Fearful and Anxious: Writing About Cluster C Personality Disorders

Avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive—three personality disorders that make up the group known as Cluster C. Learn what distinguishes them in this 7-part series.

While Cluster A personality disorders are marked by their odd and eccentric characteristics and Cluster B by their emotional, erratic and dramatic nature, Cluster C is a grouping characterised by fearfulness and anxiety.

In fact, the disorders found in this cluster can look a lot like anxiety disorders; the difference is in the way Cluster C disorders dominate the personality. If your characters have one of these personality disorders, they probably don’t even realise there’s a problem with their thoughts, feelings or behaviour—and that’s what makes personality disorders so hard to treat.

It does make them very interesting to write about, however, and it’s our responsibility to do so conscientiously. Here’s how.

To Keep in Mind:

The information in this post comes from the DSM-5 (see ‘Further Reading’). Please do not use it to diagnose yourself or others. It isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional advice so do consult a qualified clinical professional if you have any questions about the diagnosis criteria. Feel free to use this information to diagnose your characters, however.

If you’ve ever wondered whether your character has a personality disorder or thought about giving them one, then understanding what these disorders are, how they’re diagnosed and how their features affect your characters is so important. So important.

Really, I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is to know your stuff. That’s why I’ve created the Personality Disorder series, complete with worksheets and checklists. Once you’re familiar with how to write realistically about personality disorders, you’re ready to dive into the ins and outs of each disorder in Clusters A, B and C.

This time we’re starting with an overview of Cluster C disorders. Each upcoming article in the series will expand on these overviews and explore how to include them in your stories in a way that’s accurate, consistent and emotionally engaging.

So which personality disorders are included in Cluster C?

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Like the name suggests, if your character has avoidant personality disorder (AvPD), they avoid things—specifically, social situations and interactions with others. A character with AvPD may have poor social skills, hold themselves back from intimate relationships and generally restrict themselves for fear that they’ll be negatively evaluated by others. It’s this pattern of social inhibition, feeling inadequate and being hypersensitive to criticism, disapproval or rejection that defines avoidant personality disorder.

To be diagnosed with AvPD, your character must display four or more of the seven criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out what your character needs to experience to be diagnosed with this disorder in How to Tell If Your Character Has Avoidant Personality Disorder.

If you’ve realised or decided that your character has AvPD, then you need to know how to write about it accurately. All that and more will be covered in Inadequacy and Inhibition: Writing About Avoidant Personality Disorder.

Dependent Personality Disorder

Characters with dependent personality disorder (DPD) just need to be taken care of. It’s this desperate desire to be looked after by others that makes them clingy, submissive and fearful of separation. This dependence on others makes it difficult for them to make decisions and take responsibility. Instead, they fear being alone and cling to others, going to excessive lengths to gain and maintain their support—lengths that can leave them vulnerable to abuse and manipulation.

To be diagnosed with dependent personality disorder, your character must display five or more of the eight criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviours your character should exhibit to be diagnosed with DPD in How to Tell If Your Character Has Dependent Personality Disorder.

Have you settled on your character having DPD? Then find out what the diagnostic criteria really mean and how you can incorporate them into your stories in The Fear of Being Alone: Writing About Dependent Personality Disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Perfectionism, orderliness and complete control—these features form a pattern that restricts a character with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). It’s this need for control and a stubborn, miserly mindset that leaves your character inflexible, inefficient and neglectful of other aspects of their life, like relationships and leisure activities.

Please note that obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, though similar in name, is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Exactly how and why they differ is covered in more detail in their associated posts.

To be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, your character must display four or more of the eight criteria listed in the DSM-5. You can find out what those criteria are and how OCPD and OCD differ in How to Tell If Your Character Has Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.

If your character does indeed have OCPD, then you need to know your stuff. Find out what the diagnostic criteria mean for your cast and how you can write about them accurately and consistently in A Preoccupation With Perfection: Writing About Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.