does someone you know/love/hate have fatal flaws?

Yes, I said “fatal flaws.” It sounds like the title of a cheesy psychological thriller. Tall, dark, handsome guy meets attractive woman. They hit it off. He falls for her. And then, after he’s settled into couple-dom with this perfect woman…cue dramatic music…he discovers that she has fatal flaws! And he spends the rest of the movie trying to avoid being a victim of this fatally flawed woman.

Well, cheesy as it may sound, isn’t that what our real-life relationships are like? We meet someone. S/he may be someone we work for or with, someone we think we can be friends with, or someone we think we just might come to love. Things go well. For awhile. We settle into routine. And then, sometimes slowly and sometimes like-an-anvil-on-your-head, this person all of a sudden isn’t what you thought s/he was and you find yourself doubting yourself as well as this other person that you now have a relationship with.

A surprising percentage of the population have what are termed personality disorders, defined by the DSM-IV as “persistent patterns of feelings, thinkings, and behavior that result in problems with relationships, in controlling impulses, and in functioning in social, school, or occupational settings.” These disorders include histrionic, narcissistic, antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, borderline, and schizotypal personality disorders. We’ve all heard the term narcissist before, but do we know what it means and how a person with narcissistic personality disorder behaves? Probably not. So how do we know if we’re in a relationship with such a person? How do we know how to deal with such a person? We don’t. And as long as we don’t, we’re stuck in a destructive relationship that only serves to cause us to question ourselves and whether or not there is something wrong with us when in fact there is something wrong with the person we are involved with.

The book Fatal Flaws: Navigating Destructive Relationships with People with Disorders of Personality and Character seeks to address just this–how to tell if we are in relationships with people who have personality disorders and how to best deal with these people if we are in fact in such a situation. I won’t lie…it wasn’t an easy read, even for someone like me who has had some training in personality disorders and their treatment. But it’s worth the time and effort to read if you are in a relationship with someone who has one of these personality disorders and you want to understand why they behave the way they do and how you can try to work towards a healthier relationship with this person. The author, Stuart Yudofsky, first gives a case history of a patient that exemplifies the particular personality disorder at hand and then uses that history to delve into issues in the diagnosis and treatment of that personality disorder. He gives helpful tips on how to deal with people with each personality disorder. However, these tips are not meant to be substitutes for professional medical help but rather to supplement professional therapy that you and the person with the personality disorder should be receiving. It is far beyond your (and many unqualified therapists’) powers to “cure” a person with a personality disorder, but you can through the use of this book learn to understand their patterns and your behaviors that may be feeding into and reinforcing their disordered thinking. More importantly, you learn to recognize these disorders and to recognize in yourself the reasons why you were drawn to these people in the first place so that you can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Thanks to this book, I’ve discovered that my major professor definitely has narcissistic personality disorder and that my not-so-dear brother-in-law’s super-psycho super-fugly girlfriend most likely has borderline personality disorder. When I read the description of narcissistic personality disorder, a light bulb went off in my head as I realized that so many of my problems with my major professor stem from his narcissistic tendencies. True, I can never tell him what I’ve discovered or coerce him into therapy, but at least I now know what I am dealing with so that I will no longer reinforce his behavior or be hurt by the things that he does because of his personality disorder. As for super-psycho super-fugly girlfriend, there is nothing I can do there but feel sorry for not-so-dear brother-in-law. Except for maybe send a pertinent excerpt from this book to him. Though she has brainwashed him so badly that it’s not even worth the effort on my part. But at least I know what’s wrong with her and how to deal with her if I ever have to again (though I shudder at the thought).

If you’re thinking that you couldn’t possibly need this book because you are surrounded by no one but the most personality-disorder-free of us all, you could be right. But more likely than not, you’re wrong. Because even if someone doesn’t quite have the pathology to have a personality disorder as described in this book and in the DSM-IV, everyone carries certain traits from these personality disorders. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because we need some of these traits to a certain degree. They are healthy and adaptive to a certain degree. But certain traits or when exaggerated can make people hard to work with or get along with. Singling out these traits and learning how to deal with them can be of benefit too.

Lastly, reading this book can also help you understand yourself. I learned that I lean towards obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. No, I don’t have it. But I recognize some of those traits in me. And because of that, I have become aware of the things I do that just might not be so reasonable to other people and that might be self-defeating. Knowing these things, I can now try to tone them down a bit.

Overall, maybe I’m a nerd with a little too much interest in psychiatry, but I found this book interesting. It may be a little much for people who do not have any familiarity with psychiatry, but is still relatively easy to read and understand. Although the author claims that this book was written for both health professionals and laypeople, it definitely leans towards the health professional side and somewhat lacks in practical advice that a layperson can easily use without the help of a therapist. As such, I would recommend this book to those people out there who are engaged in a relationship with someone who has a personality disorder and wants to learn more about this person’s disorder or someone who has an interest in psychiatry and personality disorders in general.

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2 Responses to “does someone you know/love/hate have fatal flaws?”

  1. 1 314

    hooray for OCD. okay, not really.
    during those long summer days i remember sitting in the library reading psychology books. you know, the ones that talk about the four personality types and how to get along with people. pretty much all of them were crap. i guess i just hoped that i could use that as a substitute for learning how to interact with people.

  2. 2 mylifemypace

    Actually, OCD and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are different. Confusing, huh? Here’s a description of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder:

    Psych books as substitute for learning how to interact with people! That’s priceless. I wasn’t even smart enough to read psych books…I just read whatever book I happened to get my hands on… What do you mean if someone pisses me off I can’t disappear for years and come back unrecognized and exact perfect revenge a la The Count of Monte Cristo?! :/

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