This is the last post in the series, describing remaining important issues.
I. Defence mechanisms – complement
Let me underscore the importance of the narcissistic defence mechanism. Shame severity is related to the distance between desired self image and real self image. The narcissistic defence increases ideal self image, making this gap wider and the shame more severe.
Grandiose narcissists have a complete defence mechanism, guarding the whole personality structures. It is responsible for manipulating and distorting incoming information, in order to not allow the vulnerable, inner, structures experience the real self image. In case of Avoidant Personality, the narcissistic defence is covering only fragments of the personality, so the perceived real self image reaches personality structures without much disturbance, causing shame and confusion.
Creating connections, targets defence mechanisms indirectly, by repairing the guarded personality structures. With this part of the personality being healed, the necessity of defence mechanism disappears and the defence gradually disintegrate. It is also important to not reinforce defence mechanisms by using them. The usage is often very subtle, like not showing openly that you are special, but letting others, accidentally, discover your unique traits or just fantasizing about it.
A few more words about another, apart from bringing attention, function of excessive joking. Humor (and cynicism) directed at everyday life situations is a way to make a distance between the reality and the joking person. It is a common and useful method to raise a mood in times of hardship. Unfortunately, used frequently, on daily basis, builds just another barrier between you and the world, and therefore should be stopped.
II. Sexual problems
One of the deepest intimate connections between the adult people, is sexual relation. Personality disorder’s problems are all about connections, therefore they are especially magnified in this intimate area of human life. To have a healthy sexual life, one must have a healthy personality.
note: please also see the post about intimacy
People with AvPD often are not able to initiate and sustain an intimate relation. So the main problem is unfulfilled longing for having such relations. This often leads to finding pleasure in pornography and sexual daydreaming.
Unfortunately, being able to establish the relationship is not the end and brings other issues:
- The first is fear of rejection that still will be present in the relationship,
- Maybe even more troublesome is the fear of engulfment. Sexual intimacy is close to almost being fused with another person, greatly magnifying engulfment dread. In the result, the emotions can be shut down, by a schizoid-like, defence mechanism.
- Next comes the immaturity of personality, which is not yet ready to adult-to-adult relations. The partner is often perceived as a caregiver figure, and this is not helping the intimacy. Furthermore, the proximity exposes ordinariness of the partner. The resulting difference between real partner image and desired omnipotent caregiver image, may bring disappointment and repulsion.
Additional problems come with the distorted patterns of relations which bring sexual and emotional arousal:
- The internal template of “correct” intimate relationships is based on the relations from the early childhood. In this period of life, the personality learnt what is the right way to be intimate. Such relations pattern will be later looked for and rewarded as the most pleasurable. So, e.g. the people being often humiliated as a child or observing adult humiliating each other, will feel sexual pleasure when being humiliated or humiliating. There can be many imprinted patterns, both healthy an unhealthy ones together.
- The purely physical sex with no emotion attached is another desired kind of relations. It is appealing because lack of emotions means lack of emotional pain.
All the problems presented above often lead to unsatisfactory sexual life with the healthy partner. The desire toward the partner may be diminished or disappear. Instead, the disordered person may feel attracted to cold, detached or harming people. The consequences can be twofold:
- Lack of satisfaction with real intimacy leads to withdrawal toward pornography and sexual daydreaming.
- People with a milder form of Social Anxiety may search intimacy in detached short term sexual affairs. Such relations are far from real intimacy and cannot bring longed-for fulfillment. This can lead to even more frequent, compulsive affairs.
- The sexual problems are caused by damaged personality structures like the other emotional problems. The self work described in the previous post will improve functioning in the intimate area as well.
- The unhealthy sexual behaviour should be stopped to not reinforce the malignant patterns. By unhealthy, I mean the one reinforcing the flawed or undeveloped parts of personality. It can be sexual fantasies or pornography depicting the abnormal or detached relations, or engaging in unhealthy affairs.
- The breath meditation is a good short term remedy, working thanks to its anti-engulfment effect. Just practice meditation before the meeting with the partner or together with the partner.
- Sensate Focus is a widely used, long term, sexual therapy method. This is like a meditation on the body of the partner. One of the partners is entirely focused on the other partner’s body, experiencing how it looks and feels like, without trying to achieve sexual arousal. Please search yourself for a good Sensate Focus book or materials if you want to try this method.
III. Handling painful emotions
When overwhelmed by shame, humiliation, envy, anger, hopelessness, fear, sadness or any other distressing feeling, the automatic response is often one of two kinds: either excessive overthinking, analyzing, again and again, the situation that was the source of emotions, or trying to run away from the emotions, by doing anything just to cover the pain.
Both strategies are not particularly effective, to put it mildly. The better solution is yet another form of meditation. Similar to breath meditation, but focused on feelings, instead of breath. Just sit down quietly with the painful emotions and feel them fully. Do not think about them, do not try to make the feelings weaker or stronger. The feelings may induce tension or other sensations in different parts of the body, focus on these sensations as well.
