In another videotape, Jenna watched a young employee, referred for problems at work, explain how he had turned his work environment into a cruel contest. Although his supervisors unanimously agreed that he did an excellent job, they also agreed that his presence in the office somehow made everyone tense. Eventually, he was reassigned to another position, where he worked mainly on his own. When his coworkers were asked for honest feedback, they replied that he seemed to turn everything into a competition— he needed to prove that he could work better, longer, and faster than anyone else. Their formerly relaxed office was thus transformed into a racetrack. In time, no one could stand him.
For the personality disorders, however, the results are most often a vicious circle. Pathologically rigid individuals possess a constricted conception of self. Only a particular kind of response from others is experienced as validating, and only this kind of response is sought from interpersonal interactions. Because their needs are strong and consistent, individuals with a constricted self-concept may be experienced as controlling or coercive. Narcissists, for example, require constant indulgence and flattery to support their sense of specialness or superiority. Kiesler (1996, p. 127) cites the compulsive personality as an example. Compulsives present as rational, logical, and controlled; in response, however, others feel bored, impatient, or evaluated. Moderately rigid persons usually find someone with whom communications can be experienced as validating; pathologically rigid persons, however, are so restrictive that others seek simply to disengage. In turn, the rigid person senses anxiety and tries even harder, making others work even harder to withdraw, producing a vicious circle. During especially stressful periods, such individuals may fall back on overlearned and automatic behaviors, restricting the scope of their responses further, thus causing them to become even more rigid, a phenomenon called "transactional escalation." In effect, the individual has become the driving force behind his or her own pathologies.
Just as personality traits are present to a greater or lesser degree, interpersonal behavior also has a dimension of intensity. Normal persons modulate their behaviors to be appropriate to what the situation requires. An emergency, for example, necessarily elicits an extreme response. Some individuals, however, are always overacting; in effect, they are intense all the time, generating behaviors highly evocative of the confirmatory response class. Although almost every narcissistic personality evinces an attitude of superiority, for example, some are more arrogant than others. The 1982 interpersonal circle shown in Figure 2.1 offers different labels for individuals within the normal range and those closer to the pathological extreme. For example, there are persons who are trusting and forgiving and those who are gullible and merciful; there are those who are outgoing and those who are frenetically gregarious. Together, rigidity and intensity constitute two important interpersonal criteria for judging abnormality. Some individuals are rigid and intense, the worst of both worlds.
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