Trying to solve problems or make any type of progress with individuals with personality disorders can be very difficult. Virtually every communication is insulting, repetitive, and circular. They are seemingly unable to stay on topic and have propensities for driving others off topic. Covering the same ground to no avail can be exhausting for the non-disordered participants, as they tend to push relentlessly for our participation in their arguments.
It is easy to fall into their communication traps and become engaged in their attempts for power. However, with knowledge and diligence, we can re-train ourselves to successfully stand our ground by controlling our own behaviors.
A few simple steps
1. Eliminate emotion from the communication
There are times when we must communicate with individuals with personality disorders. Often, they see these times as opportunities to abuse, manipulate, and engage us. If it’s fun to make us angry, they will likely try. Taking our emotions out of the communication equation, however, will make for less interesting interactions. So, regardless of what they may include in their communication, we must keep it all business.
2. Communicate using facts and few words
We should not employ a running commentary on their behavior, our issues with their behavior, or our feelings and wishes. We should also avoid any type of advice. We are best served by keeping communication short, simple, and factual.
3. Stay on topic, communicating only regarding the issue at hand
We tend to write or speak in effort to come to a solution or make collaborative decisions. We tend to not get anywhere, however, when we are dealing with those with personality disorders. Frequently, they refuse to answer even direct questions, refuse to directly discuss the issue being addressed, or shift the topic altogether. Not only are non-responses frustrating and useless wastes of time, but they keep us engaged. We must learn to communicate regarding relevant material only.
4. If the other party attempts to shift the topic without resolution, re-direct at once
Naturally, they often try to shift the topic without reaching a conclusion. Why? Because a resolution is not what they are looking for and it usually keeps us reeling. They are not looking to solve matters, in spite of the fact that they will tell us they are. Rather, the discussion constitutes engagement and opportunity to attack us further or fuel their “supply.” Resist contributing to this and re-direct them at once. Do not get lost in their name calling or desire for back and forth.
5. Communicate stance, but do not repeat
We must say what we mean and mean what we say. We must resist making threats or presenting ultimatums. We should make our positions clear in as non-confrontational a way as possible and resist repeatedly covering the same ground with no results. Typically, we are effective communicators. Our failure to progress on an issue with a disordered individual is usually not our fault.
6. Do not waver from that stance due to bullying, set boundaries
Sometimes, if we feel bullied, we may back down in an effort to ameliorate the situation. That almost never works. If legitimate facts come to light and we change our positions based on something concrete, that is different. We need not be bull headed. However, we should not change our positions simply to keep peace with these personalities. While under normal circumstances, compromise works well, with them, we will only be seen as weak and they will exploit us at the next opportunity. And they will see to it that there is a “next opportunity.” Set boundaries as soon as possible.
7. Do not worry about what they think
What they think of us will not change. They view us negatively, and unlike with the non-disordered, our actions will not change that. Try very hard not to become involved in the debate about responsibility and who is right or wrong. It is futile.
8. Do not allow their lies and projection to become part of the truth
Individuals with personality disorders tend to enjoy putting others on the defensive. That is not a desirable place for us to be. However, we can choose not to participate. That does not mean that we should allow their lies to become “facts” either. We should state the truth once to the audience who needs to hear the truth. That’s usually enough. If we carry on for too long, we run the risk of allowing them to alter the “facts.”
9. Plan ahead for these types of struggles
For the most part, unless being “nice” to us directly benefits them or their cause, it’s safe to say we will not be treated well in these exchanges. We must accept that and not allow the mistreatment to hurt our feelings or catch us off guard. Time and a solid understanding of what happens in these exchanges will eventually place them so far away from us emotionally that none of this will matter.
However, in the interim, we must stop looking to them for validation or approval. It is not coming. Why do we care what someone overflowing with disorder thinks? When someone distorts most of their surroundings, would we expect them to properly interpret us? No. As mysterious as they seem, the majority of their behavior becomes fairly predictable, once we become experienced. Further, they all operate similarly enough for us to be able to plan ahead to some extent.
This all takes practice. We should not expect that we are immediately good at this. Without question, I have made my share of mistakes. Retrospectively, I look back at some of the ways I handled certain circumstances and wonder what the heck I was thinking. The truth is that I simply did not know what to do at the time. I thought that expressing myself would help bring about positive change. I thought my words would help better explain things. Not with these folks. We do nothing more than give them more to twist. So avoid excess. Once we learn, we can operate more effectively and in ways in which we know we will be beneficial.