What is a Personality Disorder? Storm's Edge Therapy

What is a Personality Disorder?

What is a Personality Disorder? Storm's Edge TherapyDistress, Dysfunction, Danger

A person has a disorder of their personality when they don’t feel safe and secure in the world; they do not assume their world is safe; therefore, they are compelled to make it safe for themselves. However, they only have one strategy to make themselves safe in the world using this tried and tested strategy in all situations and all of the time. While in theory, these are good strategies, their unsystematic causes distress, dysfunction and/or danger. This means that their earnest efforts at creating a safe and secure environment have very real limits; their approach does work at times but when it doesn’t, they have no flexibility.

Let’s take a look at some of these helpful strategies that now they might cause harm to a person due to a lack of flexibility. There are different types of personality disorders; these are defined by their safety strategy:

  • The Narcissists’ strategy is to feel safe by being insulated (not isolated) and superior. This can be a great approach to situations where others are “losing their heads”, like in a crisis for example. This is one of the reasons that narcissists thrive in certain roles like management or as surgeons. However, this is a terrible way of trying to make friends, dating, when trying to make a sale, etc; any area of life that requires connection or co-operation.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder makes safe by cocooning themselves in chaos; in crisis they legitimately don’t need to worry about the bigger picture, like who you are or where you belong.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder, they are safe by exclusively focusing on the needs of others; you don’t have needs, so you don’t need to feel safe as long are others are ok.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder, they are safe from reality in magical thinking realms.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, in perfectionism they feel safe because they do everything possible hoping that a problem never even arises.
  • And so on for each personality disorder; centred on one inflexible strategy to be safe and to feel okay.

What is a Personality Disorder? Storm's Edge TherapyThe House Always Wins

One of the most well-established psychological principles is that when a reward is inconsistent its use is reinforced, in this case the occasional success of your safety strategy. This means that when there is a disordered personality, the sufferer knows from experience that their approach does in fact work. This fortifies the idea that “if it is not working now, then I should just try harder”; the problem today is my implementation, not the proven strategy. This is the same scenario that digs gamblers into deep holes, an instinct called doubling down. The gambler was winning with a strategy and when their “luck turns”, they stick to the same tactic merely because it worked well in the past.

The key flaw underlying this entire problem of personalities in disorder is the lack of flexibility. Like the gambler, you are not evaluating why your current method of making safe is not working. This is largely because you feel too fragile to let your defences down long enough to look at the situation and partly because you don’t have alternative tactics ready to apply. Deep down you feel fragile, vulnerable, stuck and don’t know what else to do.

Do take a look at our pages and other blogs relating to personality.

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The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge Therapy

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge TherapyThreat Management (5)

In this final blog of the series on common strategies that everyday people use to survive situations that threaten harm to their bodies, emotional stability, dignity and even threaten to take their lives. In the face of danger there are, in fact, a range of options and people are built to respond differently. This can depend on whether the danger is right now or a general pattern that can be predicted as well as responding differently to pressures if they are physical, psychological or social. We have shown that as the threat to safety becomes more social we can employ strategies that are more interpersonal and are, therefore, more effective.

My Way Is The Only Way

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge Therapy

At the final level of this particular model we outline the ways in which people are able to structure their entire personality around a threat management strategy. This can happen when danger is part of a life from so early in development that peril becomes the organising principle around which the child builds the way that they understand themselves and how they relate to their world. Expectedly this personality level response will also follow that active versus passive choices. The way of thinking and doing that moves toward actively managing threats is the Fixed Response. Here the person is rigid in how they approach every aspect of their lives; they have decided how they do things and that is that. So of course, they will move forward towards danger because they already have the firm belief that they have the correct way to handle the situation.

Fixed people are self-assured and organised, but are unaccommodating and challenging, even to the point of being contradictory. This strategy means there is no space for anything unexpected; they control what they allow into their lives and how everything is managed. These fixed people are effective at not allowing danger near them, but this does also mean that to do not allow many people close or many new opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, a fixed approach to life does not allow for change and growth; so the disadvantages are not only intimacy and excitement, but a real struggle to adapt to a changing world. Actually at the level of everyday, small changes they are better at coping than most, this unfortunately gives them confidence in their ways. However, as they are not only unyielding but convinced of their rigidity, these types of people are unable to adapt as society makes significant shifts. Even more so than at previous levels, when a person builds themselves around coping with danger, their strategy becomes the prime threat to their very survival.

You Can’t Touch This

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge Therapy

As we have seen throughout the model for every person that finds a way of moving towards the threat, there is an approach that is based on avoiding the situation. Where a fixed person is rigid and in control, the person using the Fuzzy Response is vague, disconnect and disorganised. Fuzzy people, as the name suggests, are “flighty” and flitter from one thing to the next, always busy; or alternatively, “spacy” and are seemingly in a constant daydream. They manage threats by not dealing with them; they move away and do something different or disengage emotionally moving on as soon as the problem has passed. Nothing seems to settle and cause any level of impact. Again, in many ways, this seems to work well, if you can’t stop the threat then don’t let it harm you.

