I’ll bet you follow the Golden Rule. You know, the one that says treat others as you wish to be treated. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are a lot of people out there who think YOU should follow that rule–but they don’t have to. No, they aren’t bound by such restrictions and indeed are marvelously free to torture, abuse and annihilate.
Realizing that personality disorders are rampant is like putting on glasses for the first time. Suddenly all those sharp corners and walls you’ve been bumping into come into focus.
The tricky thing is that personality disorders don’t rise to the level of a mental illness and therefore are extremely hard to treat. How can you fix what the patient denies is broken? So they go on their merry way spreading suffering and chaos.
So I’ve put together a little field guide, if you will. Some symptoms and behavioral clues to let you know when you might be in the presence of danger. I’ve also linked to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for scientific information on the subject.
Warning, warning: I am not a mental health professional nor do I profess to be. This information is not intended for diagnosis or treatment recommendations. I am merely a survivor sharing my own experiences and hard-earned wisdom. So on to the fun.
The Narcissist – It’s All About Me. Like opera singers warming up, narcissists sing one note, “Me, me, me!” Everything, I mean everything, in the narcissist’s life is about them. Family, lovers, work, play, the weather and world events. This is the person who, after hearing about the tsunami in Thailand, said, “Great. Now I’ll lose my deposit.”
It can take a while to catch on. Many narcissists do a great job of faking empathy and interest in other people. As long as they’re on top in the relationship, all is well. But cross them or get off your knees for a moment and the gloves are off. Truly cruel ones are called Malignant Narcissists and they can ruin your life. Sam Vaknin, a self professed narcissist, has done the world a huge favor and revealed how dangerous they can be. Consider him cured! Narcissists can’t bear criticism. Their frantic attempts to destroy the truth-bearer reveal how desperate they are to prop up an immaculate self image. Healthy people, in contrast, have a balanced awareness of their flaws and weaknesses.
You may be in the presence of a Narcissist when: You show them your brand new granddaughter and they say, “Isn’t she beautiful? She looks just like me.”
The Histrionic – Oh, the Drama! Also self-involved, a Histrionic sees him or herself in the center of an ongoing soap opera. These larger than life figures are often charming, attractive and exciting to be around. Every occurrence–large or small–is invested with incredible significance. Who else could make locking keys in the car a three act play involving half the neighborhood? It’s easy to fall into the role of admiring and supportive audience.
The problem comes in when the Histrionic relies on you as a main prop. Get ready for the daily 8 a.m. calls and the lengthy consultations on the minor issues of the day. Then, after you give your best advice, you overhear the Histrionic asking the next six people for their opinion. It can also get tiresome playing lady or lord in waiting. Don’t get the idea that you can be the prettiest at the ball or the best at whatever game you’re playing. Pushing the Histrionic out of the limelight will not be met with good grace.
You may be in the presence of a Histrionic when: They call in floods of tears and panic to report that their date is half an hour late. They’re convinced either they’ve been stood up or he or she is dead.
The Paranoid – You Don’t Love Me and I’ll Prove It. There are a lot of jokes about paranoia, i.e. “being paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” The problem is, paranoids think everyone is out to get them. Even the ones who love them. Especially the ones who love them. A Paranoid will read ill will into the most innocuous statements. “I like your new haircut.” “Does that mean my hair looked bad before?” I kid you not.
They are so afraid of being taken advantage of that they won’t give first. Sad, really. Being with them is like walking on eggshells. Anything you say will be held against you. Not that all Paranoids will be aggressive–many are passive aggressive. The aggrieved sigh. The little stab that you don’t feel until the knife is buried. The constant sense that no matter what you do, it will never, ever, in a million years be enough. You can’t win. Walk away, if you can, and you’ll get rid of that churning knot in your stomach.
You may be in the presence of a Paranoid when: You give them a compliment and they react as though it was a vicious insult.
The Bully – I’m Bigger than You Are and Don’t You Forget It. Bullying isn’t just for schoolyards anymore. They lurk at work, in your social circle and even at home. People think of bullies as those who rant, curse and physically threaten. But many bullies are more insidious and subtle than that. As long as you’re going along with their agenda, they will be agreeable. Often they are in a position of authority, such as your boss, or someone you want to please, like your mate. The sunshine of their warm approval can be quite pleasant.
But then you notice that the bully always has someone in the doghouse. Maybe it’s their assistant. An acquaintance. Or their child. That person can do no right. You hear morning noon and night about their iniquities. They actively work against that person. They gossip. Undermine. Put up roadblocks. Worst case, they slander.
Being the bully’s target can be a horror show, especially if they are in a position of power over you. You know they are out to get you, to prove you incompetent or worse. You know they will lie to achieve their ends. And, human nature being what it is, the non-targets will sidle away, relieved they are out of the firing line. You can try fighting them but it is an uphill battle. Many of the incidents will seem minor by themselves. It’s only when put together do you see the pattern. And many will not want to see that. Because then they will become the target.
Bullies are dangerous. Get professional help to assess your situation and the repercussions of standing up to them, escaping or ignoring them. Take comfort in knowing that bullies often target the bright, the competent and the talented. That is why they hate you. Hopefully workplace bullying will be soon be recognized as the problem it is. In my view, it should be as illegal as sexual harassment.
You may be in the presence of a Bully when: You feel like an abused dog.