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Personality Disorder and the Workplace

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How the Borderline Personality Disorder may manifest in the workplace

These individuals are likely to be attracted to highly structured work environments in which they are working closely with other people. They will likely attempt to develop close relationships with both co-workers and supervisors. They are likely to idealize these individuals initially. Problems may occur when these relationships do not provide the nurturing they need and expect. For example, if a supervisor who is under work stress appears dismissive or is non-attentive during a meeting, these individuals are prone to reacting rapidly and dramatically with sarcasm and anger, thus damaging these relationships. As these co-workers or managers then pull back from the relationship with the person, so the Borderline Personality is likely to interpret this as abandonment and may react with angry outbursts or panic and anxiety. These real or perceived losses of relationships can then result in these individuals suddenly changing career goals or direction. They are also prone to giving up just before they are about to potentially achieve a significant work or educational goal, making it difficult to progress in their careers.

Cavaiola and  Lavender (2000) comment that people with this disorder probably present the greatest challenge to the organizational structure because  they have an inability to develop ongoing, stable and sane relationships. They have a profound ability to disrupt the lives of workers around them. Often this disruption emerges from their tendency to have wild swings in their relationships. For example, the Borderline moves from one extreme of thinking and saying that their boss is the best ever, lavishing praise and soon thereafter, after perhaps some perception of being rejected, will swing into hatred and verbal outrage. Subsequently, the Borderline personality can decline into depression and a deep sense of worthlessness.

Cavaiola and  Lavender comment that working for a borderline boss can be a “living hell”. They describe that these individuals are the most toxic to work with, to the point of potential emotional damage. The more positional power they have, the worse they can be. The authors caution about antagonizing these individuals. Do not engage is confrontational arguments and avoid escalations by imply making them feel validated by saying something like “I hear you” or “I understand the way you feel” (even if you don’t). In the most severe cases, the authors recommend changing jobs because there is little one can do to work with the borderline individual. Indeed, in the extreme, they can be dangerous.

Histrionic Personality Disorder

This disorder manifests as a pervasive and excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior. These individuals are overly dramatic in behavior with the purpose of attempting to gain attention and constantly be “the life of the party”. If they feel they are not the center of attention, they will often do something dramatic to bring attention back to themselves in the form of making up dramatic stories or making a scene. This excessive emotionality which can initially present as being charming and flattering, (but excessively so), can evolve into inappropriate flirtatiousness, and sexually provocative and seductive behavior. These behaviors are not only directed at people to whom the person is romantically attracted, but also occur in a wide variety of contexts including occupational and professional which can be highly inappropriate in these situations.

These individuals often use physical appearance to gain attention on themselves. They expend excessive effort and money on clothing and grooming. They will often “fish” for compliments regarding how they look and can become easily and excessively upset by critical comments about their appearance or by a photograph that they regards as unflattering.

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