Benign and Effective Confrontation – Wrap Up

I’ve been posting how a person’s dysfunctional ways of coping can be confronted in a manner that both honors the true meaning of the term confrontation and has the potential to prompt genuine change – even in someone of significantly impaired character (see also: Learning to Confront Benignly and Effectively and The Structure of Therapeutic Confrontation).  Historically, helping professionals have been hesitant to engage in any kind of confrontation with their clients, and the main reason for this stems largely from assumptions flowing from the more traditional psychology paradigms – paradigms that are neither as appropriate nor as useful in our present age of more pervasive character disturbance.

As I assert in my book Character Disturbance, no problem has ever been successfully ameliorated in therapy until it’s been correctly identified (and also correctly labeled) and appropriately confronted.  And it’s the artful manner in which the various problems needing attention are confronted that makes genuine change possible. Correctly identifying the problem – not merely the surface-level manifestations of the problem but also its root cause – is what diagnosis is all about.  And as I’ve mentioned many times before, intervention in the absence of sound diagnosis is the very definition of malpractice.  So, you have to know what’s really going on with someone, why it’s going on, and what the best means of addressing it is, if you’re going to be of genuine help.  Defining the problem, its cause, and what needs to be done to correct it is what therapeutic confrontation is all about.

Now just because you’ve correctly identified a problem and know what needs to be done about it doesn’t mean things will necessarily get better. There are a lot of other variables that enter into that equation, not the least of which is a person’s willingness to accept the diagnosis and comply with the recommended intervention.  But a person’s possible reluctance to “own” their pathology and commit themselves to the recommended treatment strategy should never be a reason not call out a problem for exactly what it is.  This is the mistake so often made by clinicians overly aligned with traditional perspectives.  When it comes to someone’s pathology, helping professionals are obliged to call it right and address it properly, even in the face of possible resistance. Certainly resistance can and should be dealt with.  And sometimes, a person’s resistance can be really difficult if not impossible to overcome.  But that shouldn’t be a license for a therapist to either “candy-coat” or otherwise misrepresent a problem and what really needs to be done about it.

In the Judas Syndrome (which, I’m pleased to announce, has recently been published in the Korean Language) I give an example of a young man who was simply not ready to consider change when I first encountered him (see the story of “Philip”, which like all the other vignettes presented in my books and articles contains deliberately distorted details to preserve anonymity and/or confidentiality).  When his relationship partner took a serious look at him, she didn’t at all like what she saw.  But when Philip looked in the mirror, he was more than pleased with himself.  As I explain in both Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing, when it comes to personality and character patterns, many times the very aspects of a person’s makeup that trouble others are not only acceptable to but also fondly embraced by the person possessing them. Professionals call this egosyntonia. Now, there are certainly occasions when a person is actually troubled by certain aspects of their own personality.  They might actually even hate the way they react in various situations but because they don’t seem to be able to help themselves, they’re miserable about it.  In short, they’re not really comfortable with the person they are. We call this egodystonia.  But most of the time, where significant character disturbance is present, the person with the disturbance likes who they are, prefers the way they feel and think about things, is quite comfortable with the way they do things, and believes not only that everyone else has a problem but also that the world would be a better place if everyone else thought, felt, and acted just as they do. Philip was one of those folks.

Now Philip didn’t like what I had to say about him and the nature of his problems.  And more than being non-receptive, he sought to challenge me on my diagnosis at every turn.  He fought pretty hard to get me to back down or change my mind.  But while I was sure of the diagnosis and the intervention that would be necessary, I couldn’t make Philip be ready to embrace either, so I was prepared to let him go.  Now Philip was an interesting case because he actually wanted to stay and fight (to get me to change my mind) and in response to that I had to firmly deny him access.  I’m certain that sending Philip away and refusing to see him was the most potentially therapeutic thing I could have done at the time. And just because I sent him packing didn’t mean my door wouldn’t remain open to a Philip more willing to accept reality.  That day would come, because as fate would have it, life ended up teaching Philip some very hard lessons.  And when he was in a better place – a more humble (i.e. “defeated”), open, and amenable place – and really wanted the help, I’m certain he came back to see me because unlike the several other therapists he’d been dragged to see in the past, I “dared” (his words) to name his problem for what it really was (i.e. pathological ego-inflation). It wasn’t that he had “problems with communication,” or “commitment fears,” or “deep-seated insecurities,” or any of the many other fancy-sounding but mark-missing conditions suggested to him in the past.  He was simply a man who thought far too much of himself and carried such a huge sense of entitlement into every relationship that he was always causing shipwrecks.  And when he finally stopped kidding himself (He never forgot what I told him the problem was), became hungry enough for something more out of life, and knew he needed guidance to suitably reshape himself, he sought out someone he thought he could trust.  Philip also came with the “positive expectation (shown by mounds of research to be the single most important factor for successful therapy outcome) that I would help him.  And I firmly believe that’s because even though I “dared” to confront him (and pretty strongly as I remember) he still sensed in me not a malicious intent to wound or condemn him but a sincere desire to support his growth.

