The following is an easy to understand educational piece; meant to be used as a guide to help you avoid entering into friendships and romantic relationships with people who have personality disorders.
One would also want to avoid professional relationships with these individuals. However, we don’t always get to choose who our co-workers are.
If we understand what and who we are dealing with we can better manage and survive them.
“Forewarned Is Forearmed”
Personality disorders are divided into three clusters: Cluster A, Cluster B and Cluster C [DSM IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders].
Cluster A encompasses the “Odd and Eccentric” disorders. Cluster B is defined as dramatic, irrational or erratic personalities. Cluster C persons exhibit anxious and fearful behavior and thinking.
I will focus on Cluster B Disorders:
The Antisocial Personality, Histrionic Personality, Narcissistic Personality, and Borderline Personality.
Have you heard the idiom,”I smell a rat.” It means to suspect that something is wrong; that someone caused something wrong.
This is important: trusting your intuition or instinct is key because what Cluster B humans have in common are psychological projection, manipulation of others, emotional/psychological abuse and denial; for they lack insight.
If you sense something is wrong…it probably is.
Psychological projection is when a person defends themselves against an undesirable attribute or impulse. They will vehemently deny their undesirable traits while accusing others of having them.
As a therapist, I find this behavior fascinating to watch. However, it is less than fun to encounter psychological projection in a relationship.
Psychological manipulation occurs when a person aims to change the views and/or behavior of another by using deception and abuse.
Use neglect and abandonment as punishment.
Don’t show empathy or ask questions to gather information.
Don’t notice nor care how you feel.
Deflects blame instead of taking responsibility.
Use withdrawal or withholds attention and affection.
Have trouble apologizing.
Violate boundaries and disrespect requests.
Make continuous disapproving comments about your behavior.
Belittle who you are.
Make you feel as if they are always right.
Constantly corrects or chastises you because “your behavior is incorrect.”
Tells you your opinions or feelings are wrong.
Denial is a defense mechanism where a person is not able to face reality or obvious truths. It is the outright refusal to recognize or admit something. Denial works to protect the ego from things people aren’t ready to cope with.
I recently ended a friendship where I allowed the person to perpetrate all of the above. The experience was terrible and is what prompted me to warn others.
My goal is to intertwine my personal and professional experience(s) to enlighten you.
Before Cluster B personality disorders, I want to illustrate how the aforementioned abuses were perpetrated, the way I went about evaluating myself after the relationship ended and why introspection is very important subsequent to abuse.
Psychological Projection or Freudian Projection is commonly found in personalities functioning at the primitive level like borderline and narcissistic.
When I ended the friendship, the individual said,”You’re a horrible person.” They explained I was horrible because of the way I viewed them (narcissism).
During our relationship, my friend was manipulative and abusive. For instance, when I asked about a behavior (out of curiosity) they would respond by saying I was mean; a saboteur who failed to take responsibility and instead blamed others for things. I was left thinking, ‘Whoa,’I only wanted to know why you stared at people like that.’ Since my questions were never answered; I gathered their responses were given to distract from my original question; about their behavior.
Red Flag: When you ask them about their behavior and they respond histrionically; remarking,”How dare you accuse me…”; they then “flip the script” by telling you, you were the one who harmed them all the while displaying shock at your audacity; in that moment you will need to remember: you know what you saw; you know what you heard, you know what you experienced and the reaction projected onto you is unhealthy and a-typical. Remember who you are. Don’t question your sanity and either cut this person out of your life or set stricter boundaries.
Many of us have experienced psychological manipulation from a parent, friend, co-worker or romantic partner.
You may have entered a friendship or fallen in love with a person only to find out they are a fraud.
Manipulators create false images to lure and trap victims. Their behavior is predatory and often ruthless. Their motivations are selfish and the harm they cause means nothing to them.
As your relationship with a psychological manipulator progresses; you will find that they have gradually become more aggressive. People can only uphold false images for so long.
Manipulators take time to analyze their victims. They are predators whose aim is to learn vulnerabilities; thereby knowing which manipulative tactics work best on their prey.
People usually don’t realize they are being manipulated.
