Relational Aikido: The Art of Peaceful War With Personality Disorders
The following is a brief sample of an upcoming book of the same title as this article. The book should be ready by the end of 2017. It is the result of consistent questions and needs stated from clients in my practice concerning how to cope with personality disordered individuals when 'no contact' is not possible, usually due to having a child with that person. The sample here is a few chapters into the book, and what is to come is the specifics on how to learn and practice what I call "Relational Aikido" (RA) as a relational self-defense for victims.
RA is a non-violent, verbal and relationship positioning approach derived from Cognitive Behavioral self-help skills, the philosophy of Aikido, and historically useful techniques from conflict resolution and social protest sources. RA is a useful tool for those who are frustrated by the impotence of the legal system in such matters. RA is a skill set for dealing with difficult people that anyone can learn, in order to regain a life of security, serenity, and satisfaction.
Defining a Victim of a Difficult Person
Anyone can become a victim of a difficult person or personality disordered individual; it is rare to find someone who has not had contact with one of these kinds of people. But victims (especially chronic or repeat victims) do generally have a profile of characteristics that can be recognized and altered, if the victim is willing to do the work needed to take the obvious target off their back.
Because individuals with personality disorder can be highly skilled at gaining victim’s confidence by use of charm and out-and-out lies, and most human beings have “blind spots” in their areas of naivete, most people have the potential to be victimized by a smooth-talking con-man. But it is also true that some people are more naïve than others. We also know that victims are often people who have extreme levels of empathy; “wearing their heart on their sleeve” so to speak. Because perpetrators really do not have much empathy does not mean that they do not know how to take advantage of empathy in others. Individuals with personality disorders, while often extremely low on empathy, fully understand empathy, and can mimic it as a tool to gain the confidence of others.
In the shadowy areas of perpetrators, victims are traditionally seen as “marks”, or “suckers”, or at the very least stupid and simple, because they broadcast their high levels of empathy like they have a megaphone. Highly empathetic people tend to be extremely trusting, and are eternal optimists who always think the best of people. Most cannot fathom that there are real people in the world who want to take advantage of them or even harm them. Empaths also tend to be quite open about their big hearts, and do not guard these aspects of their personalities in such a way to only reveal them to trustworthy people. Untrained, un-self-aware empaths do not have a good and reliable mechanism to engage their critical thinking when their emotions have been tapped into. Without gaining an understanding of the characteristics that they convey about their vulnerability, the empathic aspects of themselves act like chum in water for the predatory sharks, and such victims virtually invite and guarantee they will be taken in by a bullying, abusive perpetrator.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong being an empathetic, caring person who is optimistic and trusting of others; the world needs such people of compassion and care to help heal others and to make the world a balanced and pleasant place. But such people need to learn the skills of how to protect themselves from being used and abused. Learning how to filter those who approach, learning the signs of a potential abuser, and what to do if you suspect that a difficult person has targeted you are essentials to protecting yourself from victimization.
It is also noted that along with high degrees of empathy, victims also tend to be quite suggestible, meaning that they can be swayed into action or inaction with less pressure than other people. This again may have to do with naivete and inexperience, though it may also be a personality characteristic. Learning how and when to engage in critical thinking is imperative for suggestible people to avoid being victimized.
Like difficult personalities, being an empathetic and suggestible person likely has its roots in both nature and nurture. Empathy as a personality characteristic is something that the vast number of humans share to one degree or another. If we did not have feelings for and execute behaviors of care for each other, we would not have survived as a species. Both family culture and the larger community culture tends to nurture the characteristic of empathy to a significant degree; it is what helps bind people together as a society.
It may be reasonable to theorize that family and parental overprotection of a child may make them more vulnerable to being taken advantage of or be abused by a personality disordered individual. Overprotecting parents who want to “keep the child a child”; not educating them about predators, disallowing age appropriate experiences, or giving fair warning that there are people in the world with bad intentions, do not serve their child well. Both the naturally and socially trained naïve individual are at greater risk for victimization.