I’ve experienced scenarios like the kind I’ve described with Philip time again over the years.  Of course, I’ve encountered plenty of folks who, unlike Philip, remained so prideful, stubborn, and self-satisfied that they possibly went to their graves the same disturbed character they’d always been.  But I’ve met a lot more folks like Philip – folks who appeared almost impossible to deal with at the time and whom I simply had to let go of – and I’m grateful I learned relatively early on how to be at peace with wherever a person is at the moment with respect to their personal growth.  There’s an old joke I’ve heard repeated many times at Social Work conventions over the years (Social Workers enjoy a reputation for being among the more compassionate, eager-to-help individuals on the planet) about two female social workers on the streets of Manhattan who get their purses snatched by a mugger on a bicycle and then give chase shouting: “Stop that man!  Stop him!  He clearly needs our help!”  And I would have to be taught the hard way how not only disrespectful but also counter-therapeutic it is to try and help someone who’s neither asking for it nor is particularly open to it (besides, “giving chase” to an individual not asking for your help only invites them to disrespect you, question your motives, and mistrust you).  But as disrespectful, “enabling,” and counterproductive as such behavior is, I doubt there’s anything more damaging than either fearing or refusing to call out a problem for what it really is.

Character Matters will be live again this weekend and because it’s a special holiday weekend, I hope for a good discussion about the integral relationship between character and the freedom so many have paid the ultimate price to defend.  Join the discussion at 7 pm Eastern this Sunday.



21 thoughts on “Benign and Effective Confrontation – Wrap Up

  1. Dr Simon: How? You keep telling us about what you did, but fail time and again to *show* us how you did it. Please don’t wrap up without giving us something concrete to go on…. something we can use…

    1. With the greatest respect to your goodself. You can lead a horse to water BUT! you cannot make it drink. If they need help, let them find it themselves. For the average person. Throwing in the towl. Thats how you help. I promise.

  2. Vera I don’t know what the answer is to benignly confronting someone.

    This past Saturday was the last session of the self-defense class I took. The strategies were to protect ourselves, first and foremost. The aggressor was not our concern. WE are our priority.

    Verbally or physically, she said the steps to take were:

    Do one thing at a time – and do it with 100% of your energy:

    STEP 1: Take a deep breath. Whatever the aggressor is saying, your first response is to yourself, and you breathe deeply. This will release endorphins, adrenaline and help calm the racing brain and get you to think more clearly (maybe not perfectly, but more clearly).

    STEP 2: As you take a deep breath, sit or stand up straight, shoulders back. Do not cross your arms (makes you look frightened and smaller) (i.e. be like a cat when it tries to make itself look bigger when confronted).

    Take another deep breath.

    STEP 3: Look the aggressor in the eye (doesn’t matter if said aggressor is your husband, brother, or whoever – they’re aggressing you and you must see them as such.)

    (the above 3 steps will take – maybe 2 or 3 seconds?)

    STEP 4: Try and deepen your voice a bit, and speak up! Give a command or ask a question: “Are you trying to play victim?” “Are you getting aggressive with me? Is that the route you want to go down?” “Why are you being evasive?” “I don’t accept that.” etc.

    STEP 5: Keep breathing.

    (Don’t respond to everything they throw your way. It does not matter what they say. All they’re doing is aggressing.)

    STEP 6: You don’t owe anyone an explanation. If you don’t like something, that’s your right. (I know, easier said than done!)

    But if you like the color yellow and someone insults you for that (“Are you crazy? What’s wrong with you?”), then you know absolutely that the fault is with the lunatic who is criticizing you. It’s Not Your Responsibility to convince them of the wonders of the color yellow.

    STEP 7: (this applied to us in the course): If assaulted, you defend yourself (with one or more of the techniques we learned). And go for it with 100% of your strength and determination.

    STEP 8: (hopefully you don’t get this far, but if you’ve arrived at Step 7) Run; call 911, both to report on your aggressor, and to protect yourself; or call an assault hotline, women’s shelter, friend, your mother, whoever or whatever – someone or somewhere that you can find support.