I may be better equipped to recognize signs of manipulation chiefly because of my personal and professional experiences. I work in a prison environment where I must maneuver personality disorders regularly.
When with a psychological manipulator you feel, less strong; less confident; less secure; less sane…
Less than anything you were before you were with them. (Envision what happens to Superman in the presence of Kryptonite. Personality disordered individuals are every one else’s Kryptonite.)
“How can you tell if you are being manipulated? Here are some red flags:
You fall quickly in love with someone who seems to be the perfect man for you, and even think he’s your soul-mate;
He starts turning distant and giving you less attention while denying anything’s wrong or blaming your “character flaws”;
Your feelings have gone from happiness and euphoria to desperation, anxiety and sadness;
You’re obsessing about the relationship, what went wrong, and how to get it back;
You feel off-balance;
You hold two different and conflicting beliefs about him at the same time — one is that he loves you and the other is that he is a predator or an abuser, and you vacillate between the two, not sure which is correct, and continue the relationship.
If you feel less strong, less confident, less secure, less attractive, or in any other way “less than” something you were before you met him you are being manipulated (excerpt from psychopathsandlove.com).”
Your abuser will want you in a position to depend on them.
There will be a grooming phase while they are working to gain your trust.
Once they have collected their data and tested manipulation tactics the abuses will increase.
My former friend used the following methods of psychological abuse:
Neglect or Withholding Affection
(Red Flag: Inconsistent behavior)
The abusers goal is to have you question yourself. When a person questions who they are it makes them vulnerable.
When a psychological abusers caring responses are inconsistent their goal is for you to wonder what you did to deserve the cold shoulder. They will deny they are behaving differently to make you think it’s all in your head.
I studied behavior analysis and use those methods with the population I work with. One method is to intermittently reward for desirable behavior. The idea is for the patient NOT to know when the reward will come and continue to behave the way we want them to; while awaiting their reward.
Abusers use intermittent reinforcement schedules to control their victims.
The victim never knows which one they will get and waits to be rewarded.
Abandonment or Withholding Attention
(Red flag: manipulation tactic to play on emotions and affect psyche)
Lacks Empathy/Doesn’t Ask Questions Gather Information
These type of individuals will ask questions during the grooming process because they are studying you. Once they have the information needed, they are no longer interested in feigning interest or empathy unless doing so will serve them.
(Red flag: One should wonder why they would maintain a relationship with a person incapable of empathizing with them; a person who did not indicate interest in them. BUT, what typically happens is: we stick around wondering why the person is mistreating us. We need to reframe our thinking and wonder why we are allowing ourselves to be mistreated.)
Doesn’t Notice Nor Care How You Feel
I began noticing a trend: when I tried to express my feelings to this friend, they would refuse to address and/or acknowledge them. Instead they’d deflect and deviate from my feelings demanding that I tend to theirs.
If I wanted to talk about the behavior or something they did; a typical response would be that I did something to them and time would be spent exhaustedly discussing how things got from them doing something to me; to me doing something to them. My feelings were seldom validated.
(Red flag: Defense tactic, manipulation tactic, psychological tactic. It’s normal for people to become defensive on occasion when the topic of discussion is something they did. BUT, It’s time to pay attention when the behavior is pathological.)
Many people have trouble admitting when they are wrong. The difference between a person who simply has issues admitting when they are wrong and my former friend is: people like my ex-friend do not see anything wrong with their behavior and thus do not believe there is anything to apologize for. Additionally, this erstwhile friend is a predator. The behavior described is their character. It is who they are, so why should they apologize?
On the contrary, apologies were often demanded of me. On one occasion this person wanted an apology, but refused to tell me what the apology was for. I was told I didn’t need an explanation and that I needed to apologize based on the fact that I was told I did something.
I retorted; I didn’t think it was right to demand an apology. Nor did I think it was right to demand an apology while refusing to tell the person what they are to apologize about. I always ended up apologizing to escape the the psychological duress.
