Saturday, February 18, 2017

Portrait of a Personality Disorder, Part 3: Cognitive Distortions in Cluster B Personalities

We all distort things in our heads.  If you're honest with yourself, you know you do.  We all have distorted memories of relationships and disagreements.  We all have distorted ideas about ourselves.  We all have distorted ideas about other people and other people's motives.

But here's the thing . . .  Some people distort more frequently and to a greater degree than others.  Some people cannot or do not acknowledge their distortions and do not even seem aware they might be distorting.  Like all disorders, Cluster B personality disorders are identified, not by unique traits or behaviors, but the frequency, severity and impact of certain traits and behaviors.  The cognitive distortions seen in Cluster B personalities have a direct impact on how an individual relates to other people.

Human relationships are, by and large, reciprocal phenomena.  There is give and take.  And, there is a feedback loop.  I say something nice to you, you say something nice to me, and we both feel good.  Or, I say something mean to you, you return the favor, and we both feel bad.

With Cluster B personalities, the feedback loop is broken.  The short circuit is a defense mechanism in which the individual unconsciously or semi-consciously edits their awareness of their own behavior in such a way to protect their perception of themselves.  The result is an individual who sees themselves as always the victim (as in Borderline Personality) or always the better person (as in Narcissistic Personality).  Perceptions of other people are not anchored in objective observation but, instead, are wildly changeable based on how the other person makes the personality disordered individual feel at any given time.

Lucy's distorted perception of the same interaction?
Lucy of Peanuts provides us a nice illustration of the principle of distortion and the effect it has on relationships.  Now, how about we look at a real life example, say, a recent example?  Here is an excerpt from Thursday's presidential news conference:
QUESTION: . . . You said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake. I guess I don't understand. It seems that there's a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake? 
TRUMP: The reporting is fake. Look, look . . .And I'll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word "tone." The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such -- I do get good ratings, you have to admit that -- the tone is such hatred. . . .But the tone, Jim. If you look -- the hatred. The, I mean, sometimes -- sometimes somebody gets...Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o'clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn't have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump. And the hatred and venom coming from his mouth; the hatred coming from other people on your network. . . I -- I think you would do much better by being different. But you just take a look. Take a look at some of your shows in the morning and the evening. If a guest comes out and says something positive about me, it's -- it's brutal. . . .Tomorrow, they will say, "Donald Trump rants and raves at the press." I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But -- but I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it.But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, "Donald Trump rants and raves." I'm not ranting and raving.Go ahead. . . . 
QUESTION: Just because of the attack of fake news and attacking our network, I just want to ask you, sir... 
TRUMP: I'm changing it from fake news, though. 
QUESTION: Doesn't that under... 
TRUMP: Very fake news. 
QUESTION: ... I know, but aren't you...(LAUGHTER) 
TRUMP: Go ahead. 
QUESTION: Real news, Mr. President, real news.. . . But aren't you -- aren't you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people's faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press, the press in this country, when you call stories you don't like "fake news"? Why not just say it's a story I don't like. 
TRUMP: I do that. 
QUESTION: When you call it "fake news," you're undermining confidence in our news media (inaudible) important. 
TRUMP: No, no. I do that. Here's the thing. OK. I understand what you're -- and you're right about that, except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I'll say, "Wow, that's going to be a great story." And I'll get killed.I know what's good and bad. I'd be a pretty good reporter, not as good as you. But I know what's good. I know what's bad. And when they change it and make it really bad, something that should be positive -- sometimes something that should be very positive, they'll make OK. They'll even make it negative.. . . as an example, you're CNN, I mean it's story after story after story is bad. I won. I won.

Here, like Lucy, we have an individual who sees himself as a victim and simultaneously better than, a clear sign of a narcissist (more on that later). And, like Lucy, he is seemingly oblivious to his part in any contentiousness. You can see the distortions all serve to bolster, not just the image of the man, but more specifically, his self-image.

This is a clear and beautiful example of a neurotic process expressed publicly and recorded by worldwide news outlets.  It is less an argument than the man's internal process expressed outwardly, for he is not attempting to convince his audience of his greatness and their badness so much as his argumentation serves to reinforce his internal beliefs.  By stating his distortions externally, they become more real for him internally.

And, this is exactly what is so challenging about relating to and attempting to have a reason-based conversation with someone with a Cluster B personality type.  There is no real give and take.  The disordered individual is simply having an argument with himself or herself, and, while you may be the target, you cannot meaningfully take part in the manner you are used to if you are expecting a reciprocal give-and-take relationship.

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