Thou shall not judge but mental health professionals do use labels. That should not take away from compassion and supporting a person. I’ve met a lot of people in my life and have friends with labels. In my family, getting a label of autism for my son helped us get the services that supported him in school and life.
However, I found out, some people are very offended by labels, in particular “personality disorders.” I understand that word does get thrown around a lot.
In cohousing, trying to diagnose each other probably is unhelpful. However, seeing patterns in someone’s behavior can raise questions. I had never heard of personality disorders (of course, I had heard of individual ones but not the general label) until I moved into cohousing. When I explained to some professionals and friends what happened, that word kept popping up – the main person in the conflict, they suggested, seemed to have a personality disorder.
I had noticed narcissistic tendencies and didn’t realize that is under the label of “personality disorders”. I already saw messes left in the common house, the person blurting out that they didn’t care that their party was too loud and another neighbor couldn’t go to sleep, and the seemingly disregard for the whole community’s health when they let a family member in their household expose everyone to COVID as the virus first spread in the US.
I also think the whole community can be scarily influenced by someone with personality disorder which makes the whole place seem to suffer from it too. (Just like cults – many are run by charismatic people with narcissism). So, my community seemed to have little empathy, feel more concerned in their image to outsiders, and never deal with the real (serious) safety issue. (cults do that too – deny there are dangerous issues and even change the idea of what is okay so members feel the behavior is normal. I just saw a terrible 20/20 where a mother joined a small religious cult and fought zombies by killing them – sadly her children ended up being missing and considered in serious danger).
Of course, I never want to offend anyone, but for me, the label personality disorder puts things into perspective. Looking back, a few members of the community seem to show signs. I thought we would all wrap our arms around the family with a child also showing serious signs of psychopathology and support and help them anyway we could. Instead, the adults with other “symptoms” controlled the narrative and attacked me and my truth telling and made it all about themselves and not the child’s behavior or needs.
If you look up personality disorders and offensive label, there are some compelling arguments and they all say what I agree with – support the person. See the person as human. Of course, trauma in their past makes a difference. And in cohousing, it’s important to support EVERYONE. Not just the ones who demand the most attention. And trying to make boundaries on behavior so everyone feels safe.
I also have done some research and here is what I found interesting from a book called Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare, PhD
Key symptoms of psychopathy:
Glib and superficial
Egocentric and grandiose
Lack of remorse or gilb
Lack of empathy
Deceitful and manipulating
Poor behavior controls
Need for excitement
Lack of responsibility
Early behavior problems
Adult antisocial behavior
Here is an example that would be hard in cohousing, from page 38, “they love to have power and control over others and seem unable to believe that other people have valid opinions different from theirs.”
And some sad examples of parents on page 63. “The indifference to the welfare of children – their own as well as those of the man or woman they happen to be living with at the time – in a common theme in our files of psychopaths. Psychopaths see children as an inconvenience…. Typically they leave children on their own for extended periods or in the care of unreliable sitters. ..the mother was outraged by this violation of her parental rights and accused the authorities of depriving the child of her love and affection – a position she maintained even after she was told that the baby was severely malnourished.”
And one person in the book had a funny quote about an ex boyfriend, “For him the rules of behavior were written in pencil and he had a big eraser.” (age 73)
Page 113 talks about the victims: “tragically, these victims often cannot get other people to understand what they are going through. Psychopaths are very good at putting on a good impression when it suits them, and they often paint their victims as the real culprits.”
Their are signs in childhood: (page 158)
- Repetitive, casual and seemingly thoughtless lying
- Apparent indifference to or inability to understand, the feelings, expectations, or pain of others
- Defiance of parents, teachers, and rules
- Continually in trouble and unresponsive to reprimands and threats of punishment
- Petty theft from other children and parents
- Persistent aggression, bullying, and fighting
- A record of unremitting truancy, staying out late, and absences from home
- A pattern of hurting or killing animals
- Early experimentation with sex
- Vandalism and fire setting
Helping children early is important according to pages 160-1. “Most of the children who end up as adult psychopaths come to the attention of teachers and counselors at a very early age and it is essential that these professionals understand the nature of the problem they are faced with. If intervention is to have any chance of succeeding it will have to occur early in childhood…unfortunately many of the professionals who deal with these children do not confront the problem head-on, for a variety of reasons. Some take a purely behavioral approach, preferring to treat specific behaviors – aggression, stealing, and so forth – rather than a personality disorder with its complex combination of traits and symptoms. Others feel uncomfortable with the potential long-term consequences to the child or adolescent who is diagnosed with a disorder widely believed to be untreatable. Still others find it difficult to imagine that the behaviors and symptoms they see i their young clients are not simply exaggerated forms of normal behavior, the result of inadequate parenting or poor social conditioning and therefore treatable….if you are uncomfortable applying a formal diagnostic label to youngsters, then avoid doing so. However, do not lose sight of the problem: a distinct syndrome of personality traits and behaviors that spells long-term trouble, no matter how one refers to it.”
More hope on page 200 as more intervention programs and science develop that “if used at a very early age, it is possible that some of these programs will be useful in modifying the behavioral patterns of “budding psychopaths,” perhaps by reducing aggression and impulsivity and by teaching them strategies for satisfying their needs in more prosocial ways.”
Lastly, the book made me realize I must have met a few people in my life with damaging traits no matter what you want to call them. Of course, some are rewarded in jobs like businesses. If you do find yourself harmed, the author gives some good advice on page 218:
“cut your losses. The psychopath may succeed in shattering your self-confidence and may convince you – and your friends – that you are unworthy of his or her time or even that you are “losing it”. The more you give in, the more you will be taken advantage of by the psychopath’s insatiable appetite for power and control.”
Again, it feels nice to have escaped a community that no matter what the labels, had tendencies described in this book.