(For first half of this article, please see Part 1.)
One thing an individual dealing with persons with character disorders should be aware of is his/her (the counselor’s) own tendency to be empathic, feel guilty, and take personal responsibility for problems that occur within the relationship.
It is helpful to remember that an abusive person is a master manipulator and has a knack for turning things around, making themselves look like the victim, while the true victim feels like the “bad guy” and inevitably gives in to the whims and wants of the abusive person.
This happens, mainly, because of empathy on the part of the non-abusive person. The abuser feigns feelings of hurt, and the other person often, compassionately, feels concern for the abuser and retreats, offering understanding and compassion, rather than accountability, which would be way more effective in the long run. Counselors and others in helping professions are not immune to such tendencies.
If you are working with an abusive person and he/she uses a manipulative strategy, such as mentioned above, to get you to back off, feel guilty, or otherwise retreat from holding the abuser accountable for his/her behavior, then you have just succeeded in reinforcing his/her manipulative behaviors.
When treating people with conduct disorders it is important to remember that the treatment interventions are not the same as those used with people struggling with “typical” neurotic mental illness symptoms (such as anxiety and depression.) You will need to obtain some personal tools in order to address characterological disorders appropriately.
Here are some suggestions:
- Personal boundaries. Do not allow another person to cause you to waver in your convictions, values, and what you know to be true. You cannot be manipulated so well if you stick to the truth. Make a personal boundary to not let yourself be manipulated. When the abusive person is trying to” lay guilt trips” on you, “play the victim,” etc., remind yourself of this boundary.
- Ability to confront the abusive person. There is no need to shy away from the abusive person by allowing his/her conduct to go unchecked. It is far better to help the person change, by actually “calling out” the behaviors and attitudes that actually do need to be changed. Focusing on his/her underlying psychological underpinnings are not necessary; particularly at this point in treatment.
- Focus on behaviors and attitudes, not feelings. Abusive people are masters at focusing on their feelings and other people’s behaviors. This needs to be changed in order for healing to happen. Instead, teach the abuser to stop focusing on his/her feelings, instead, teaching him/her to notice what he/she is actually doing.
- Anticipate antics. That is, expect to be manipulated. Expect that your client is going to try and focus on the other person’s problems and on how he/she (the abuser) is the true victim. Anticipating this will help you have useful responses when needed.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) skills. Using CBT is the most helpful intervention for treating abusers. Teaching your client how to change his/her behaviors should be the number one focus of treatment.
- Ability to address core beliefs. It is particularly important for those individuals treating abusive people to be sure to address the abuser’s core belief system. Not only should this belief system be defined, it should also be challenged. Using the Socratic Method is helpful. Example: “So when your wife nags at you, you believe it’s okay to cuss at her?” Or, “If you feel disrespected by someone, you believe it’s okay to hit them?” This helps focus the problem on the abusers’ core beliefs about self and others, and helps focus on what he/she is doing that needs to change, rather than switching the focus to the other person.
- Skills for teaching and enforcing values, principles, and standards. Realize that when working with people who have problems in the ways they relate to others, it is therapeutic to provide psycho-education on healthy and appropriate human-interaction behaviors. It is also therapeutic to expect these values, principles and standards be demonstrated by the abusive person.
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Bancroft, L. (2002). Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York, NY: Berkeley Publishing Company.
Simon, G.K. (2011). Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of Our Age. Littlerock, AK: Parkhurst Brothers