Relational Essentials for Coping With a Personality Disordered Individual
Anyone who has had relationship interaction with someone who is personality disordered with anti-social, histrionic, borderline, or narcissism readily recognizes the frustration, feelings of hopelessness, and “beating your head against the wall”. Conventional clinical wisdom advises that if someone with a personality disorder comes into your life, head in the opposite direction, never look back, and end all contact.
Ah, if it were only that simple.
Many victims of personality disordered people are unavoidably in longer term relationships with these difficult people that they would otherwise like to be. It could be that the personality disorder is a sibling, parent, or ex that the victim has a child with, or a colleague or boss at a job you dearly love or need to keep. Then what? The literature is very thin on coaching on how to cope with the personality disorder in these kinds of situations other than grind your teeth and tough it out. This article is an attempt to help the victim to formulate a plan of action that just might help them get back to a secure, serene, and satisfying life.
The Plan of Action
The tactical measures of “Relational Aikido” (RA) that are listed below have their roots in several significant sources that I have found have some logical and functional common threads. First, the therapeutic approach called “Cognitive Behavior Therapy” (CBT) is a widely accepted therapeutic approach to helping people address the problems of their lives in a direct and practical way. Stripped down, CBT postulates that if we alter our thinking and behavior from the negative to positive, our emotions and life satisfaction become more positive as well.
Secondly, RA makes extensive use of some Asian resources, namely an ancient book called “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, and an unusual martial art from Japan called “Aikido” by a master named Morehei Ueshiba. In the first book, “The Art of War”, you can find an amazing outline of approaches to battle that are still cited in today’s military academies around the world. Though intended originally as a book about actual war, the text can be remarkably interpreted and applied to human relationships with difficult people. The basis for Aikido is outlined in a text by Ueshiba titled “The Art of Peace”. It outlines a marital art philosophy that spurns attacks, yet does not harm the attacker. By harmonizing with the attacker, the attack is neutralized and the practitioner can then achieve accord with the attacker, essentially making the encounter “win-win”. Ueshiba even postulated that if a person fully understands the underpinning philosophy of Aikido, they may never have to use the physical form of self-defense.
Lastly, RA uses key elements of more modern-day conflict resolution and arbitration approaches with difficult people and stressful situations that we find ourselves in. The handy illustration of this would be the Civil Rights movement and the non-violent student movement of the 1960’s in the Untied States. It should be noted that many of these modern-day tactics and strategies owe a great deal to a long history of peaceful efforts to cope with difficult people and even nations; including the movement by Ghandi for example, in India, that finally forced the British to turn over India to the people of India.
Attitude and Approach
In keeping with the spirit of Cognitive Behavioral Self-Help, it is essential for victims of personality disordered perpetrators to alter their way of thinking and behaving. Dealing with difficult people is both a science and an art, and is often counter-intuitive. Victims recognize that they often turn to putty in the perpetrator’s hands, quickly folding to the will of the personality disorder. This is because the perpetrator has trained the thinking and behavior of the victim through countless abusive interactions. Breaking this ‘spell’ is the first step in gathering a comprehensive and effective strategy for dealing with the person in the long term.
Purging the infected, manipulative thoughts, negative self-esteem ideas and emotional-behavioral reactivity that the perpetrator put in the victim’s head is sometimes best done with the assistance of a qualified, skilled clinical counselor who has experience in helping victims of personality disordered perpetrators. The victim must transform their thoughts and behaviors from that of victim, not only to “survivor”, but “thriver”
Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies...
Closer, of course. You must become an expert at personality disorder, your perpetrator’s disorder, and then your perpetrator’s unique expression of that disorder. It is advisable to educate yourself at the highest level of understanding that you can attain; it is important for you to stretch yourself, even though some of the material you may read or come into contact with is hard for you to understand or make sense of.