As we have seen every strategy has a sound logic and useful application; however, any tactic used without discrimination causes its own form of damage. Fuzzy people live their lives to avoid the impact of injury; this means that their choices are not based on their own needs, desires and individual natures. They are moulded by the external environment, not themselves. More so they are unable to experience situations and people with any depth when using this approach. This lack of meaningful engagement is the common feature of both strategies; whether you are moving toward containing danger or fleeing from its impact you are disengaging from anything that is truly meaningful to you. Danger defines your life and personality, not who you are.

The Hope for More

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge TherapyThe Threat Management Model we have presented covers a full range of strategies to extreme danger from a bewildering physical assault to living with a toxic partner to an uncaring culture. Each level of response has stayed true to the fundamental choice of either charging into the difficulty or attempting to escape. All of these different strategies are available to us all because they evolved for our species and they work. They are in no way problematic by design, but any brilliant tactic used at the wrong time, place or manner will become a threat itself. The hope of this model is that in seeing what is happening unconsciously you will now be able to start making your choices more strategically rather than in urgent desperation. In addition to choosing differently depending on the situation, the hope is that when a strategy is not working or causing more harm than good you will change rather than merely trying harder using the same strategy.

Coping with a crisis is a necessity, but just coping is a situation that leaves you without agency and the confidence that you can protect yourself in the future. A trauma reaction does not come from what happens, but from feeling powerless to stop being injured and from feeling vulnerable to being in the same danger in the future. Coping is not resolving; all of the responses outlined in this model are for containing, harm limitation, they do not go far enough as devices of self-protection. Look out for future blogs covering different strategies to manage situations from a position of greater strength and for ways to build your own sense of agency.

[Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge Therapy

Controlling Social Space

Threat Management (4)

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge Therapy

In summary so far, the responses outlined above are the immediate moving aggressively towards or backing away from physical danger: Mastering of Danger. Next, there is the response of being overwhelmed and shutting down in response to a threat either rigidly or in collapse: Managing of Overload. Then in response to long-term psychological danger, there is engaging or disengaging from interpersonal control: Manipulating of Others. The next two responses are also framed in partnerships, but in relation to managing the danger within a social interaction like a conversation or meeting. Following the model, there are also two opposing ways of closing down a psychologically or socially situation that is threatening.

Look Away Towards Me

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge TherapyThe first is the Frenzy Response; when a person goes into a manic state and in a disorganised manner takes over the social space. This leaves no room for others to contribute and is chaotic enough so they are not able to easily take control; essentially they create a type of safety by taking up all the space so no one else can. This is a response commonly seen in therapy when the client feels that some internal material will be too much to handle.

It is also seen in certain psychiatric disorders like anxiety or borderline personality disorder for example. It is one way to conceptualise a troubled teenager who is taking up all of the space in the household to prevent greater threats from developing, like an argument between their parents. If everyone is focused on their drama they are setting the agenda; so while they may be receiving negative attention this is better then some greater danger.

Pouring it All Out

The social threat partner commonly used is similar to Frenzy in that it takes over the space in the conversation to disable others from any level of control. However, it is not chaotic, but highly directional and focused. And it is not about managing the other person as much as releasing the internal pressure. This is the Fountain Response; where the person rapidly and intensely pours out everything that is inside. We could see this as a frantic venting of an intense emotion. The tactic puts the person evacuating at the centre of the conversation. Instead of trying to shut down and overwhelm the other person, it has the effect of drawing them into a position of sympathy and care.

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge TherapyAlthough this might be seen as a healthier response, where you are getting an emotional release and potentially some support. It is still a psychological pattern that is aimed at managing threats that do not move the person out of the victim position. This is because the response is still uncontained; it is still coming from survival mode and desperation. The strategy is not actually to shift the evacuator into a position of power, but needs the receiver to rescue and assume the task of containing.

These are still mainly responding to threats applying psychological patterns that are outside of conscious choice. Evacuating everything that is inside, largely indiscriminately, is still an extremely uncomfortable position with the person feeling like they’re in danger and needing to defend themselves. In addition, the emotional catharsis may be short-lived, because there are likely little boundaries around this manic response: is this a safe person, a safe situation, how will the use this information. The person can feel extremely vulnerable afterwards as they probably shared internal experiences that they did not expect or plan which can lead to shame, regrets and feeling exposed. This does not then feel like relief or shifting into a position of been empowered.

In this Blog post, we extended our understanding to threat responses by including Frenzy and Fountain, in the next post we discover the ways that we organise our personalities as a survival strategy.

[Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]