Our neighbors had a big, aggressive, German shepherd. He barked a lot, scaring us all. In fact, one day he bit me as I retrieved a wayward football. My parents spoke with our neighbors, who immediately apologized, and tied the dog with a rope, securely fastened to a pole. The dog had a few feet of freedom on the rope but as soon as he came to the end, the rope would yank him back. I recall enjoying getting back at my tormentor by teasing him. He would try to attack me, only to be halted in his tracks by the strong rope around his neck.
That dog comes to mind when I think of personality. While personality is a complex and contentious issue, I like to think of it like this: personality is a group of habits of thought, relatedness, and regulatory mechanisms that guide how we relate to our inner world, others, and to the world around us. Within the invisible limits of these habits we feel free and unchallenged. When threats and opportunities press us beyond the comfort and confines of these habits we feel discomfort. All that remains to be determined is whether we can go beyond that invisible leash.
In essence, the most relevant and defining factor of a personality disorder is the degree to which the ‘sufferer’ (this is not the place to discuss whether ‘suffer’ is the right word when speaking of personality disorders) is restricted from evolving and adapting beyond these habits to respond to the challenge.
Because who wants to live their life confined to a leash?