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Helpful Hints: Personality Disorders

Bruce Rodgers

The interpersonal relationships of those with personality disorders present a unique problem for law enforcement officers. Police officers who are called into a situation involving someone with a personality disorder often find behavior out of control and violence looming. Officers should remember that this person has adopted a disorderly behavior pattern to protect him or herself from life’s stresses. When this pattern is threatened, the person may become dangerous and likely to act impulsively in a desperate attempt to protect the self.

In handling these situations, law enforcement officers should work in teams. The team approach enables officers to assess the situation quickly and to divide up those responsibilities that will help to bring the situation rapidly under control. When a person is in tense conflict with another, officers should remember that it will not be enough to direct all attention toward the individual with the personality disorder, even if it is obvious who that person is. Since the person is reacting to a stress from another individual, he or she will be reassured if officers also direct their attention to that other person.

It is important to remember that since those with personality disorders may do poorly under acute stress, they will respond positively to any activity that helps remove that stress. This does not mean that officers should be lulled by magical expectations. Rather, they can help remove the stress by indicating to the person in forceful, clear, and tactful terms that there is no way that the wish can be granted. This direct confrontation with reality, in clear and non-argumentative terms, can have a calming influence because it helps the person reestablish contact with a reality that has been lost temporarily as emotions gained control.

This article is an excerpt from Psychological Aspects of Police Work: An Officer’s Guide to Street Psychology by former police officer and federal agent, Bruce A. Rodgers, PhD.


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