    STEP 9: Follow through 100% – if it means filing a police report, getting a restraining order, leaving for an hour/day/week for a calming down period, whatever you decide is needed and that you are capable of doing at that moment.

    You do this for yourself, your priority is You. Not the aggressor.
    N. mentioned that in her experience not many of these characters will change.

    And she spoke of the importance of community; talking about our experiences, supporting each other, never judging.

    If a person decides to stay with their aggressor, that’s what they’ve decided and that’s the only choice they are able to make at that point in time. Later on, maybe they will decide to do something else. And we’ll support them in whatever decision they make.

    And at the end of the day Saturday, we got to experience just how strong we really are:

    She brought out wood boards, ¾” thick. She set them up on small blocks about 6” high (there was a small piece of foam on the floor under the boards). She had each of us kneel on the floor, and told us:

    “Give 100% – you’re aiming for the piece of foam on the floor, not the top of the board”. We all were able to smash a board with the side of our fists (combined with deep breathing, our drill sergeant roar and adrenaline rush)!

    It was AMAZING! She explained that these were construction boards, and the force of breaking one board was the equivalent smashing 7 noses, 4 kneecaps or 2 collarbones (as self-DEFENSE only! We weren’t going around looking for men to beat up!)

    I saw that we are all capable of more than we realize, once we have the right tools.

    We’ve survived thus far, we can continue to grow and become stronger and more empowered – keep trying different techniques.

    For me, the self-defence workshop really really helped, in particular:

    Breathe deeply. Speak up (it may help to record your voice – I noticed that I was speaking in a very wimpy manner) and be louder than you normally are. We are dealing with aggressors – at the very least, you will grab their attention.

    So, no benign confrontation here. But I firmly believe that these techniques will help us with many of the characters we deal with (other than the physical confrontation, which is to be done only when you’ve learned exactly what to do, and only when you’re physically threatened).

    1. GG! I am SO SO happy for you! I think every woman should take the course you took which sounds more evolved and comprehensive than the one I took way back when.

      NOW, my response to this article and to Vera’s question was going to be something along the lines of those “reality” shows where they show people doing all kinds of crazy and amazing things………”THESE ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS, PLEASE DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME”! I do believe that when it comes to confronting a sadistic covert aggressive manipulator, in an interpersonal “relationsh*t”, the odds are seriously stacked against you by the time you get to the stage of needing to, wanting to, attempting to, trying to confront them. In other words, once you are tangled in the web, the only way it is going to end is ugly……………..and very painfully. It will be either you getting discarded OR you finally throwing in the towel out of sheer exhaustion and defeat OR a combination of both.
      My point in response to Dr. Simon’s article is this……..when he is dealing with the worst of the worst of these cats, he is not tangled in their web emotionally. He has not taken the emotional bait, swallowed the hook, line and sinker. That position of emotional detachment he is in as a therapist is similar to where a Spath is operating from and affords him the ability to not get swept up in their BS. Of course I’m not comparing Dr. Simon to a psych/ sociopath…..just saying that as a therapist he has to remain detached and objective in order to be able to respond professionally.

      1. Another thought about being in “the web” is that it really is so much like being addicted to anything. I had a drinking problem but I was never addicted to alcohol. I smoked but I was never addicted to cigarettes. I was ADDICTED to Spathtard.There is no doubt that a large part of the misery I suffered after that whole mess was O V E R was some form of withdrawl and it was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was hooked. Everything about being with him has some correlation to being addicted to a harmful substance. When someone has that much of a hold on you… may struggle on the fishing line and put up a good fight doing so, but the last thing you want is to spit out that hook. When you are finally yanked out of the water and laying on the bone dry beach gasping for air……… the really bad part comes…….they rip the hook out of your gut. But wait there’s more! With your guts raw and ripped, you now have to swallow bite after bite of reality, bitter pill after bitter pill.

  3. Puddle, you said: “My point in response to Dr. Simon’s article is this……..when he is dealing with the worst of the worst of these cats, he is not tangled in their web emotionally. He has not taken the emotional bait, swallowed the hook, line and sinker. That position of emotional detachment he is in as a therapist is similar to where a Spath is operating from and affords him the ability to not get swept up in their BS.”
    A year ago I would still be feeling guilty, wondering what I could do differently, blah blah blah, with respect to my brother. What has helped me tremendously, besides the above, is the realization that I.DON’T.LIKE.HIM. Period. I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I thought I was “supposed” to love this piece of sh&t because we shared DNA. Not Any More! And it is thanks to all of you, another friend here at work, and lots of introspection, journaling and meditating, to realize what is true for me.

