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Linking Two Personality Dimensions Differentiates Personality Disorders

Simone Hoermann, Ph.D., Corinne E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Since most of the severe personality disorders fall into the borderline level of severity on the Y axis, let's see how Kernberg's other dimension, the introversion-extroversion continuum on the X axis, helps to distinguish between them. The specific psychological meaning of introversion and extroversion has previously been explained. For instance, people with a Schizoid Personality Disorder have few, if any friends, are socially isolated, and appear indifferent to the world. People with these characteristics would be assigned the severe borderline level of personality organization along the Y axis, and along the X axis, they would be located on the far end of the introverted side of the continuum. In contrast, people with the Antisocial Personality Disorder exhibit impulsive aggression towards others, lack remorse and empathy, and view others merely as a means to an end, or a resource to be exploited. They lack the ability to be introspective and therefore possess limited insight. People with these characteristics would similarly be located at the severe borderline level of personality organization along the Y axis, but would be located at the far end of extroversion on the X axis. These two disorders are depicted in the diagram below

Diagram C

Kernberg's dimensional approach to the diagnosis of personality organization has been influential within modern-day psychiatry as it offers a well-conceived alternative to the categorical view imposed by the DSM. Another influential, dimensional model is called Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB) developed by Lorna Smith Benjamin and will be discussed later in this article when we explore the causes of personality disorders.