Do’s and Don’ts for Living with an Antisocial (Part 3 of Living with High-Conflict People)
© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
HAVE YOU MET THIS PERSON?
-Tries to dominate you
-Disregard for laws/social rules
-Frequently lie and mislead you,
-Lacks remorse/empathy/respect for your rights
There is a very wide range of people in the Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) group. They can be wholly criminal (47% of 23,000 prisoners have ASPD, according to one survey), have traits of the disorder or qualify for a formal diagnosis. If you think you might be dealing with someone like this, but aren’t sure, you are most likely encountering someone who displays these traits on the lesser end of the Antisocial scale. From reading Bill Eddy’s books, talking with him about HCPs and reviewing some of what’s out there on the Internet, I’ll focus on those traits and give you tips on how I think you can reduce the damage and frustration they can cause. I cannot, of course, give you clinical advice, but I can still share some general principles that can help anyone.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT GUY?
You know - it’s the guy who thinks he’s special (many studies find that Antisocials are predominantly male, so I’ll stick with that). He thinks he can park his car anywhere and not be towed. He helps himself to the lunch you packed or the change off your dresser. He blows up if he does not get the superior treatment he apparently deserves. He has an opinion about everything, hijacks conversations, poo-poos your thoughts and emotions and will lie though his teeth even when it’s apparent he’s doing it. Most of all – he wants something from you! Research indicates this aggravating behavior may stem from early environmental factors, intelligence level (very high or low) and there could be a genetic link and/or abnormalities in the central nervous system.* Of the most common personality disorders, this is the only one that the DSM-IV-TR requires a “history” of conduct disorder before age 15 to reach a formal diagnosis of ASPD.** Like other personality disorders, the Antisocial has an unconscious fear-in this case, of being dominated - but unlike the others, he can be aware that he’s trying to take advantage of you (while not giving a hoot if it harms you). The best strategy is to avoid Antisocials, but if you can’t, try these self-preserving tips for managing it.
UNDERSTAND THE RED FLAGS
Antisocials can be highly manipulative in order to maintain their feeling of superiority. On top of it, Antisocials have a childlike need for instant gratification and will get aggressive when they don’t get it (e.g., berating you for not answering your phone or complaining to management if a waiter served someone else first). They also may partake in risky behavior like drug use, theft, or skydiving because they need the quick reward of a thrill, with no concept of potential consequences to themselves or others. Oh, and they are smooth, very smooth, in getting what they want. With a lifetime of learning how to lie well, you might not even know someone has the problem until it’s too late. It’s hard to have any compassion for them, but remember that on a deep level, they are driven. Maybe they had a horrible childhood or inherited something they have no control over- it’s hard to say. Whatever the reasons, they believe or sense that everyone manipulates to get ahead, and if they don’t con you first, then they will be conned themselves. This threatens their inner security and triggers that unconscious need to dominate. So, why am I telling you all this? In order to avoid the antisocial – or cope with him if you cannot -- you first need to understand him in his own context and then heed the warning signs.
Avoidance is the best strategy for dealing with an Antisocial, but that’s not always possible if the person is a relative, coworker, client, spouse, etc., and you have to recognize them first, anyway. Follow these tips to help manage them and protect your interests.
Trust your instincts. If you meet someone who makes you uncomfortable for a reason you can’t quite pinpoint, you may be in the company of an Antisocial. If he is, then he’s expert in finding your weak spots and will play them to his advantage. If you are the average nice person, he’ll try to use that to get something from you. If someone makes you doubt yourself or your judgment, watch out! Ask questions and think about the answers. Does it feel like he has little or no regard for your concerns? Does he brush them off or try to distract you from them? Pay attention and don’t act on any request out of pity or pressure. It’s perfectly OK to say, “I’ll think about it” and then take the time to do it.
Get the facts. A healthy skepticism is your best defense against Antisocial behavior. If a story does not feel/sound right, make an effort to verify it because it could be a con and you’re the target. Remember that an Antisocial wants something from you, and they’ll say anything to get it. If someone’s story is dramatic and requires you to take some action on pure faith, you may be in trouble if you do. Donating to a charity you never heard of “right now because the fundraiser is ending” will empty your pocketbook without helping anyone but the Antisocial. Calling Aunt Caroline to tell her she needs to pay little Joe’s rent “because she’s cheapskate if she doesn’t” may not be the best idea (and never mind that little Joe got behind through his own doing). In either example, the Antisocial is after something: an advocate or money. Use caution and get all the facts you can before doing anything. Ask, “What website can I check to learn more about the donation procedure?” or “I’ll go with you to talk to the landlord” and see how fast they try to come up with an alternate story. If you decide to say “no,” which is always reasonable, stick to your guns. Remember why you refused in the first place and don’t let yourself be distracted by increased persuasion tactics, diversion or sympathy appeals.
The key is that age-old advice not to believe everything you hear. In the above examples, you protect yourself by questioning statements, pondering your best course and then mustering the courage to be assertive. You should also note that the questions above are non-judgmental and do not question the Antisocial’s personal character which would probably trigger aggression. You can refuse a request without adding “and you’re a jerk for asking.” Likewise, if you already know they are trying to con you, nothing good ever come of telling them so. Just set the limits politely but firmly, and get on with your day.
For more information about Antisocials and what you can do, see Bill Eddy’s book It’s All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. You may also want to spend some time with the book BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People to learn effective techniques for giving effective replies to difficult people without inflaming them.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.