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What Are Cluster C Personality Disorders?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2021

Everyone’s personality is different. Your personality is how you think and feel, but it also includes how you behave and relate to things.

Sometimes, you begin to feel or behave differently toward others or certain activities, and your behavior may cause problems at home, work, or school. This behavior change is called a personality disorder.

There are three groups of personality disorders:

  • Cluster A, which are unusual or odd behaviors
  • Cluster B, which are dramatic or emotional behaviors
  • Cluster C, which are anxious or fearful behaviors

Types of Cluster C Personality Disorders

Cluster C personality disorders can make you avoid or cling to people, depending on the specific disorder.

The three types are:

Avoidant personality disorder. With this disorder, you may avoid being around people because you’re afraid they’ll reject or criticize you. You might also believe you’ll never measure up.

You may show some of these symptoms:

  • Not being able to handle criticism or rejection
  • Avoiding work or social activities with a lot of interaction
  • Avoiding new activities or meeting new people
  • Fear of disappointing others
  • Feeling timid or shy and preferring to be alone
  • Avoiding intimate relationships to avoid mockery or shame

Dependent personality disorder. If you have this disorder, you may cling to a few key people in your life and lose your sense of self-confidence.

You may show some of these symptoms:

  • Feeling dependent on others to an extreme
  • Clinging or being submissive toward others
  • Not being able to make your own plans
  • Being unwilling to do everyday activities alone
  • Seeking support and encouragement at any cost
  • Avoiding disagreeing with people
  • Remaining in abusive or unhealthy relationships
  • Feeling the need to start new relationships if one ends

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. You may push people away to keep up a sense order and control. You may also focus so much on details that you ignore those around you.

You may show some of these symptoms:

  • Focusing on details and order
  • Being a perfectionist and feeling upset when you can’t meet personal standards
  • Following rules no matter what, especially ones you’ve created
  • Wanting to be in control of any situation
  • Being unwilling to assign tasks at work
  • Not wanting to throw away broken or unwanted items
  • Focusing on work to an extreme, ignoring family and friends
  • Being single-minded and stubborn
  • Being extremely frugal with money

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder isn’t the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.

Having OCD means you have unwanted obsessions that cause anxiety, so you do certain actions or rituals -- called compulsions -- repeatedly to prevent or reduce the anxiety these obsessions cause.

How These Disorders Are Diagnosed

Many times, you don’t realize you have a Cluster C personality disorder because your actions or thoughts seem natural or normal to you.

A trusted friend or family member may be the one who spots certain symptoms and suggests that you speak to your doctor or to a mental health professional.

A diagnosis usually involves:

  • Physical exam
  • Psychiatric assessment
  • Review of disorder criteria

A doctor does a physical exam to see if you have a health condition that may be causing your personality changes. Your doctor may order blood work and screening tests for drugs or alcohol.

After asking questions and reviewing the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), your doctor may refer you to a specialist.

This professional could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other therapist. They may take over your care and complete more tests before giving you a diagnosis.

How to Treat Cluster C Personality Disorders

The most common way to treat these personality disorders is with psychotherapy or medication.

Psychotherapy. Also called talk therapy, this helps you talk through your moods, feelings, and behaviors. You work with a mental health professional who offers guidance on ways to take charge of your disorder.

You may also get social skills training. These sessions are often one on one, but they can also be group sessions. Group sessions might include other people dealing with personality disorders, or else with family and friends as a therapeutic process.

Medication. The most common meds used to help people living with personality disorders are antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, and anti-anxiety medications.

Getting Support for a Personality Disorder

Get help if you or someone you know is showing signs of a Cluster C personality disorder. You can speak to your doctor or a specialist, or you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness for help finding a therapist and support groups. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychiatric Association: “What are Personality Disorders?”

Mayo Clinic: “Personality disorders.”

Merck Manual: “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD),” “Overview of Personality Disorders.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Mental Health Medications,” “Psychotherapies.”

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