One of the most valuable classes I took in graduate school was on Personality Disorders. There were a few key things that the professor taught me that stayed with me both in my professional and personal life. It’s not what he taught about the specific personality disorders that made such an impact on me, rather, he taught the class to pay attention to how we felt. When you are dealing with someone with a personality disorder there is a distinct way that you will feel in your interaction with them.
Individuals with a personality disorder have great difficulty dealing with other people. They tend to be inflexible, rigid, and are unable to hold themselves accountable in relationships. Although they feel that their behavior patterns are “normal” or “right,” people with personality disorders tend to have a narrow view of the world and find it difficult to get along well with others. They can rarely apologize and if they do, the apology twists the blame back on you. For example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you really are way too sensitive.”
What’s helpful to remember isn’t so much what a personality disorder is, or even what the different types of disorders are as much as it is important to remember how you will feel in the presence of someone who has a personality disorder. Here are a few common feelings that are associated with being around someone with such a personality disorder.
Second Guessing Yourself:
Whenever you confront someone with a personality disorder about something you are upset about, they will shift the blame back to you leaving you scratching your head and questioning your intentions. What seems clear cut to you becomes murky, confusing and distorted if you are trying to dialogue with someone who has a personality disorder.
They will shift the focus and blame of the discussion back on you and you will start to question yourself and begin to wonder if you are the person in the wrong. When you find yourself in this situation stop and realize that you are talking with someone who is unable to communicate in a clean, healthy, direct way. They will be unable to apologize for their own their behavior in a way that leaves you with a feeling resolution. Do not attempt to reason simply state the facts and move on.
People who suffer from personality disorders are unable to honor boundaries. They tend to say and do outrageous things that leave you feeling rage from the inside out. If you attempt to call them out on their behavior; they will put at back on you as being too sensitive or rigid. When you feel rage every time you dialogue with a person, you are most likely talking to someone with a personality disorder.
Exhausted and Drained:
Individuals who suffer from personality disorders will suck the life and energy right out of you. If you are spending time with someone who has a personality disorder, you will leave their company feeling exhausted, confused and drained. You may even find you come down with a cold, sore throat, aching joints or need to lay down after being around them for any amount of time. Pay attention to how you feel and make sure if you must be around the person, it is time limited.
Self-Conscious/Not Good Enough:
I can remember one of the first experiences I had early in my career counseling someone with a personality disorder. They came into my office and began asking me about my experience in the field and what schooling I had completed to get my degree. I immediately felt self-conscious and afraid that maybe I had no idea what I was doing and I felt a weird sense of shame and stupidity.
After the session, I was able to process how I felt with a supervisor and she reminded me that this type of feeling almost always is the result of working with someone with a personality disorder.
When you feel this sense of shame or not being good enough, do a gut check and ask yourself if you may be dealing with a person who has a personality disorder. People with personality disorders project an inflated sense of ego, and how they will feed their own ego is to find ways to make you feel small and worthless in very subtle ways.
These feelings are important to keep in mind and will help give you the tools you need to keep yourself safe emotionally when you are around someone with a personality disorder.
Don’t let yourself be manipulated to spend time questioning and doubting yourself. Stop the circular cycle of dysfunction and do what you need to do to separate yourself from toxic people that are stuck in their dysfunctional patterns.
You are worth it!