(Red flag: I suggest using the two strike rule. Give a person the benefit of doubt the first time they’ve wronged you and there is an issue with receiving an apology. If you can talk to the person and they are receptive and validating..there is hope. If the person flips out and is closed to conversation about the issue; take a step back and watch to see what happens next time. If they flip out the second time…run.)
Violates Boundaries and Disrespects Requests
No means, No. When a person does not respect your right to say “No!”, there is a serious boundary issue. One should not be harassed for their declination. You are being violated when a person does not honor your right to say no. For instance, you are being violated if you state, “I don’t feel comfortable doing this,” and the violator continues to push the issue or threatens to withdrawal from the relationship if you do not change your “No” to a “yes.”
Constantly Correcting and/or Chastising
Friends. . .true friends do not correct and chastise.
(Red flag: If a person purports to love who you are but as soon as you let them in they try to start influencing you to be different…say good-bye.)
Tells You Your Opinions or Feelings Are Wrong
The goal is to discredit you, belittle you and deprive you of validation.
Discussing feelings and opinions is typically a reciprocal process. Any human is capable of committing any of the above “abuses.” We are human and there are misunderstandings; cultural differences and perhaps someone is being a jerk because they are having a bad day. There is cause for alarm when the abusive behavior is pathological.
(Red flag: The abuser will most likely tell you things about your feelings and opinions you’ve never heard before. Consider that. Ask yourself ‘Why haven’t I been discredited or invalidated in this way EVER before?’
When I observe people in denial I try to determine whether they think I’m a fool or if they are simply unable to accept reality. I believe this friends denial was due to both (trying to mislead me and unable to see their true self).
(Red flag:There will be evidence that something is true, yet the person will continue to deny it because it is too uncomfortable for them to face.)
This year I was traumatized and distraught over my habitual disregard of red flags and danger signs with respect to the humans I permit to populate my life.
I ignored the knots in my stomach and all the telltale signs. I made excuses for their peculiarities and idiosyncratic comports; to others as well as myself. All the while, I knew something was very wrong.
I knew seven years ago when I met this person and I knew more and more every day as they displayed characteristic personality disordered traits and sociopathic behavior.
Approximately one year ago, I started feeling afraid of them. I found them to be erratic and unpredictable. I have worked in environments housing unpredictable humans for a decade and my instincts and intuition when it comes to recognizing their ilk are quite keen.
Why would I continue a relationship with someone I did not need or want in my life? Why would I hang out with someone I feared? Why do I continue to allow disordered people to linger in my life?
Over time, i’ve allowed seven personality disordered individuals into my life; four women and three men.
I recognized my track record and decided I had learned my lesson; but still needed insight into my behavior.
I work in the psychiatric field and have access to many therapists, like myself. Additionally, many of my friends are therapists. I chose to consult with two seasoned psychologists. One only knows me as colleague (Dr. J, woman), the other is a friend (Dr. S, man).
I met with the docs separately and presented the same statement to both of them: “I need help gaining insight into my behavior. We work in this field and are trained to recognize personality disorders, yet, outside of work, I tend to allow disordered individuals to stay in my life. The thing is, I recognize the characteristics of the disorder right away and I still let them stay. I need to figure out why so I can stop the behavior.”
Dr.J:“Do you feel sorry for people who don’t have a lot of friends or those most people wouldn’t pay attention to?”
Me: Yes (realization begins to settle in).
Dr. J: “Ok. You’re a rescuer. You feel sorry for these people and think you can tolerate them until you find yourself overwhelmed and back off. You need to set better boundaries…for yourself.”
Pause. . .
Me:“You’re right. But, I don’t know if I know how to set these boundaries.”
Dr.J: “How old are you?”
Dr.J: “Yes you do. You know how to set boundaries or you wouldn’t be a successful professional and I’ve heard nothing but good things about you.”
Me: “I do know how to set boundaries. I do it all the time. I don’t connect with personality disordered people all the time; but when I do, I don’t know how to get out of the relationship.”
Dr.J: “Because you feel bad you aren’t able to tolerate them in your personal life. Here’s what it is: You need to use your education in your personal life. You know how to apply it at work; you need to apply it in your personal life. You spent all that money on education…use it. I know it’s hard. We work in a prison all day; when we go home, we tend to want to be free. We don’t want to have to think the same way outside of work. You have to.”