It may not just be that a parent who is difficult or is a full-blown personality disorder is at work in creating victims of children: we live in a culture that values dominance and expects submission in all kinds of ways, from listening to teacher to playing out the expected role in gender relations. The dynamic of the ‘alpha and beta’ roles in families, institutions, employment, and even sporting and other activities helps to shape individuals that can be prone to victimization by difficult people. In addition, the public in general is terribly ignorant that such a thing as personality disorder even exists, or that there is a genuine, clinical description for difficult people, con-men, and jerks. If people are at all aware of such individuals, it is at the extreme end of the spectrum, such as psychopathic serial killers. Sensational personality disorders that make the news give the public the impression that personality disorder is a rare occurrence.
Repeated victimization of the same individual by different perpetrators is not unusual; many victims have had negative contact with multiple difficult personality disordered perpetrators. In some cases, a parent or other family member first victimized the victim when they were a child. Since children are in the formation of their own personalities and self-esteem, a parent with personality disorder has a profound effect on shaping the child towards further victimization as they go through life. This “priming effect”, for example, is why so many little girls with a personality disordered father grow into women who are victimized (repeatedly) by male personality disorders in adult life.
The “priming effect” is the multitude of direct and subtle ways that a personality disordered individual begins to mentally manipulate their victim, including placing ideas of self-doubt, total dependence on the perpetrator, degrading self-esteem, and many other forms of psychological, mental, emotional, and even physical abuse.
The Legal System is of Limited Help
A natural reaction of victims of the harm that personality disordered perpetrators is to turn to the legal system for help. The basic sense of injustice that victimization by difficult people incurs logically suggests legal intervention, but especially in cases of bright perpetrators, there are often no legal violations that have occurred. Difficult people seem to have a natural balance when it comes to “walking the edge” just on this side of criminal activity, especially in relationships. Sadly, it is not illegal to be a jerk!
There is an assumption that our legal system can tell who is lying and who is telling the truth, but nothing could be further from the truth. The legal system is based in evidence, and without evidence of a crime or violation of an order, there is no crime or violation. In other words, no body, no murder. And most legal cases dealing with adult relationships involving personality disorders end up in family court (usually conflicting over child custody). In these cases, much of the content ends up being “he said / she said”, leaving the judge to make character decisions about the participants. And here is the crux of that: attorneys and judges can often be just as blind to the skillful misdirection and lying of a personality disorder as any other member of the public.
There are, of course, many, many good, honest people who work as attorneys and judges that want justice to be served and to protect people from crime and abuse. Some are even shrewd enough to spot personality disordered individuals quite quickly, and size up their shenanigans. But once again, difficult people are not always breaking any laws by being difficult or relationally abusive, leaving the legal folks impotent to genuinely help the victim.
Since individuals with personality disorder can be as good as any professional magician in creating an illusion that they are innocent enough that butter would no melt in their mouth; attorneys and judges are taken in, hook, line, and sinker. This especially true when the empathic victim is visibly upset, in tears, and pretty much looking like the unreasonable, hysterical, mentally ill party.
While difficult people exist in all areas of society, the higher professions of law, medicine, entertainment (including professional sports), and clergy have perhaps more than their fair share. Though we may argue that to some degree people in higher professions go there because of their strong personal charisma and drive, it is not at all uncommon to see a personality disordered perpetrator being legally represented by another personality disorder, or a self-centered, all-powerful individual sitting on the bench.
And it also needs to be stated that difficult people in law aside, the legal institutions of our culture still have a great way to go towards eliminating their own prejudice and bias about gender, gender relations, gender believability, marriage (and non-marriage), as well as ignorance about personality disorder.
Because of the false hope that going to court will help the victim overcome the trauma that the perpetrator has caused the victim, and the fact that the legal system at the family court level is only marginally equipped to deal with personality disorders, court simply becomes another handy weapon that the difficult person will manipulate to further victimize their target.