    But absolutely, if you are still emotionally tangled, it is like a bloodletting – your blood, and picking yourself up after it is excruciating. One of the workshop participants who was emotionally battered and then physically beaten (to the point where she ended up in the hospital, and then the doctors called the police), said that she’s still not sure how she’d react if he came back into her life. She needs to have No Contact at all. There is still that pull – the charming manipulator.

    No one who hasn’t been through it can understand. I can’t either, and yet I have at least some clue because of the emotional manipulation my brother has put me through.

    1. Yep GG……when you are hooked at a deep level and someone has targeted and appealed to a primal unmet need, it is a powerful force. I loved an illusion but I loved being with him SO much, I just did. I never ever wanted it to end. But the bubble burst and now I know that Spathtard was not the person I loved, only the illusion he created. What a mind f.
      GG, once you are an adult, siblings need to be viewed as other human beings. If they are not someone you would want to be friends with than why should you put up with their crap just because you are related? I have a VERY limited relationship with my bro. I don’t “like” him but my make up won’t allow a total disengagement. I pretty much keep things on a level that is appropriate and emotionally safe. I’m ok with that. He is my only sibling! The only person who has been in my life most of my life! My Dad, my cousins but he is the one I shared a childhood( from Hell) with. I just try to accept it for what it is, keep my expectations real. But if he does something that affects my Dad in a negative way….. Look out!

  4. So happy that I have a few minutes to jump on here. I knew I was missing you guys but when I logged in, it felt like walking into secret, magical, powerful wonderland. Just by reading words from people I’ve never officially met, yet feel closer to than anyone ever…….the warmth, care, concern, support, hugs just envelopes me.
    Been really busy, mostly really good, and ….I don’t even know what to call The This….has been with me and helped me make an incredible decision.
    Just have a few minutes……was talking to someone I don’t see often, she and her husband had split. She was telling about all the irrational, mega angry, mean to their kids,etc. it’s The Script. I kept nodding my head, validating, eventually she would start something about him, and I could have told her what happened next. He had a terrible headache, she went to his place, did a LOT of care taking. Next time she saw him….drum roll..he’s yelling at her because the headache was her fault. 100 nasty things he’s done, “but I still feel like I should rescue you him”.
    It was tortuous and fascinating….it was me, and it was you, at the beginning. A rear view mirror.
    Puddle, I absolutely agree with your thoughts about confronting someone in your office and have no emotional attachments. My separation was 4 years ago today actually, and until I found you Angels, I did not get the big picture. I never wanted to see him, I’d gone NC early into the 4years, I knew he was a total lunatic, in no way was his behavior my fault, nor did I deserve it. Why then was I still riding the anxiety roller coaster? A few good days, boom, got it to good again, up and down. Here it all made sense. this is what a CD does, it is mind boggling crazy making lunacy, and, at least for me, I had to really get it before I could even be a bit assertive. And starting doing on my terms, instead of reacting.
    ESTime is telling me to say good night, sweet dreams, angels

    1. LuLu, just hitting the sac myself but I just wanted to say hello angel! Good to know you are ok!

  5. Hi Lulu!

    Your friend with CD or just plain creepy ex. It’s like some people have an almost out of control nurturing or maternal instinct? I don’t know. Is it easier to accept, on an emotional level, that significant other is damaged and hurt somehow and reacting to that injury than it is to accept that they are aggressive and self centered? And as the dear doctor has described in his most recent article, it is difficult for professionals, too. Dr. Simon also describes in his latest article how our personalities are arrayed on a continuum (several different continuums, I am assuming) The anxiety that propels neuroses coexists with the aggression that often underlies character defects, disorders. Reactive aggression is directly related, a product of neurotic anxiety. But the zeal to win at any cost, to hurt, to crush, to cause chaos (due to sheer boredom) plus the addictions that develop, pursuing pleasure rather than as a retreat from pain are not neurotic. They rest on pure unfettered hedonism and aggression and ego. And, like fear these are also basic foundational elements of personality.

    I have zero desire to want to help anybody like this.

    1. Hi LisaO…………… :)
      You made a comment very recently and now I can’t find it. It was so good, succinct as usual. Something to the affect of how they set you up for the fall? Does it ring a bell?

      1. Hi Puddle,

        I can’t remember any recent succinctness, but I will take your word for it! LOL I DO remember some long run on sentences that I can never take back…oh the humanity!!

