How does each personality style tend to handle a significant stressor? And, if we happen to be the spouse, significant other, sibling or friend of any of these, what is the best way to interact with them while they are under severe stress? To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand their most relevant characteristics, the most likely meaning of the stressor to each style, the most likely feelings or responses evoked among other people that interact with them, and tips on the management of this interaction.
The Dependent Personality Style
Relevant Characteristics Under Stress: May become needy, demanding, clingy. May be unable to reassure self and will seek reassurance from others.
Meaning Attributed to the Stressor: Threat of being abandoned and left all alone.
Feelings Evoked: May make others feel powerful and needed. May also make them feel overwhelmed and annoyed.
Management Tips: Reassure within limits, mobilize other supports, reward personal efforts toward independence, avoid the temptation to withhold all help.
The Obsessive Personality Style
Relevant Characteristics Under Stress: Meticulous, orderly; likes to feel in control; very concerned with right/wrong approach.
Meaning Attributed to the Stressor: Dangerous loss of control over body, emotions, impulses.
Feelings Evoked: May elicit admiration for their attention to detail; may also provoke anger—a “battle of wills” due to their perfectionistic approach.
Management Tips: Provide choices to increase their sense of control, provide detailed information, focus on a collaborative approach that avoids the battle of wills.
The Histrionic Personality Style
Relevant Characteristics Under Stress: Entertaining, melodramatic.
Meaning Attributed to the Stressor: May fear loss of love or loss of attractiveness.
Feelings Evoked: May make others feel anxiety, impatience, off-putting dramatic gestures.
Management Tips: Try to strike a balance between warmth and formality, maintain clear boundaries, encourage them to discuss fears, avoid confronting them head-on.
The Masochistic Personality Style
Relevant Characteristics Under Stress: “Perpetual victim,” self-sacrificing martyr, may expect negative outcomes.
Meaning Attributed to the Stressor: May view the stressor as conscious or unconscious punishment.
Feelings Evoked: May provoke anger, hate, frustration, helplessness, self-doubt.
Management Tips: Avoid excessive encouragement, share their pessimism (albeit without agreeing).
The Paranoid Personality Style
Relevant Characteristics Under Stress: Guarded, distrustful, quick to blame or counterattack, sensitive to slights.
Meaning Attributed to the Stressor: Proof that the world is against them.
Feelings Evoked: Anger, feeling attacked or accused, defensiveness.
Management Tips: Avoid assuming a defensive stance, acknowledge their feelings without disputing them, maintain interpersonal distance, do not confront irrational fears.
The Narcissistic Personality Style
Relevant Characteristics Under Stress: Arrogant, devaluing, vain, demanding.
Meaning Attributed to the Stressor: May view it as a threat to self-concept of perfection and invulnerability; may be shame evoking.
Feelings Evoked: May cause others to feel anger, a desire to counterattack, activate feelings of inferiority.
Management Tips: Resist the desire to challenge their sense of entitlement, provide opportunities for them to show off, offer appropriate advice if requested.