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The experience of loneliness among people with a “personality disorder” diagnosis or traits: a qualitative meta-synthesis



Ikhtabi, S;

Pitman, A;

Toh, G;

Birken, M;

Pearce, E;

Johnson, S;

(2022)

The experience of loneliness among people with a “personality disorder” diagnosis or traits: a qualitative meta-synthesis.

BMC Psychiatry
, 22
(1)


, Article 130. 10.1186/s12888-022-03767-9.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Loneliness is prevalent among people with a “personality disorder” diagnosis or who have related personality traits, but the experience of loneliness among people with “personality disorder” diagnoses/traits has not been well described. A qualitative approach has potential to help understand the experience of loneliness among people with “personality disorder” diagnoses/traits, and to develop interventions that promote recovery. We therefore aimed to synthesise the qualitative literature relevant to this topic. METHOD: We conducted a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies exploring the subjective experience of loneliness as reported by people with “personality disorder” diagnoses/traits. We searched four databases using pre-formulated search terms, selected eligible articles, appraised the quality of each, and analyzed data from eligible studies using thematic synthesis. RESULT: We identified 39 articles that described the experience of loneliness in people with “personality disorder” diagnoses/traits. From extracted data, we identified seven themes: (1) disconnection and emptiness: a “haunting alienation”, (2) alienation arising from childhood experiences, (3) thwarted desire for closeness and connection, (4) paradox: for both closeness and distance, (5) experiences of existential loneliness, (6) recovery, embedded in a social world, and (7) group therapy: a setback. Our results suggest that for our sample early alienating and traumatic experiences may pave the way for experiences of loneliness, which further exacerbate “personality disorder” symptoms and distress. CONCLUSION: Despite describing a need to belong and efforts to cope with unmet social needs, people with “personality disorder” diagnoses/traits (particularly “emotionally unstable personality disorder”) report experiencing an intense disconnection from other people. This seems rooted in early adversities, reinforced by later traumatic experiences. Given the apparent salience of loneliness to people with “personality disorder” diagnoses/traits, interventions focused on helping people connect with others, which may include both psychological and social components, have potential to be beneficial in reducing loneliness and promoting recovery.

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