This “okay, okay!” tactic is the disturbed character’s attempt to get you off their back by insinuating that they understand what you are asking and are willing to accede to it while they actually have no intention of changing their stance.
We’ve been discussing a variety of tactics that persons with disturbed characters use to manipulate others. These tactics are behaviors that prevent the disturbed character from internalizing the pro-social values and standards of conduct that would enable them to become a better person.
One of the more difficult to detect tactics is giving assent. This is a favorite tactic of the aggressive personalities. (See “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities” and “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities, Part 2”.) When a person is determined to have his way but is not gaining sway with you because you’ve dared to call them on their aggression and you’re holding your own ground, they might feign the willingness to back-down, back-off, or accede to your call for change. This “okay, okay!” tactic is the disturbed character’s attempt to get you off their back by insinuating that they understand what you are asking and are willing to accede to it while they actually have no intention of changing their stance. The eminent researcher Stanton Samenow pointed out that assenting or false concessioning is a shrewd way to appear cooperative without really meaning it.
For the aggressive personalities, nothing is more distasteful than submitting themselves to anyone or anything. That’s the main reason their lives and the lives around them end up like a shipwreck. Caving-in is so distasteful that the best they will usually muster is a half-hearted or purely superficial assent to what is being asked of them. Anything more than that is too much like surrender. It often takes many long months of artful non-traditional therapy to bring such individuals to the point that they can appreciate that “winning” in the long-run often involves conceding in the short-run.
Providing treatment to aggressive personalities who use the tactic of assent is a real challenge for therapists trained in traditional modalities that advocate that the therapist not adopt an authoritarian but rather an unconditionally accepting stance. What the aggressive personality needs to learn — perhaps more than any other lesson in his life — is to genuinely give-in, give-way, or submit occasionally. So, in the therapeutic encounter, they need to learn how, when, and where to concede. True concession necessarily involves both the recognition of and submission to a higher power or authority. If the therapist is unwilling to facilitate this during the therapeutic encounter, no such learning can take place.
In my early years as a therapist, I avoided the authority position like the plague. Then, after realizing that my character-disturbed patients would probably never improve, I began to allow myself to model, stand-up for, and actively advocate the principles of conduct I knew my patients had to eventually submit to themselves if they were ever to become responsible people. Once I did so, everything began to change.
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