Personality trait or disorder?

Is your personality trait idiosyncratic and somewhat endearing? Or is it so destructive that it changes the way you and others around you live?

With all the eccentric personalities in the world, how do you know which behaviors are healthy, and which ones call for professional help? The key is to consider whether the behavior interferes with daily activities. For example, keeping your house clean is good. Scrubbing your sink so often that your kids have to make a reservation to use the bathroom isn’t. Knowing about these disorders lets you get in control, so such a disorder will be an annoyance that you can manage (like peeling paint) and not a major life disruption (like a fire that destroys most of your house).

It used to be that people thought you could turn personality traits off and on, that all it took to change was the will to change. But now we know that brains are like college freshman — sometimes they’re going to do whatever they want to do no matter what you tell them. Anxiety, for example, which is characterized by a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or tension in response to stressful situations, can be mild or intense enough to trigger panic. Often brought on by alcohol, caffeine, and certain drugs, as well as things like a heart problem or a lack of vitamins, some anxiety disorders manifest themselves in such conditions as obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which tasks like washing your hands become so habitual that you have to do them 40 times a day. Good for containing germs; bad for time management. If friends and family have complained about a certain trait of yours, and it’s keeping you from leading a fairly normal life, call your doctor. You’re not a college freshman. You can take back control.

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