Start by going to the internet and searching for “personality disorders”. From there, refine your search to the characteristics of your perpetrator to ascertain what you are dealing with. Then read everything you can find on that identified disorder. Search for seminars and training events, even ones that counselors and psychologists attend, and if you can afford the fee, attend them. There are several good support groups online to look over. Find one that fits you the best and join it; others who are further down their road of healing can often help you greatly.
Though we all may be sick of hearing about ‘walls’ in the news, walls can be useful. Taking logical, fair, and legal measures to place healthy boundaries and limits between yourself and the personality disorder is an essential step that can give you the breathing room you need to begin to create a life that is more secure, serene, and satisfying in your life beyond the perpetrator. Things like restricting communication routes, court orders for protection or child custody orders, home security measures, having a helper to emotionally back you up in face-to face encounters with the perpetrator, or even learning physical martial arts can be bricks in your wall. What you decide to construct your wall of, and how large the wall is a matter of individual need and choice. Just make sure that the wall you build does not put you in any legal jeopardy or add to your stress burden, but serves to help you to feel better and have a life of your own.
If you have ever watched a martial-arts film where the hero is in some dark alleyway, surrounded by five big guys, and the hero takes a breath, then puts them all on the ground, then you have had a glimpse of “centering”. The implication is that while the hero is talented and in great physical shape, if he did not hold on to his own emotions; if he had panicked, he would have surely lost such a challenging battle.
So too, victims of personality disordered perpetrators need to learn the deep-skill of emotional self-control. Indeed, if the personality disorder can “rattle” you, they will have already beaten you. Learning how to hold your unshakable center, even under the onslaught of their mind-games, is a foundational skill that the others are built upon. Gaining this takes practice, drilling, and training.
The result of successful centering is the ability to engage far more often in “positive flow”. Positive flow is when you are engaging in a great variety of positive activities, and your life feels secure, serene, and satisfying. The personality disorder hates when you have positive flow; they work hard to interrupt it and deprive you from it. Your task is to gain positive flow, and hold on to it.
Personality disorders are often compared to “vampires”, which is an apt description. They constantly drain the energy and positivity from their victims, making them exhausted, paranoid, and miserable. Just like victims of vampires, the victim of a personality disordered predator can become “hypnotized”, finding it very hard to break away from the ever-present negative focus. By self-disciplining to alter your thinking and behavior to make both more positive, you are beginning to starve the predator of their all-important drug: your total attention.
Life happens to everyone, and life is stressful, even aside from being a victim of a perpetrator. Keeping your balance is a key activity, as personality disordered predators are keen observers. I am convinced some of them are so good, they can smell an off-balance victim from miles away, like a shark can smell blood in the water. Just because you have gained some control over one personality disorder, does not mean others are not out there hunting. And you, my dear reader, have been already trained to be a victim. This is the reason you must keep your balance and a healthy vigilance concerning secondary perpetrators, or from backsliding in your skill use that signals to your primary perpetrator that you are once again ripe for manipulating.
What balance? Intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, and difficult issues balance. If any of these are out of balance, they all tend to begin to wobble. Being healthy in each of these areas is a true armor to keep the predators from sniffing around and trying to…manipulate you.
Just like a student of the martial art of Aikido needs to learn techniques of how to physically deflect attacks and neutralize them, so do you need to learn practical relational positioning and verbal techniques to deal with the challenges that the perpetrator presents when you are in direct contact with them. And just like a martial artist, you need to train and keep your skills sharp for when you need them. Educate yourself. Seek out helpers and teachers. Become secure, serene, and satisfied in your life.
I’m a clinical counselor in Altoona, PA. I have a passion for helping people who have been or are potentially victims of difficult people and bullies. In my opinion, the entire world needs to have the skills I speak about; it would make for a far more peaceful, progressive, and beautiful world. It’s my dream to have ongoing group training for RA in a virtual or real ‘dojo’. If you live in the Blair County area, and would be interested in forming a training group, just let me know!