Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Pastoral Counselor And The Aggressive Personality

In Compass Therapy, aggressive counselees fall into two categories, both of which are located on the Assertion compass point of the Self Compass. These are the Paranoid Arguer, who is characterized by chronic suspicion, spitefulness, and a need to blame and attack others rather than face one’s own deficiencies, and the Antisocial Rule-breaker, who is able to lie convincingly, exploit others without guilt, and use every situation for self-gain.

These labels are derived by combining a clinical personality disorder from DSM, like paranoid and antisocial, with a practical common sense descriptor that anyone can understand, like arguer and rule-breaker.

Paranoid and Antisocial Personality Disorders

As shown in the diagram, these patterns don’t simply dwell in the Assertion compass point; they overly exaggerate it with chronic anger and hostility. The way they do this is by nullifying the Love compass point; that is, wiping out expressions of forgiveness, nurturance, understanding, kindness, affection, or compassion from their personalities. In other words, they are like barrels of hydrochloric acid. If you tip them slightly, they spill over and splatter you like a caustic chemical.

So it is perfectly fair for you to wear a hazardous chemical suit when meeting these patterns in a session. It is not a question of whether they will ventilate on you or find your weakest point and exploit it to their advantage. Of course they will. 

Therapist Self-Protection

Personality patterns rob people of a fuller life that could include love and diplomatic assertion, and humility and esteem, and replace this potential with self-perpetuated mechanisms held rigidly in place by the mind, heart, body, and spirit, all serving the aim of the pattern. In the case of Paranoid Arguers and Antisocial Rule-breakers, these patterns dictate that the counselees will act abusively and disrespectfully, with an uncanny knack for extracting a pound of flesh despite and even because of your efforts to help them.

1. You protect yourself, and become a more effective therapist, by giving up your need to help them. If you carry into the session a need to be caring, compassionate, and helpful, they will detect this and use it to frustrate and torment you. You might say that as long as they are unwilling to really participate in therapy by learning about themselves and taking active risks for growth and change, they will have a vested interest in showing how much you don’t know about life and how incompetent you are because you don’t magically make them happy.
2. Another way the aggressive patterns can torpedo therapy and wound your self-esteem comes if you need to get chummy with them in order to win them over with kindness and understanding. They’ll try to recruit you into aligning with them in anger against a laundry list of people who they believe have wronged them. 

3. If at any point you back off, their charm will instantly turn into caustic ventilation, and you’ll learn quickly what masters they are at emotional blackmail as they throw you into the boiling pot like all the other plucked chickens they’ve cooked.

4. Now that you know to wear a chemical suit, resist recruitment, and watch out for emotional blackmail, I want to add a last suggestion. Breathe deeply through your abdomen and regularly melt your muscles during sessions with aggressive individuals. Relaxing your body promotes emotional resiliency, mental flexibility, and spiritual equanimity.

Relaxed Body

As you employ these suggestions, not only do aggressive counselees sense that you cannot be rattled, and that they cannot force you to go into orbit around their gravitational pull, they actually begin to respect you as a professional who doesn’t walk on eggshells:

“Who is this therapist, that my usual power doesn’t make afraid?” “Who is this professional that doesn’t flinch at my verbal attacks?” “Who is this human being who remains humbly strong and caringly assertive in my presence?” “Maybe I can actually learn something here.”

That’s if they stay in therapy long enough to realize their profound needs for personal and interpersonal development. This comes by learning to access their Weakness and Love compass points, expanding the capability to experience both humility about their deficiencies and caring versus hostility toward others. A full exposition of how to help aggressive counselees own and outgrow their rigid patterns is found in my book Compass Therapy: ChristianPsychology In Action.

And if the aggressive counselee doesn’t want to grow more whole, don’t fret about it and don’t try to convince them to stay in therapy against their will. Simply relax and honor their choice to remain as they are, investing your energies in counselees who do want to benefit from what you have to offer.

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