Personal Empowerment: Act Now, Before It’s Too Late

When it comes to relationships with aggressive personalities, you can never give the green light to the conductor of a locomotive that has no brakes.

I’ve been posting a series of articles on ways to empower oneself, especially in relationships with disturbed characters. Some of suggestions for setting better “terms of engagement” with those who might otherwise attempt to manipulate or take advantage of you include accepting no excuses; judging actions, not intentions; and staying focused and in the here and now:

The tools of empowerment I’ve been discussing were first outlined in my first book: In Sheep’s Clothing, along with a complete set of general guidelines about how to ensure empowered relationships.

The more aggressive personalities are among the most disturbed in character. It’s in their very nature to fight often and fight hard for the things they want. They can be inordinately intimidating and hard to resist. Empowering oneself in relationships with these types of individuals can be a real challenge, but it can definitely be done, especially if you observe the cardinal empowerment rule of acting quickly whenever they begin using their tactics of manipulation and control.

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I’ve written some other posts on the aggressive personalities and their main attributes. (See “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities”.). But one very important thing to remember is that these individuals lack internal “brakes,” and therefore once they “get rolling” it’s hard to put a stop to their behavior. That’s why it’s so important to respond very quickly with appropriate limit-setting to redefine the terms of engagement.

I remember well one couple who came to me for marital counseling. The woman voiced a concern that after her husband had another affair, any sense of trust in their relationship had been eroded. He immediately and forcefully retorted: “Okay, so this is going to be about trashing me and bringing up old news all the time. I thought we were here to get our relationship right. Apparently not…” and went on a long and critical tirade. The woman let him talk for some time and then later, each time she did try and interject a thing or two, he quickly cut her off and had more to say.

As a way of demonstrating the technique of responding quickly and re-establishing the terms of engagement, I asked the woman to sit quietly on the sidelines while I spoke to her husband for a few minutes. When I began to engage him, he made the same forceful attempts to gain the upper hand. The difference was that I was willing to end the interaction immediately upon his first formal attempt to control the process, to suggest he take a time-out in the waiting lounge, and to stop engaging with him at all unless or until he was more willing to engage in an open and equal dialogue. It took several “time-outs” for him to get the message that he wouldn’t even get the chance to assert his point of view or sway my opinion (something that means a whole lot to all aggressive characters) unless he observed my rules of engagement. But he finally got the message, and in time the discussion became more even-sided and civil.

The most important thing to remember is how critical it is to act quickly. Sometimes, we don’t want to appear too demanding or presumptuous. Sometimes, we just want to afford others the courtesy of having their say. But you can never give the green light to the conductor of a locomotive that has no brakes. Once the train is already rolling down the hillside, it has too much momentum built up in even a short time to try and stop it. By the time it’s half-way down the hill, if you try to intervene, you’ll get run over.

We’ve talked about many different tactics disturbed characters use to manipulate and exploit others. Knowing them well and knowing how to respond to each of them better prepares a person to respond more quickly when the tactics are used. Responding quickly and making clear what the terms of engagement will be are key tools of personal empowerment.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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