Correcting a personality disorder

Mental health practitioners have identified several personality disorders which are recognised patterns of disordered behaviour.  I’ve found it useful to be aware of these conditions as a vicar and counsellor in a general Christian ministry.  The disorders range from quite severe and threatening conditions like antisocial personality disorder to less dangerous but no less socially disastrous for those affected, such as borderline personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder.

I have been working through a practical way to approach people who present disordered patterns of behaviour.  Churches attract all sorts of people and that those who are weak in the body are to be treated with greatest honour (1 Cor 12:22-23).  I’ve made some shocking blunders with people who I’ve not taken the time to get to know properly, by rushing to assumptions or trying to sort out behaviour in an inappropriate way.  So, how do we help people who display disordered personalities?

The bible makes it clear that everyone has a personality disorder.  I am not perfect therefore I am disordered.   This is a question of degree.  Some people are more disordered than others and the personality disorder categories identified by mental health bods are only ways of identifying the more extreme kinds of odd behaviour.

Much of what I have read (see links above) makes it clear that personality disorders are complex due to a combination of various contributory elements: genetics, environment when growing up, abuse of some kind, self-determination and weakness or vulnerability.

Personality disorders are not treatable with drugs, though some underlying problems might be.  People presenting traits need patient counsel and a stable, loving environment with boundaries and/or direct rebuke, when appropriate.

I have wondered about whether or not it is not helpful to tell a person that they display signs of disorder.  I don’t think it is, always.  Some of the comments on the NHS website show that some people are relieved to find out that something is wrong.  I’d say a diagnosis ought to come from a doctor.

The guidelines say that with time and the proper support, most people with personality disorders will improve or even overcome their disorder sufficiently to function well in community.

It seems essential to have a biblical anthropology when considering disordered behaviour.  We are all weak, negligent and deliberately sinful.  There are times when those affected are willfully rebellious, stubborn or sinful and yet there are also underlying weaknesses or vulnerabilities such as anxiety, paranoia, self loathing, guilt and so on which require ministry of the word and prayer to help bring God’s perspective and release.

It is also essential as a minister to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.  I can’t solve everyone’s problems.  I can act kindly and say things from God’s word which help bring perspective and healing over time.  The gospel of Jesus Christ must, as with us all, be the starting point.  God loves and accepts his people at our worst and from agony of the cross.  Then through the same faith which brings salvation, God sets to work to transform and renew us by his word and Spirit.  This can be a painfully slow process and it means that I am simply an instrument in the Redeemer’s Hands.  I am not responsible for the outcome of counselling and ministry, God is.

If anyone else has thought about personality disorder from a Christian ministry perspective, I’d be glad to hear your wisdom on it.

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3 Responses to Correcting a personality disorder

  1. Really helpful post Neil. I have thought about it but not through to anything like a conclusion. I guess I’d only thought it through far enough to realise I should not expect to be able to make it through a life of ministry without having to face dealing with extreme challenging behaviour within a church community.

    Radio 2 were talking about autism the other day and someone texted in to say they’d been asked to leave their church because of their severely autistic son’s disruptive behaviour. I guess there is a level of disruption (whether through autism, mental health or deliberate) that can be managed within the setting of a church meeting context. The real challenge comes in how a church community manages situations when behaviour becomes too much for a specific meeting without excluding the individual (and maybe their family) from the community of the church.

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Thanks Nathan, I think it is possible to include people in church community but that does not necessarily mean coming to all the meetings. When church is a community which works 5 or 6 days a week, with different meeting times and styles and purposes, then those with challenging conditions, such as austism, don’t need to be excluded. When we make church about only one meeting at week then this raises problems for those who don’t function well in that one environment. At the same time, we can do quite a lot to accommodate the weaker brother or sister and bear with the distruption. It would only be at the point where there was little benefit in meeting that it would be right to suggest that someone disruptive should meet at a different time and place.

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