When you’re dealing with a person who has a personality disorder, life is unpredictable. Things can be going really well one moment and explode the next. Anger, resentment, sadness can all come out of the blue and you may not even know what the trigger was, much less how to respond in a way that might calm the situation.
First, if you are still in a living situation or have to deal with a DP on a regular basis, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Gavin de Becker, a recognized personal safety expert, has devised a simple online method of assessing your risk.
People with personality disorders are more likely to be physically violent and it’s important to understand your risk. Please click here to take the MOSAIC assessment now.
It’s important to understand that emotions are contagious and that a Disordered Person (DP) is a first level carrier.
Their negative emotions are like rabies. If you spend much time with them, you are very likely to become infected. Even worse, they will actively work to infect you because it gives them some relief or satisfaction to see someone else in a similar state of distress. The deck is stacked against you emotionally.
But there are ways to protect yourself from rabid emotional contagions and Medium Chill is one of the most effective.
What is Medium Chill?
Medium Chill is an idea that was born on one of the many Internet boards that serves those who have been affected by people with a personality disorder. It is a simple and powerful concept, but like many simple things, it takes practice to implement fully. In a nutshell, Medium Chill means that:
- You are detached
- You are emotionally disassociated or indifferent
In practice this means that when someone lashes out – you show no anger. When they are nice – you do not reciprocate beyond very mild/polite acknowledgement.
Be distant and flat in both cases. When they sense they cannot manipulate your reaction, they tend to leave you alone.
Tell them nothing, ask for nothing, and offer vacuous pleasantries.
Medium Chill gives no appearance of withdrawal, so they can’t accuse you of giving them the cold shoulder. You are there, you’re just not present to them in an emotional way.
I think of Medium Chill as being a highly “professional” state of interaction. No true professional is going to get emotionally involved with a stranger. You adopt that emotionally detached attitude and at least pretend to be indifferent to whatever they say or do.
Medium Chill is effective because DP no longer feel safe in their ability to generate chaos. In many cases, this causes them to back down.
Now you’re back in control. It takes a bit of practice as you learn to disconnect from them emotionally. It’s about more than just boundaries. To put it another way, it’s a two-part process with a specific attitude:
- Never share personal information about yourself
- Never get involved in their problems/drama
Keep a pleasant, modest, implacably calm attitude – never show anger or even compassionate involvement; pay attention, but not too much attention, and never violate items one or two above.
Remember, a person can only use information they know about you to find your hot buttons and use them against you if they are highly manipulative. So don’t let them know your hot buttons.
When the DP tries to pick a fight with you, you simply deflect, show no interest and no response. This technique is very similar to the old advice to “play dead” with an attacking bear.
Writing? Just Use BIFF
While Medium Chill is the good for dealing with in-person interactions, a slightly different technique is used for written or text communication.
BIFF is an acronym from the book Biff: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People*. Before sending any written communication (and as much as possible, communication with a DP benefits by being written) ask the following questions:
- Is it Brief?
- Is it Informative?
- Is it Friendly?
- Is it Firm?
The Three “A’s”
In addition to keeping your written interactions “BIFF”, it’s important to keep in mind the “Three A’s.” These have no place in a BIFF note or text, so be sure to read carefully for them before sending.
Does your note contain any advice? Are you telling the other person how to deal with a particular problem a particular way? This almost always triggers a defensive and often attacking response back at you.
Unless the person you’re dealing with specifically asked for your advice (and be careful if a DP has asked for advice, it is often a trap of some sort) it’s usually better not to give it – especially in a BIFF response that’s intended to end the conversation.
If you must give advice, give two limited, specific choices.
Does your note contain any admonishments? In other words, are you speaking to the person like a parent telling a child how to behave? This never works in a BIFF and is unlikely to work, even with a non-disordered person.
When someone is feeling defensive, the last thing they want is for you to tell them they are doing something wrong. The whole point of a BIFF is to calm down and end the conversation, without triggering a defensive response.
Remove any admonishments, personal comments or put-downs.
Does your note contain any Apologies? This can be confusing. In general, apologies are a good thing. However, if you are dealing with a DP, they can easily use your apologies against you, like ammunition. Avoid apologizing for anything of substance, or accepting blame.
A DP is obsessed with placing blame on anyone other than themselves and if you apologize in this way, they will use it to prove that it really is: All YOUR Fault! On the other hand, a social, somewhat distancing apology might be okay, like “I’m sorry I’m a few minutes late.” Or: “I’m sorry to see that you’re in this difficult situation.”
After you’ve read your note for the previous triggers, think about how the recipient might respond and then consider whether there is anything you would like to take out, add or change.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to think like a DP, or know in advance what their response might be. Even the most innocuous thing can set them off. But keeping your notes short, using short, straightforward sentences and small words can go a long way toward clarification.
One more thing, you should never feel obligated to respond to every point, allegation or crisis. In fact, it’s best to simply ignore any jabs, digs, lies or other statements that are meant to hurt and distract you.
Keep your reply focused on the business item you are discussing, and don’t discuss anything emotional at all – your thoughts, feelings, perspective, view of their behavior, will do no good and will only serve to inflame the DP further or give them ammunition to use against you.
Always Keep in Mind
All of these tools should be applied with great care because sometimes the DP becomes more aggressive when Medium Chill is used. It’s often helpful if you can somehow frame your response as being in the Disordered Person’s best interest, but minimizing all contact, especially if it’s in-person, is critical.
And always, always, proceed with caution. You, as the Non, have the best understanding of what will work with your own special Disordered Person.
The more attention you pay to your instincts, behaviors and words, the more knowledge you’ll gain and the more successful you’ll become as navigating the minefield of distancing and divorce. I’ll go more into how to tune into your instincts in another post.
There is, of course, much more. But this is a good place to begin. Strap yourself in, hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride but the freedom and peace at the end of it are worth more than all the gold in the world.
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