Staged Intimacy

When the relationship is suddenly portrayed as more ideal, more intimate and more trusting than it really is.

Don't Stand So Close to Me

People who suffer from Personality Disorders often struggle to understand how their actions affect the feelings and boundaries of those around them.

As a consequence, when an individual who suffers from a personality disorder decides that it is time to mend fences, reach out or express warmth and acceptance towards a loved-one, it is not uncommon for them to go too far, making the Non-PD feel uncomfortable.

Examples of Staged Intimacy

  • A man who frequently berates his wife unexpectedly sings her praises before a social gathering.
  • A woman who has acted violently toward her boyfriend suddenly wants to be physically intimate with him.
  • A father who has been distant and hostile wants to have a tickle session with his child
  • A mother who usually has nothing positive to say about her son suddenly wants to spend time with him.
  • A co-worker who normally is combative and competitive suddenly invites a colleague to a social event.

What it Feels Like

Non-PD's often feel extremely uncomfortable when faced with an unexpected episode of staged intimacy. They may feel that the personality disordered individual has not earned the right to act in such an intrusive manner. They may feel insecure in light of previous episodes of abuse and not want to let their guard down. They may feel resentment over past wrongs and feel unwilling to "Forgive and forget" until the personality disordered individual has demonstrated that their sudden positive demeanor isn't just an act or a passing phase.The Non may suspect the event to be a form of manipulation on the part of the personality disordered individual, in order to escape the consequences of previous abuses.

Learning to Cope

For some abuse victims, the sudden switch from aggressiveness to tenderness can appear nauseating, offensive and objectionable. It will be all they can take to avoid reacting in anger.

To other abuse victims, the pressure to reciprocate and respond to longed-for tenderness from their abuser can feel like an oasis in a desert and be overwhelming, disarming and even intoxicating. 

It can be helpful to remember that many personality disordered individuals are themselves struggling to make sense of their own fluctuating feelings. Many cycles of abuse and staged intimacy are rooted in the personality disordered individual's transient feelings overwhelming their otherwise-rational sense of reality. This makes it difficult and unlikely for the personality disordered individual to understand or respond in a constructive way to a logic-based response.

In general, the most constructive approach is, if you can, to validate the personality disordered individual's feelings, but not the behavior, all the while maintaining and giving priority to your own personal boundaries.

What NOT To Do

  • Don't give in to pressure to reciprocate, be closer, or more intimate with anyone than you want to be
  • Don't argue, use logic, sarcasm, defend or explain yourself.
  • Don't remain isolated or stay in the situation any longer than you have to. Find a trusted friend or confidant to discuss the situation with.
  • Don't beat yourself up. Most of us who have been abused have struggled to find appropriate ways to respond to episodes of fake togetherness just as much as we have with any violent or angry outburst.

What TO Do

  • Maintain your boundaries.
  • Remind yourself that feelings are different from facts, and recommit yourself to choosing what is best based on a realistic understanding of reality.
  • Look for non-provocative exit strategies - like changing the subject, bringing a third party into the conversation, having a reason to leave the room, conversation etc.
  • Stay in close contact with a friend or counselor who understands personality disorders and who will build you up and remind you how great you are.