As I both point out and illustrate in my book Character Disturbance, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the intervention of choice when it comes to dealing with the dysfunctional attitudes, ways of thinking, and behavior patterns of disturbed and disordered characters (For more on CBT, see the article: Abusive Characters and Treatment: The Essential Requirements and the primer series on CBT beginning with A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy). But CBT is also a highly appropriate mode of treatment for addressing a variety of other issues, including overcoming anxiety and depression, recovering from the trauma of a toxic relationship, and building a better sense of self-efficacy.
In last week’s post, I provided some excerpts from worksheets that I developed over the years to coach folks with varying levels of character disturbance through the process of character change. The primary purpose of the worksheets is not to “inform” the individual about what they’re doing. As I’ve written about many times, disturbed characters pretty much already know what they’re doing and why. Rather, the purpose of the worksheets is to accurately label the various behaviors, attitudes, and thinking patterns of concern, draw their attention to them when they occur, and provide a structure for their self-correction.
In last weeks post (see: The Mechanics of Genuine CBT) I provided an example of the worksheets I developed for use with disturbed characters. But I also developed a version of the worksheets for the relationship partners of disturbed characters. The purpose of those worksheets is not to provide a laundry list of issues that the relationship partner needs to bring to the disturbed character’s attention but rather to give the relationship partner a way to both reliably spot and accurately label problem patterns, to set and enforce important expectations, limits, and boundaries, to empower themselves by leaning how not to be swayed by the disturbed character’s responsibility avoidance tactics, and to better hold their partner to account (more on the tools needed to avoid manipulation and empower oneself can be found in my book In Sheep’s Clothing).
Here’s some examples from the worksheets designed for relationship partners dealing with a disturbed character in their lives:
ERRORS IN THINKING
Modified and adapted from the work of Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.
George Simon, Ph.D. (Latest revision: 03-15-06)
NOTE: There are many erroneous or problematic ways to think. These are just some of the more common thinking errors.
EGOCENTRIC THINKING. Thinking only of themselves and what they want. Thinking that the world revolves around them. Not thinking about others or whether what they want is right, good, legal, or might hurt someone else. This kind of thinking promotes a self-centered attitude and a disregard of social obligations. When you notice this kind of thinking and that it is not self-corrected, it’s essential that you confront it and respectfully assert your rights and needs. And when you observe any effort on the disturbed character’s part to be less self-centered and more considerate, it’s helpful to both acknowledge and reinforce that effort.
COMBATIVE THINKING. Viewing the world as a combat stage. Seeing every situation as a contest they have to win. Only seeing I win-you lose or you win-I lose scenarios in life. Being unwilling to back down or give ground. Being unable to see how they might gain more in the long-run if they would just be willing to give a little ground sometimes or on some things. This way of thinking makes it more likely they will keep fighting too much, too hard, too often, and too unnecessarily in the various aspects of life and promotes defiant, hostile, and confrontational attitudes. When you notice this kind of thinking you have to resist the bait of being drawn into unnecessary conflict. The disturbed character in your life most likely both knows and understands the values and principles you’d like them to endorse, so there’s no need to get sucked into a wrestling match. Just respectfully take a firm stand on the principles and reinforce any efforts on the disturbed character’s part to concede or give some ground, especially on the most important principles. Label combative thinking for what it is when you spot it, encourage the disturbed character to self-correct it, and recognize and reinforce them for their genuine efforts to do so.
There are similar worksheets that address common manipulative and responsibility-avoidance behaviors:
Behaviors that Obstruct the Internalization of Standards and Controls and often Used as Tactics to Manipulate Others
NOTE: There are many tactics a person can use to manipulate others and resist accepting responsibility. These are but some of the more common ones.
1. Rationalization. This is when the disturbed character attempts to justify a behavior or make an excuse for it despite knowing that most people would think it inappropriate, harmful, or wrong. It’s when they have an answer for everything, so that when you confront a behavior you know in your heart is a problem, they give you a litany of reasons why you should doubt the legitimacy of your concern. Getting you to “buy into” their excuses is how they manipulate you into backing-off or backing-down in any necessary confrontation. Empowerment tool: Accept no excuses when it comes to inappropriate behavior. The purported “reasons” the disturbed character may offer for their inappropriate actions are always irrelevant. Besides, as long as the disturbed character is making excuses, you know they’re still resisting the idea of accepting and internalizing necessary values and controls (which is what’s impairing their development of a sound conscience), and because of this, they’re almost certain to repeat the problem behavior. Avoid playing the game of “Don’t you see?” because the likelihood is they already “see” but still “disagree” with the principle you want them to adopt. Rather, hold firm on essential values and principles and when you catch them self-correcting their old habit of making excuses and making some attempt to modify their behavior, recognize and reinforce their efforts toward greater accountability.
4. Minimizing. This is when the disturbed character tries to make a molehill out of a mountain. It’s when they try to convince you or even themselves that what they did really wasn’t all that bad or harmful. It’s also when they admit only a small or insignificant part of what they did wrong. Sometimes this is a tactic to make you think they’re not such a character-impaired person after all (this is “impression management) and sometimes it’s the way they resist admitting to themselves the full extent of their character deficiencies and problems. Empowerment tool: Know well and affirm the difference between life’s “trivialities” and its important principles and values. And when it comes to behaviors that violate important principles, stand unapologetically firm. Don’t try to convince the disturbed character about the true importance of matters that you bring to his/her attention for correction. Rather, reinforce any efforts you see them genuinely making to take more seriously the behaviors and attitudes they need to correct.
The above excerpts represent but a few of the helpful ways these worksheets can help both disturbed characters self-correct problem attitudes and behaviors and help their relationship partner empower themselves. There are other ways properly designed and administered CBT can help folks who are not character disturbed but who still need to develop greater strength of character and acquire better self-care skills. A future series will examine some of those ways.