People who are chronically emotionally disconnected from themselves and others have been given a variety of labels. Some call these people “The Difficult Client” (“The Difficult Boss” or “The Difficult Spouse”) when the behavior is chronic and intractable. Others call them “out of control,” “extremely self-absorbed,” “self-centered,” “narcissistic” or “abusive people.” In psychiatric circles, many of these people would be diagnosed with a personality disorder. Whatever the label, these people are defined by their chronic hurtfulness and their lack of concern for how their behavior affects others. This is the common denominator for those discussed here, which is why I prefer the label “Chronically Hurtful People,” or CHPs.
The broad definition I use when describing the chronically hurtful is: “those people who are indifferent to the negative consequences their behavior has for others.” People who could be considered chronically hurtful certainly do at times notice the consequences of their behavior in that they may be stimulated in some way by the distress or emotional response of the targeted or affected one. However, they are uninterested in the suffering or adverse effects on the victims of their behavior. To be chronically hurtful is to behave in ways that promote ill will or invite fear, anger, sadness, confusion, distrust, uneasiness, stress, distress, pain and other problems for the recipients of their acts. In this broad sense then, CHPs are antisocial.
A central problem in social dysfunction can be traced to the problem of disconnection—the perceived disability, or lack of interest in connecting with and accepting the other person as at least deserving of fair treatment. It could also be said that emotionally disconnected people do not see any “other” at all. Empathic connection, or even an understanding connection, allows for resolution, problem solving, forgiveness, and/or the working through of issues that affect us mutually. Emotional disconnect does not.
When thinking about people who are chronically hurtful, what comes to mind for many are those who do things that could get them arrested, such as forgers, thieves, arsonists, extortionists and rapists. But chronically hurtful patterns can and do show up in people who are admired and respected. They may or may not do things that could land them in jail, yet they wreak havoc just the same. For example, there are CHPs who behave respectfully at the office, but regularly make the lives of family members a living hell; they might perform well in one aspect of their professional life and engage in damaging behavior in another area. The CHP could be the corporate or bank executive who manipulates financial markets in order to walk away with millions, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. He could be a minister or teacher who sexually abuses children or the politician who uses public funds for personal gain.
Those who are at times helpful and “pro-social” are still chronically hurtful if they display an entrenched pattern of thinking and behavior that continues over time and does not respond to change when change is requested by injured parties or their advocates. For instance, a parent who rages and is verbally abusive to a child and seeks help for his or her out-of-control behavior and then changes that behavior is not a CHP. A parent who continues the abuse despite confrontation and assistance or the desperate appeals of the injured or their advocates is a CHP.
Copyright © Roxanne K. Livingston. All Rights Reserved.