One of the main reasons I wrote my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing is the fact that many times, folks in relationships with disturbed characters found themselves frustrated, angry, and eventually depressed as the result of trying futilely to get the other person to change. It became apparent to me that the real key to restoring a sense of sanity and balance in the lives of those victimized by irresponsible characters was to stop trying so hard to change the other person and to learn how to empower oneself by setting new terms of engagement for any dealings with them.
Just because you don’t have the power to change someone else, doesn’t mean that you can’t help facilitate change. In fact, every time you avoid enabling irresponsible behavior (primarily by recognizing and responding appropriately to manipulative and responsibility-avoidance tactics whenever you encounter them), you increase the chances that the irresponsible behavior pattern might eventually change for the better. That’s why every encounter with a disturbed character can represent an opportunity for what I call “corrective emotional and behavioral experience.”
Remember, disturbed characters in your life probably don’t need any more insight. There’s nothing about their problem behaviors that they haven’t heard many times before from many different sources. So, trying to get them to “see” the error of their ways is not only pointless, it’s unnecessary. Rather, what they really need is correction. They need to be confronted on irresponsible behavior, held accountable for it, and have the message sent home in no uncertain terms that any kind of engagement with you will require them to conform their conduct to more acceptable standards. That’s why every occasion of engagement can be an opportunity for change.
Now, of course, just because someone might be willing to change some aspects of their behavior in the presence of one or two persons and only on some occasions doesn’t mean that they’ve changed their overall character stripes. But the more often that they’re held accountable by others, and the more often they’re expected to abandon their typical manipulative tactics for more appropriate behaviors, the more “practiced” they become at being responsible.
In my new book, Character Disturbance, I give several vignettes that illustrate interactions with responsibility-challenged persons and the potentially constructive aspects of those interactions that can facilitate change. The vignettes highlight the principles that must be observed if genuine change is to occur over time. The principles advocated don’t just apply to therapists attempting to intervene therapeutically. They also apply to every kind of interaction between the disturbed character and anyone else. Once you get the gist behind the principles at work, you’ll stop inadvertently reinforcing the same old destructive patterns of behavior the disturbed character in your life exhibits and every encounter with them can then become an opportunity for change.