Reaction Paper: Difficult Personalities

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Difficulties With Sam, a Putative Aspd Personality

Difficult Personalities

When I was an undergraduate student I worked in a psychology laboratory doing odd menial tasks, which nevertheless required remaining aware of the safety issues common to a room filled with potentially carcinogenic and poisonous chemicals. I had to go through a period of training and after a few months began to be trusted enough that I was allowed to perform actual experiments under direct supervision. What a blast! During my second year working in this laboratory, a new work study student (Sam) was hired by the principal investigator to assist me and the other personnel in the laboratory. The principal investigator explained that I had been doing such a good job for so little money they decided to take a chance on hiring another work study student.

The responsibility for training Sam naturally fell on my shoulders, since my time was the least valuable and I was already familiar with what needed to be done. As I began to show Sam how to clean the laboratory dishes and explained why everything had to be rinsed at least three times before being left to dry, he began to find fault with what was required of him. At first I assumed that maybe Sam had worked in a laboratory before and was more knowledgeable than I, but more senior members of the laboratory explained to me in private that Sam was simply being lazy. With this realization, I became angry because the validity of my data and everyone else's was being compromised by the residual detergent being left on the glassware. This anger grew as I began to re-rinse the glassware after Sam had left work. I began to watch Sam while he washed the dishes, which made him uncomfortable and angry. At one point he exploded in anger, throwing a dish into the sink where it shattered, sending bits all over the room, and then ordered me to wash the dishes if I was so worried about residual detergent. Our confrontations became more common after that explosion.

Over a period of weeks, Sam began to avoid me altogether, even though I was technically his direct supervisor. It was my responsibility to assign tasks to him, but it became increasingly difficult as he would cozy up to others in the laboratory as soon as he reported for work, if and when he reported to work on time. Several times I caught Sam idly surfing the internet on one of the laboratory computers and tried to give him an assignment, but his response clearly communicated that he did not consider me his supervisor. In laboratory meetings he began to act as if he was my supervisor by occasionally suggesting assignments for me to do. At first my coworkers seemed shocked and looked at me to get a feel for what was occurring, but eventually everyone learned to simply ignore such statements.

I was not the only one who got into heated arguments with Sam, but our disagreements were by far the most common. I began to suspect that Sam felt I was an obstacle to advancement, a salary increase, and a glowing recommendation letter, because of my seniority and experience. There were even one or two times that he indirectly threatened me physically, such as mentioning that he knew where I lived. After I informed my supervisor about some of the worst confrontations and threats, Sam was told that the laboratory was short on funding and he would not be rehired for the following semester. Sam never made it to the end of the semester because he simply stopped showing up. The last day anyone saw him was also the same day the dishwashing sink was left filled with dishes and overflowing with water. Some of the dishes in the sink were radioactive, which meant we had to call radiation safety to help us manage the cleanup. What a mess!

Analyzing Sam's Personality

Based on the O'Donohue's (2011) criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), Sam would seem to fit neatly within this category. The very first question makes me wonder if Sam didn't have a criminal record, because his behavior in the laboratory, although mostly legal, seemed to contain traits consistent with the potential for criminal behavior. The radioactive mess he left could be perceived as criminal if it could be proved that he was the culprit. The second criteria, repeatedly lying and deceiving others, fits, as does the fourth criteria of aggression, based on his seeming need to attain a more senior position in the laboratory, even if it meant making veiled threats of physical violence. It also seems apparent that Sam did not respect the safety of others and was irresponsible in the extreme. Sam therefore meets criteria five and six. However, Sam seemed to care whether his behavior affected others (criteria seven), in as far as it met his need to become a more senior person in the laboratory and escape the drudgery of the menial tasks he was assigned.

Sam's personality also matched O'Donohue's (2011) criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). He seemed to have a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerated his achievements and talents, believed he was superior, had a sense of entitlement, took advantage of me and others to try and advance within the laboratory's hierarchy, lacked empathy, was envious of others, and was very arrogant. When Sam first came to the laboratory he introduced his attractive and successful fiancee to everyone, but several times over the subsequent weeks I overheard him flirting with one of the laboratory women and minimizing the importance of his engagement. The behavior scared me because it was so extreme and outside of my realm of experience and I simply walked away without saying anything to anyone. It wasn't hard to see where that situation was headed and I began to pity Sam's fiancee and my coworker.

Although Sam seemed to meet one or two criteria in O'Donohue's (2011) description of Borderline and Histrionic Personality Disorders, ASPD and NPD captured his personality the best. However, I never really experienced firsthand the smooth-talking and engaging personality that Sam heaped upon others in the laboratory, but I witnessed how several fell under his spell for at least the first few weeks of his stay. I also got the sense that his hold on others would be weakened when he tried to blame me for things that went wrong in the laboratory. No one really bought his explanations and he quickly left that strategy behind.

Informed Strategies for Handling the Sam's of the World

O'Donohue (2011) recommends avoiding persons with ASPD if at all possible, especially if you begin to feel unsafe. I could not avoid Sam without shirking my duties as his supervisor, so this option was not available to me at the time. When I reported the indirect threats of physical violence to my supervisors, they believed me, but could do little because Sam made sure that no one else was around when he made the threats. They did, however, inform Sam that his services would no longer be needed at the end of the semester. In a sense, this was a delayed form of avoidance that was conferred to me by my employer.

The second recommendation by O'Donohue (2011) is to be assertive, especially for people who are unable to avoid an ASPD. I was assertive, repeatedly, but taking this approach often led to angry confrontations as O'Donohue paradoxically warns. O'Donohue suggests that another way to handle ASPDs who are difficult to escape and respond poorly to assertive behavior, is to be manipulative. A dose of manipulation, according to O'Donohue, can go a long way if this strategy can be stomached. I have always had a hard time being manipulative for very… [END OF PREVIEW]

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