Client Personality Disorders Can Wreck An Otherwise Good Case

10-12% of the US population suffers from a serious, diagnosable personality disorder which subtly impairs their judgement and overall ability to cope.8 min read

10-12% of the US population suffers from a serious, diagnosable personality disorder which subtly impairs their judgement, relationships with others, and overall ability to cope. Lawyers, as a group, have not been trained to detect the presence of such disorders, and several lines of evidence suggest that an inordinate amount of ligitation is generated by and on behalf of individuals with these disorders; often with disastrous consequences for everyone involved.

What Are Personality Disorders?

Personality disorders are NOT psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or manic-depressive disorder, nor are they simply mild situational "disorders" that will respond to brief counseling. Personality Disorders involve an ingrained set of disordered traits that exhibit themselves in consistent behavior which causes serious difficulties for the patient and surrounding others, including litigants and attorneys.

Problematic Personality Disorders

Particularly problematic (and common) are two specific Personality Disorders which are subsumed under DSM-IV's unstable/acting-out group. This group includes Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Anti-Social (formerly Psychopathic) Personality Disorder (ASPD). Individuals with these disorders are characterized by a manipulative, dramatic, and self-absorbed approach to coping with life and its problems. Both disorders are believed to stem from an interaction of genetics and childhood/adolescent experiences, and they are seen in all walks of life, across all ethnic and income groups, and in both the successful and the functionally debilitated. Incidence of Borderline Disorder is slightly higher in females, while Anti-Social Disorder is more common in males.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are characterized by a common set of behavior and emotional patterns that include chronic rage, reckless and impulsive acts, a strong tendency to see people and events as all good vs. all bad, rapid mood reactivity (they love you one day, hate you, vengefully, the next), and pre-occupation with being abandoned. We frequently see frivolous malpractice actions filed by such people--after they inevitably become dissillusioned with their doctors (usually because they feel abandoned when the doctor expresses disapproval at their calling repeatedly, or otherwise fails to respond to their every demand). Then, the person with BPD focuses their life-long rage on the frequently surprised doctor.

Similarly, we sometimes see work site litigation in which an individual with BPD feels "abandoned" (for usually minor reasons) by a boss or co-worker and then copes with emotional pain by claiming to have been harrassed, abused, or even physically injured. All involved are shocked and surprised.