The bad feelings won’t magically disappear, but they will become more bearable.
Most resources dedicated to breath meditation should also cover this variation.
IV. Next Generations
The personality disorders, and mental problems in general, are often multigenerational. They pass on to the next generations, by the poisonous mixture made from flawed genes and unhealthy upbringing. The secret of stopping this plague lies in your children.
The infant development is crucial for the foundations of a healthy personality. A toddler needs parents love and acceptance to create the very first layers in personality structures.
Punishing the infant is the act of pure rejection and engulfment. The infant is not yet capable to do anything wrong, because it’s only learning what it means to be a person. It can be corrected, but not punished. Any form of prolonged isolation of the infant, especially when the baby is distressed or crying, is perceived as an abandonment and rejection. It can have dire consequence for personality development.
The child needs caregiver attention and time, to feel that it she important enough, that she is really loved, that she belongs to the world. There is no “easy way” to take care of the infant. Nothing will prevent the infant from “bothering” the caregivers and “stealing” their time, because she needs them direly. It is not possible to overdose love, so give as much as you can.
The older children bring other challenges.
First and foremost, there is no way to bring up healthy child, not being healthy yourself. Even when not abusing the child directly, the disordered adult’s behaviour will manifest in many ways and will affect the child. It is not major episodic abuse that does the most harm, but the smallest hurtful behaviours, repeated again and again, hundreds or thousands of times. So the main duty is to work on yourself.
For disordered person the growing child independence is a direct threat. The expression of it may be perceived as an attack and responded with rage. In the act of unhealthy defence, the caregiver may try to reject a child or to subdue (engulf) him. The child may also be perceived as a competition and be the source of envy.
Use the methods from the previous post to establish connection with a child. It is also a way to mitigate the damaging aspect of own behaviour. Use a time with him to make connections for his and your benefit. Do not shed away from the child, observe the child carefully in every occasion.
Child misbehaviour is especially important. The punishment may be strict, but must be just and done with love. The child cannot feel that he, as a person, is attacked or rejected. He must still feel loved while being punished. It will allow the child’s personality to integrate the punishment, not as a rejection, but in positive, regulatory way. It requires from the caregiver to be able to deal with sudden, overwhelming negative emotions towards the child. Do not try to directly inhibit or block the negative emotions, but make space beside them, to cast positive ones. Read the previous post for more details. As the child is the closest family member, the physical contact may be incorporated – touching the child’s head, in non-aggressive way, immediately cast positive connection and makes anger controllable. The other method is just to wait until the emotions calm down.
V. Other disorders and self-work prospects
All the Personality Disorders mentioned in this blog are caused by problems with personality development. The presented methods are universal, so seemingly could be used to work on all of them. The reality, however, is more complicated.
- Schizoid, Histrionic and Narcissistic personalities are protected by strong and complete defence mechanisms, that may reduce the effectiveness of these methods. The real problem, however, lies in lack of motivation. It is hard to imagine the narcissist to have the determination for the necessary self-work. The histrionics and schizoids are probably not much more motivated.
The most painful aspect of Avoidant personality: bare and unprotected damaged personality structures, almost constantly responding with shame and humiliation, is also its strongest asset. Pain provides Avoidant with the constant motivation, and direct access to damaged personality structures, facilitate the healing.
- Borderline and Obsessive-Compulsive personalities should be well responsive to proposed practices. Yet, Borderline personality is much more severe, and the methods presented here may be not enough. In Borderlines, the very foundation, the lowest layers of the personality, is damaged, and partially missing. I’m not sure if person alone can rebuild this part, he may need an external substitute of a loving caregiver (often the therapist) to rebuild the broken foundation. Extreme emotional outbursts and suicidal tendencies pose other problems, as they may temporarily arise during self-work. The sufferer should be, therefore, supervised.
- Psychopaths just don’t relate to people. It is the mechanism that controls personality structures that is broken. So it’s not treatable by using described methods. Sociopaths are somewhere on the road to psychopathy, and the methods can probably work only to a certain limit. The lack of motivation is also obvious in sociopaths.
- People with Autistic Spectrum Disorders are not treatable as well. They also seem to have the mechanism controlling personality working in a different way, but not quite like psychopaths. They need to be connected and are able to connect, but not to people, only to inanimate objects or abstract concepts and sensations like mathematical figures, music, places, labels, etc..
- Schizophrenia, Schizotypal personality and (partly) Paranoid personality, have different genesis and also cannot be treatable presented way. This is true for bipolar disorder as well. As for depression, I cannot say, it may depend on the genesis of the particular depression case.
- I have some hope for positive effects on Dependent Personality, but I do not understand it well enough to make any claims.
That’s all about overcoming Avoidant Personality Disorder and Social Anxiety. I really hope it will help.