to cook risotto by the new year, etc.

9. Perfectionism

Desperate perfectionism is on its way to becoming an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. The development of the disease is usually associated with the fact that society values qualities such as attention to detail, self-discipline, emotional control, reliability, and emphasized politeness — and people get very addicted to meeting all these expectations. That’s when all these perfect qualities turn into a real catastrophe: emotional blocking, dogmatism, and psychological inflexibility.

Perfectionists should worry when they spot the following tendencies:

An unwillingness to dedicate time to yourself in fear of becoming unproductive
Refusing to get rid of unnecessary stuff with the thought, “I might need it one day…”
A pathological fear of making a mistake
The desire to do work for others because of the thought that no one else can do it as qualitatively as you can
It’s difficult for perfectionists to stay in one place because their nature requires immediate action, that’s why psychologists recommend practicing everyday meditation such as listening to music with closed eyes or getting a massage. In order to consolidate success, it is useful to record how many things were done on days without relaxation and on the days when it was there. It will assure a perfectionist that having rest doesn’t prevent them from being productive.

10. Heightened self-esteem

Heightened self-esteem is much better than self-reproach, however, it also has some limits. The feeling of being smart, attractive and simply the best of the best can bring a person a narcissistic personality disorder. When having this disorder, it’s quite easy to fall into depression, having a feeling of inferiority and other “benefits” that people with heightened self-esteem usually have. Here are the symptoms that follow this disorder:

Hidden or overt anger in response to any criticism
Using people for achieving your own goals
Expecting a special attitude toward yourself (for example, everyone should let you go first in line even if no one knows why)
Strong envy and constant dreams of unthinkable wealth
The main problem with narcissism is the mismatch of expectations and reality that produce side effects such as a feeling of worthlessness, frequent mood swings and the fear of embarrassment. One of the exercises for fighting the disorder is decreasing the plank of wishes to a reachable one. For example, getting a pair of nice shoes in the nearest shoe store instead of dreaming about a luxurious car.

Have you ever faced a situation where a personality trait was preventing you or your friend from leading a normal life? Please share your experience with us in the comments!