Distress, 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.
The 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.