Choices are the opportunities we have to change things for the better - or worse.
What are Choices?
Our futures are essentially determined by two factors:
- circumstances which are out of our control and
- choices which are under our control.
By circumstances, we are referring to everything that is true today and everything in the future which is outside of out control, including, world affairs, acts of God, the laws of physics, who our family is, everything that happened the past and - importantly - other peoples choices and actions.
By choices we mean just the opposite - everything that is up to us to decide.
Although it may be an obvious statement to make, it is incumbent on all of us to devote our best energy to making good choices, and spend less energy worrying about our circumstances.
Big Choices and Small Choices
Life is made up of all kinds of circumstances and choices, and our choices can be big - such as changing jobs, getting married, buying a house or a car - or small - such as deciding what to eat for dinner, whether to take an aisle or a window seat and choosing what socks to wear.
With the notable exception of some people who suffer from personality disorders - especially Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), most of us spend a lot more energy thinking about our big choices than we do about our small choices.
However, there are two important exceptions that are worth bearing in mind:
Repetitive small choices - Repetitive small choices can have a big cumulative effect. For example choosing to eat healthy and exercise every day can have a large effect over long term health and life span. SO repetitive little choices can actually add up to a bigger effect than so-called big choices.
Chain reactions - Chain reactions are events that stimulate more events and so on. An example of a chain reaction is a nuclear explosion, which starts at the atomic level, with each little atomic explosion igniting further atomic explosions to produce a very big effect. In his best-selling book, "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell explores how small events or trends can suddenly become large movements. Also, in the classic short story "The Butterfly Effect" Ray Bradbury explored the effect of a man who travels back in time and accidentally steps on a butterfly, which produces a chain reaction that centuries later has profound effects on the world he came from.
How Do We Make Choices?
Being in a relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder can be extremely tough. Some are repeatedly exposed to abuse, disappointment, frustration, crisis and uncertainty. Most of us have never been trained or coached in how to respond or manage the situation. Some of us with parents or siblings who suffer from a personality disorder, were thrust into it as babies. Others entered into it unwittingly through a romantic relationship. Still others may have difficult choices thrust upon them through our relationships with employers, co-workers, local authorities, service providers etc. So many of us find ourselves in the hardest struggle of our lives with the least resources to deal with it.
So how do we decide what to do?
- Many of us rely on our instincts, what feels right in our gut. We may draw from our personal beliefs, convictions, creeds or principles to help us make decisions.
- Sometimes we rely on what works or has worked in other relationships with people who do not suffer from a personality disorder and hope that what worked in those situations will work here.
- Sometimes we lean on our sense of justice - trusting that if we do the "right thing" or do what a decent person "should" do then the personality disordered person will be forced by a sense of accountability, responsibility or guilt to reciprocate and do what they "should" do.
- Sometimes we try "response experiments" - attempting different approaches each time to try to probe and examine our loved-one to see how they will react to a given response, hoping that we can arrive at a formula for what "works".
- Sometimes, we may copy what we have been taught, advised or learned from others, from books, magazines, from tv and movies, from watching friends, other family and neighbors. We may see what works for others and try it out in our own situation.
- Sometimes we take the path of least resistance - giving the personality-disordered person in our lives exactly what they want in the hope that we can avoid conflict, "let sleeping dogs lie" or not "rock the boat".
- Sometimes we are led by our own emotions, and serve our own immediate needs or desires, regardless of the consequences.
- Sometimes our "fight or flight" instincts kick in and we fire back in a quick, spontaneous, angry or adrenaline charged manner without much thought about what we are doing and the consequences of our actions.
- Sometimes we get tired and decide to ignore what we see happening and pretend that things are different. Sometimes we choose denial as a means of escape.
All of these are typical human responses when confronted with a crisis or a challenging situation. However, occasionally our instinctive reactions can have unintended consequences. Although we do not suffer from a personality disorder ourselves, that doesn't guarantee that we will always make the best choices or say and do what is best for us, for our children and ultimately for the personality-disordered person with whom we have a relationship.
And that is what this section is all about - how to make better choices. So here are our top 10 "Do's and Don't's" on making better choices when you are in a relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder:
What NOT To Do
1. Don't ignore warning signs
If someone attempts or threatens harm to yourself, your children, to themselves or to others take immediate action to remove yourself from the situation, call the police and put the experts in charge. Don't ignore warning signs. See our Emergency Page for More Info.
2. Don't ignore the mental illness
One over-riding principle that we must bear in mind when it comes to supporting or coping with a loved-one or family member who suffers from a personality disorder is that the "normal rules" of relationships or logic, may not apply. Personality Disorders are mental illnesses, and those who suffer from them are prone to being inconsistent, not logical, unpredictable, self destructive etc. (See our page onCommon Behaviors of Personality Disorders.)
Therefore what "works" in a typical relationship may not necessarily "work" when dealing with a person who suffers from a personality disorder. We need to study a different play book, politely ignore the well-meaning advice of people who have no experience with disorders and stop comparing our situation to those of people who are unaffected by a mental illness the way we are.
3. Don't keep searching for a cure
Many people arrive at our site looking for answers to explain the way someone is treating them and to tell them how to make things better. However, at this time there is no known cure for personality disorders. There are a number of treatment medications and regimes as described on our Treatment Page which can significantly improve some people's situations, especially in the case when the person who suffers from the disorder is a willing participant, and we encourage you to explore them with the help of a qualified mental health professional. But we also encourage you to let go of any false hope that you will find a magic pill or strategy that will immediately make all of the problems go away. This kind of approach will usually lead to disappointment.