  6. Hi, LisaO.
    Okay, I have memory slippage.. I’m trying to remember how you were connected to your CD, marriage/live together, sibling, parent…..? I think a love relationship is different.
    I was married to mine, 35 years and 2 children. My friend’s story sounded so familiar, as have the long term relationships on here. She is at Step 1. The tunnel is long and excruciating, it took nearly 4 years and the angels on this blog to help me to the finish line. NOW I have clarity, boundaries, expectations about how I am to be treated. Still am a caretaker, but now it’s healthy.

    1. HI Lulu,

      I am struggling with the whole theme of ‘out of control maternal instinct,’ myself. It revolves around my narbro though, not a mate. There is something about the pathetic, the needy, the hard done by, that arouses in me an intense desire to protect and love. I just wonder, if in my case this out of control maternal instinct blinded me to the grim reality. That individual who was so loved and cared about found my personal agony a few years back, boring. Did I have a blindfold on, knit together by own sorrow and excess estrogen?

      It has to be worse with a mate. I have had no problem with feeling excess feelings of tenderness for men who are pathetic. Too much like Dad. Brings out the fight and flight in me.

      My history CD wise. Husband had Asperger’s, not CD, but difficult emotionally for both of us. Loved him a lot though and I think, vice versa. He was SO kind, just not expressive.

      Was targeted by a psychopath who must have sensed I was starved for affection and attention, some years ago. I wonder how he knew? Could it be because I ended up exclaiming, “Man, am I ever starved for affection!!”

      Was not a sexual relationship just super emotionally intense. Flowers, cards, gifts, a blitzkrieg of compliments, and deep deep spiritual heart felt conversations, for months. He appeared to be absolutely crazy nutzo about me, just the way I was.

      I was being treated for ptsd at the time. Super vulnerable, parents dying, alone alone. No deep friendships of any kind, very chronically ill. I was red meat for a psychopath. Heck, I was marbled, grain fed, top sirloin and he massaged my ego, Kobi style. Then he vanished, literally vanished off the face of the earth, in a heartbeat. Gone. Poof! I have been contacted by two victims, since that time. Same modus operandi, but they caught it before the discard. All stealth this dude. Had he been overt, it would have been easy for me to do a big, “see ya!”

      So have had several major challenges, but back to the central question regarding personality and character being on a continuum. It seems it is easier to view the people who have hurt us so deeply, as purely emotionally damaged because there often IS emotional damage along with the deplorable, self serving choices they are making.

      Lulu, I am so happy that you have made the finish line. I am still dealing with foo emotional problems. But I plan to detach. I have to. I can’t have deep love and concern countered with indifference.

  7. Can anyone offer me advice please. I left my husband, well he told me to F off for the last time, been left 9 month, he as travelled 200 mile every two weeks to spend the weekend with me, which as been great. But now I have decided to go back in a couple of moths time, deep down im worried, don’t want it to go back how it was, he is in therapy, has been told he is still wearing the mask. I love him and he does have a good side, but he is controlling sulky wants his own way. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Emsbank, If you generally get along with people, are kind and caring but being told to F off by this dude I would listen to your gut. How does he treat others. That’s a good yardstick. Does he have close male friends? Family you could consult?

  8. Dr. Brown,

    I have a question that pertains more to the healing and moving on process for the person involved with such character. My situation is very similar to what you have written and what others have said in the blog, so no need to describe the situation. My main concern is healing, moving on and being the best mom to my child.

    I would love to know the techniques and ideas on these, because of our child, the Narc will be in my live forever so I must learn to 1. heal and 2. deal with him. I dont think you can to the latter and then heal since forgiving yourself and learning to deal with the pain in more important right now than dealing with him. :-)

    Lost Wife

    1. Hi Lost Wife,

      For 2. deal with him
      My standard recommendation has been to read In Sheeps Clothing as that is what I found most beneficial for myself. Everything is organized well and presented in concise manner in the book. Once done, you can go through the blogs and other two books, if you like.
      Biggest healing for me has been just getting the knowledge that there are people who simply do not think the way as most normal social humans do.
      Good luck!

    2. Sorry. No Dr. Brown here. Only Angry N DYsfunctional Devil here.

      I do not know if you should try to be best mom to your child. It is probably better to be just, kind, caring mom to your child.

  9. Hello evry one..Wow!! I always knew something was wrong with breaks my heart and lift so much wondering from myself knowing that I can put a name to this behavior. Its terrible and uneceptable, and drives you insane. Its really scary and twisted at the same time. I find this info truly helpfull and applaud this insight and wisdom.

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