Dr.J:“I’m sorry if you don’t want to hear this. I know it’s hard.”
Me:“No. I want to hear it. That’s why I asked. I want the truth. I want to grow.”
My conversation with Dr. J, put things into perspective rather quickly. I know I feel bad for people who are viewed as pathetic, weird, underdogs, weak, unattractive, disparaged, abused, marginalized . . .
I know I like making people feel special. I look very hard to find things to compliment them on. I want to help their self esteem and I exaggerate how good their qualities are because I know they rarely hear positive, uplifting, kind words.
The caveat is: treating a personality disordered person like they are a wonderful and typical human, is a recipe for disaster. We can’t accept them for who they are. They are dangerous. They are human; but different than the rest of us humans. We must use caution when interacting with them. Many are dangerous predators who have the potential to do us great harm.
Dr.S, was initially hesitant. Many of us are offended by the truth and he did not want to jeopardize our relationship. During our pre-conversation I think he came to realize or remember who I am. I am a human in search of truth; who values personal growth.
I told Dr.S what Dr.J told me. Dr. S. agreed, stating,”I certainly think that is part of it.”
His first question, “Didn’t you have an abusive husband?” I answered affirmatively.
There was approximately two minutes of silence…and then I laughed. I told him I understood.
Dr.S: “Yeah. People with Cluster B, personality disorders are invested in getting you to see the world through their distorted view.”
Me: “Yes. And their distorted view scares me. They try to convince me I am not really seeing what I know I am seeing. I associate people like that with a threat and I don’t know how to escape that threat.”
Dr.S: “It’s what they do. They challenge your sense of perspective and you defer and allow the other person to be dominant. They violate boundaries because it’s you saying, A, and they say B. You say, A, and they say B. The cost benefit of that is an implied threat. But what they can’t challenge is your education and your professionalism. There is zero question of your competence or credentials.”
Dr.S asked me if I was familiar with C.G. Jung’s Typologies of Personality. I told him I was. He suggested I think about self identification. He said,”Maybe look at your dominant self and your inferior self. Perhaps part of your inferior self identifies with these personalities you feel sorry for.”
I think part of me does identify with people who are rejected, neglected and shunned; people who are labeled freaks, geeks and weak. As a child, I sought to befriend peers who did not have anyone to play or eat lunch with. I wanted to rescue them from their loneliness. I didn’t want them to feel alone; because I understood alone.
The General Diagnostic Criteria for a Personality Disorder
A. An enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture. This pattern is manifested in two (or more) of the following areas:
(1) cognition (i.e., ways of perceiving and interpreting self, other people, and events)
(2) affectivity (i.e., the range, intensity, lability and appropriateness of emotional response)
(3) Interpersonal functioning
(4) impulse control
B. The enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of personal and social situations.
C. The enduring pattern leads to clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
D. The pattern is stable and of long duration, and its onset can be traced back at least to adolescence or early adulthood.
E. The enduring pattern is not better accounted for as a manifestation or consequence of another mental disorder.
F. The enduring pattern is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition.
ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER
A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
(1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
(2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
(3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
(4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
(5) reckless disregard for the safety of self and others
(6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial behavior
(7) lack of remorse, as indicated by indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another
B. The individual is at least age 18 years.
C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.
BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER
A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) frantic effort to avoid real or imagined abandonment
(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes of idealization and devaluation
(3)identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self
(4)impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self damaging (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
(5)recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
(6)affective instability due to marked reactivity of mood (intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
(7) chronic feelings of emptiness
(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
(9) transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
HISTRIONIC PERSONALITY DISORDER
A pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
(2) interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
(3) displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotion
(4) consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
(5) has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking detail
(6) shows self-dramatization, theatrically, and exaggerated expression of emotion
(7) is suggestible (easily influence by others or circumstance)
(8) considers relationships to be more intimate than they usually are
NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five or more of the following:
(1) has a grandiose sense of self importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excess admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement (unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitive (taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
(7) Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
I hope this essay is helpful.