Having said that - it is our sincere hope that scientists seeking to understand personality disorders will ultimately discover the root causes and develop techniques that will perhaps one day produce a cure, or a dramatic improvement in symptoms of personality disorders. To those scientists - we salute you and ask you to kindly ignore this particular piece of advice and keep looking!
4. Set and Maintain Personal Boundaries
Many of us Non-PD's have taken a beating for years and over time we can forget what it means or feels like to be in a healthy relationship. We may interpret popular ideas such as "unconditional love", "loyalty", "taking the high ground", "turning the other check" or "till death do us part" to mean that we should give everything we have to give in relationships and expect nothing in return. That is not the foundation of a healthy relationship but of a dysfunctional relationship. That is not love - it is the grown-up equivalent of spoiling a child and will ultimately lead to tragedy. The antidote to allowing people to walk all over you is to set and maintain personal boundaries. You can learn all about Boundaries on ourBoundaries Page.
5. Don't go it alone
Isolation is one of the most popular control strategies in the abusive person's playbook because it is one of the most effective. It is a variant of the classic "divide and conquer" approach. When one person mistreats another person, they will very often try to isolate that person by controlling their access to resources, other people, friends, family, social groups etc.
If you are in a situation where you are being isolated, or someone else is controlling when you can go out and who you can spend time with you must recognize that isolation is a form of emotional abuse which it is not healthy for you to tolerate. Everybody needs support from wherever they can get it including friends, family, outside groups and interests and it is not unreasonable for you to want that - especially if the person with whom you are closest has a personality disorder.
6. Don't get your hopes up at the first signs of improvement.
It is extremely common for people who suffer from personality disorders to go through drastic mood swings and changes in behavior. It is just as common for the people on the receiving end - Non-PD's to get their hopes up during the up's and take it as a good sign that things are getting better. The Personality disordered person may truly believe that they have changed - but they can't really tell until some time has gone by. This can lead Non's very vulnerable to Hoovering and disappointment.
In general it is not a good idea to look at a few days or even a few weeks behavior as evidence of any recovery. Average someone's behavior over a year or two and you will get a much more accurate picture. See out page on Hoovering.
7. Don't work for approval
If you are living with someone who suffers from a personality disorder, their actions, words and moods will go up and down with their feelings. If you are looking to them for approval for your own actions, you will receive very mixed messages from them about what they want,what they think of you , what they like and dislike and what kind of person they think you are. Sometimes they will give you a glowing report and sometimes they will shoot you down.
This can be extremely difficult to live with and it means you are going to have to take your self-evaluation elsewhere - perhaps to a trusted friend, family member or therapist, perhaps in your own mind. You need feedback that is objective and stable and based on truth and you are not likely to get that from a person with a personality disorder, who may not always know what is good fro themselves, let alone you. Therefore don't judge your performance by the approval rating of the personality disordered individual in your life. Do what is right - not what is popular with them.
8. Don't have a baby!
If you suspect you are in a relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, you should think long and hard before bringing a child into the mix. A volatile temper and an inconsistent or malignant kind of love is no place to grow healthy children. A large majority of relationships involving at least one person with a personality disorder end in separation or divorce.
9. Don't keep a gun in the house!
Or anything else that is likely to make a volatile situation worse.
10. Don't leave your valuables in temptation's way
You might want to consider separate bank accounts, secure passwords and keeping irreplaceable items out of the house.
What TO Do
1. Put children first
Whether you're committed to staying or getting a divorce. Whether you are dealing with a parent, grandparent or sibling. No matter what your situation it is always good policy to put the needs of minor children first. They don't have the tools - or the legal right - to get out of a bad situation by themselves so they are dependent on the mentally healthy adults in their lives to do it for them.
If you are divorced or getting a divorce and involved in a custody dispute, this is especially true. See our page on Separating & Divorcing for more info.
2. Protect yourself
If you find yourself in any kind of situation which involves violence or threats of violence towards people and property (including self-harm) you should immediately call the police and get the professionals to do their job. See our Emergency Page.
3. Educate yourself!
You've made a good start by coming here. Learn all you can by reading aboutPersonality Disorders, Common Behaviors and learn the lingo at ourGlossary. Read real stories at ourSupport Board and explore our Resources of Books and Links.
4. Accept your situation
This takes time but the sooner you can accept the reality of the mental illness in a loved one and move from thinking about the way things should be to thinking about the way things really are the sooner you can start making better choices for yourself, your kids and ultimately for the personality disordered person in your life.
5. Get Help!
Surround yourself with as much stable and reliable support as you can muster. Join A Support Group and Visit ourSupport Forum.
6. Work on Yourself - Pursue your dreams!
When you spend so much tie and energy worrying about a loved one it can be very easy to neglect your own needs. This can lead to depression. We encourage you to consider your own needs just as highly as any loved-one or family member who has a personality disorder. Visit our Working on Ourselves Page for some ideas.
7. Take the Long Term View
Living or dealing with a person who suffers from a personality disorder can be a volatile struggle full of ups an downs. We encourage you to take the long view in your decisions, so that you are not thrown off course by the passing storms.