Most adults retain elements of their younger and immature selves but they can easily distinguish between these and what is expected of them. People with an immature personality disorder have been likened to a child inside the body of an adult, with all the subsequent ramifications this involves.
In terms of normal human development adolescence is one of the most emotionally turbulent times a person will experience. Most people will cope, mature and use more adaptive behaviors over time. In a few cases however personality neither seems to mature nor correspond with the chronological age of the person as they become adults. Eventually, a pattern of fairly rigid and inflexible responses to situations and circumstances may be seen that can result in serious consequences. Immature personality disorder may be diagnosed as a result of intellectual and emotional patterns of behavior and use of defense mechanisms appropriate to someone much younger.
Mature and Immature Personality Disorders
Tyrer and Seivewright (1988) have compared mature and immature personality disorders in terms of their persistence and likelihood to change. Mature personality disorders are regarded as fixed in the sense that they are likely to persist into late-middle or old age. Examples include obsessive compulsive, paranoid, schizoid and avoidant personality disorders. By contrast, immature personality disorders are regarded as more likely to improve with time. Examples of these are located within Cluster B (dramatic, emotional or erratic disorders) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and include:
- Antisocial personality disorder: a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.
- Borderline personality disorder: a prolonged disturbance of personality function in a person (generally over the age of eighteen years, although it is also found in adolescents) characterized by depth and variability of moods.
- Histrionic personality disorder: a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriate seductiveness, usually beginning in early adulthood.
Narcissistic personality disorder: involving excessive preoccupation with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.
Characteristics of Immature Personality Disorder
Easy charm and good humor tend to mask a lack of self-awareness and emotional instability. The person with immature personality disorder adapts poorly to novel situations they find stressful. Their lack of emotional development also leaves them with a fairly fragile temperament and they are prone to quick shifts in mood. This is a person who finds great difficulty accepting responsibility for their actions and who will use immature defenses, such as blaming others, complaining about ill health, or lashing out verbally or physically as ways to cope. Such defenses are quite common in children and often in adolescents but are viewed as highly undesirable in adults.
People with immature personality disorder often retreat into a world of fantasy and imagination. They are dependent, impatient, easily influenced, and tend to live for the moment. Few, if any, concrete or realistic plans about the future are made. The focus is on instant gratification and they may become annoying and irritating in the way they behave if their needs are not met. Other behavioral characteristics include attempts at quick-fix solutions, a lack of moral or ethical values, and a lack of realization that actions have consequences
American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fourth edition-text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Gordon Claridge and Caroline Davis (2003) Personality and Psychological Disorders. Arnold Publishers.