Abrasive Personality Disorder

Abrasive Personality Disorder. Psychology Fanatic article header image
Abrasive Personality Disorder. Psychology Fanatic
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In 1994, Stuart B. Litvak, Ph.D. proposed a newly identified type of personality disorder. He suggested including the abrasive personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders   (DSM). While abrasive personality disorder shared many characteristics of other Axis II disorders, he felt the abrasive personality possessed sufficient idiosyncratic features to warrant a separate classification (p. 7).

The call for a new classification for abrasive people generated a great deal of attention. Perhaps, because we all deal with a handful of coworkers, family members, and discourteous drivers that we are certain would qualify for a certified “abrasive” diagnosis—a certified (@$$).

While we are nearing thirty years since Litvak’s call for inclusion of the new personality type, it still has not made the exclusive list of Axis II superstars, sharing the the stage with other delightful personality diagnoses such as Narcissistic, Sadistic, Antisocial, and Passive-Aggressive.

Abrasive Personalities

For our everyday interactions, we don’t need a DSM diagnosis to determine who we should limit our interaction with for our own mental sanity. The diagnosis, at least with personality disorders, has limited functional uses. Personality disorders are historically difficult to treat. Even when properly diagnosed, personality disorder patients are extremely resistant to treatment.

The abrasive personality type encompasses the “control freaks,” and a host of other “difficult: and “nasty people.” This personality type often includes “the inexpugnable, overbearing individual, who typically can be manipulative, nocuous, domineering, obnoxious, intimidating, forceful and downright impossible” (Litvak, 1994, p. 7).

Personality Disorders

​Personality disorders diverge from the medical model of disease. Personality disorders do not fit into the classic patterns of disease, making them difficult to diagnose and treat. Personality disorders do not have a specific onset time, a period of disease, and a treatment that promotes healing (Trifu, et al. 2019).

Because of this oddity of personality orders, many doctors and professors argue they don’t qualify as a mental illness. Robert Hirschfeld, Professor of Psychiatry Weill Cornell Medical College at Cornell University, explains ” It is not completely clear from this [DSM III-R] definition [of mental disorder] whether personality disorders are mental disorders because of the requirement that deviant behavior, often the hallmark of personality disorders, cannot be considered a mental disorder unless it is a symptom of dysfunction in the person” (Litvak, 1994).

​And thus it goes with the proposed abrasive personality disorder. The proposed criteria for the disorder is a list of behaviors, with no known underlying biological dysfunction. Most likely there are biological causes (or at least associated biological factors). T. Franklin Murphy wrote in an article on personality disorders that “research for causes of personality disorders continues. Many elements remain unknown. However, scientists are certain heredity and environmental factors play an important role” (2022).

However, we can assume there is a biological structure that is stress activated that leads to personalities that  create personality characteristics that diverge from societal and cultural norms, leading to a variety of dysfunctional social behaviors. This explanation fits into the general adaptation stress model and epigenetics.

Until these underlying mechanisms can be pinpointed, we are just left with lists of bad behaviors that are grouped into clusters and labeled. When a cluster of behaviors occurs together often enough in research, then the behavior cluster may be considered as a specific disorder.

Follow Up Research On the Abrasive Personality

The case for inclusion of the abrasive personality disorder hasn’t been completely ignored. The disorder has been included in books. Some researchers have taken upon the task of testing Litvak’s 1994 criteria to determine if the clustering of behaviors create a unique grouping apart from some of the other personality disorders.

In 2018, a group of researchers conducted experiments to test Litvak’s hypothesis. They used the Abrasive Personality Traits Scale (APT). The APT scale is a 33 item Likert-type scale (Coolidge, et al., p. 117). 

Fredrick L. Coolidge and his colleagues determined from there research that “the results preliminarily demonstrate that abrasiveness may constitute a reliable and valid personality symptom cluster.” Based on their research they state “the traits do appear to meet the general criterion for a personality disorder in that the disorder must cause significant personal, social, and occupations/educational problems” (p. 122).

A Few Words From Psychology Fanatic

Abrasive personality disorder may never make the pages of the DSM. Not that it doesn’t meet the requirements for inclusion, but its functional purpose beyond the personality orders already included is limited. Antisocial and sadistic personality disorders have high overlap with the proposed abrasive personality disorder.

​Delroy L. Paulhus’s work on “dark personalities” provides insightful understanding of the taxonomy of hurtful and abrasive people. Outside of the clinic, however, we tend to call all of these difficult personalities ‘narcissists,’ ignoring the variety of subtle differences.

Whether abrasive personality disorder is ever included in the DSM or not doesn’t matter. We, as individuals, need to figure out our own path to living among others that are difficult, limiting our exposure of vulnerabilities that they ruthlessly extort, and then, we must establish a way to maintain our own sanity in the face of all of their hurtful bombardment of our wellness.

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Coolidge, F., Valenzuela, I., Segal, D., Feliciano, L., & , (2018). An Empirical Investigation of a New Measure to Assess Abrasive Personality Disorder Traits. Psychology.

Litvak, S. (1994/2006). Abrasive personality disorder: Definition and diagnosis. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 24(1), 7-14.

​Murphy, T. Franklin (2022) Personality Disorders. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-17-2022. Retrieved 9-1-2022.

Paulhus, D. (2014). Toward a Taxonomy of Dark Personalities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(6), 421-426.

Paulhus, D., Buckels, E., Trapnell, P., & Jones, D. (2021). Screening for Dark Personalities. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 37(3), 208-222.

Trifu, Simona; Iliescu, Ioana, Dorina; , Mateescu, Roxanna Daniela; and Trifu, Antonia Ioana (2019) Anti Social Personality Disorder. In Journal of Health and Medical Sciences, Vol. 2, No. 4, 509-515.

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