Caring for someone with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) can be complex and tumultuous at times. People with the condition can exhibit a high degree of manipulative behavior and frequently achieve success by deceiving those around them.
“Individuals with ASPD often do not readily think about how their actions affect others,” says Joel Frank, PsyD, a licensed clinical and neuropsychologist in Sherman Oaks, California. “They lack empathy and the ability to connect with others, and that can be dangerous,” adds Kelsey Latimer, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Stuart, Florida.
ASPD is a significant mental health challenge that can make it difficult (but not impossible) for the individual to sustain long-term relationships, according to the U.K. National Health Service. With the right help and guidance, it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with a loved one with ASPD.
Here’s how experts say you can navigate obstacles and foster a healthier, more balanced relationship with your loved one with ASPD.
1. Seek Professional Help for Yourself if You Need It
ASPD is a complicated diagnosis that often goes undiagnosed or untreated, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Those who are living with someone with ASPD, especially if untreated, are at risk for physical, mental, and emotional harm.
Seeking professional help from a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional can help you navigate the situation, work through any challenging feelings you have about it, and learn effective coping strategies.
“Therapy can educate you about ASPD and help you evaluate situations that occurred to better understand the dynamics and the tools your loved one used to gain power or control,” explains Dr. Frank.
2. Try to Empathize With Your Loved One
Individuals with ASPD sometimes face internal struggles, such as impulsivity and a lack of emotional regulation, according to Mayo Clinic. When faced with challenging thoughts and emotions, your loved one may act in unexpected or unsettling ways, according to Mind, a mental health charity in England.
It can help to acknowledge and validate how they’re feeling without judgment, to try to empathize with their situation, and to identify what’s influencing their thoughts, emotions, and actions, Mind states. This is important when offering support and trying to understand what they’re going through, says Frank.
3. Set and Enforce Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries for your relationship with your loved one can help you know what you can expect from each other and how you’ll aim to navigate challenging situations and emotions that come up. Some examples include how you’ll speak to each other and be spoken to, as well as what you can and cannot help them with, according to Mind.
When you enforce clear boundaries you’re communicating to the other person, “This is what I’m okay with, and this is what I’m not okay with,” says Dr. Latimer. “Decide how you feel about something and get clear in your own self before entering into a conversation.” she adds.
Remember to also clearly state in advance the consequences if your loved one violates those boundaries.
Ultimately, feeling safe and respected should be top priorities in a relationship with someone who has ASPD. If you feel unsafe or apprehensive about ending a relationship or setting boundaries, consult with a professional before making any decisions, says Latimer.
4. Practice Self-Care
As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Caring for someone with ASPD can be very challenging, and sometimes you may feel that you don’t have time to take care of yourself. It can be easy for self-care to fall by the wayside when caring for a loved one, but remember that self-care is very important for maintaining your own health and well-being.
Self-care can take many different forms and includes making time for activities that help you relax, setting doable goals and priorities, having realistic expectations of what and how much you can do, and reaching out to friends, family, or a mental health professional for support if you need it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
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5. Join a Support Group
Finding other people to lean on and talk to when you’re close to someone who has ASPD can be invaluable. They can be friends or family members who provide support when things get challenging, or they can be others like you in a support group who understand almost exactly what you’re going through.
“Get support through attending support groups to learn more about setting boundaries and protecting yourself from aggression and anger,” suggests Ellen Braaten, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Boston.
From sharing your feelings and experiences to having your emotions validated, a support group can help reduce feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and stigma, according to Mayo Clinic.
6. Learn to Communicate Effectively
It can be challenging to have a close relationship with someone with ASPD, but effective communication can help keep your relationship as healthy as possible.
During conversations, be direct, clear, and brief, and try to avoid leaving room for misinterpretation, according to the Victoria State Government Department of Justice and Community Safety in Australia. It can also help to use open and neutral body language, maintain comfortable eye contact, have a relaxed posture, and stay calm when talking to your loved one.
It can also help to take breaks if either you or your loved one becomes too upset or angry to speak productively, or to have another support person, such as a therapist, present during important conversations.
7. Try to Be Patient
A loved one with ASPD may engage in behaviors that can be frustrating and challenging to try to handle. They may act in ways that are impulsive, hostile, or aggressive, or may have a lack of remorse for having harmed, mistreated, or taken from someone else, according to Mayo Clinic.
Trying to be patient and remembering that change does not happen overnight can help you stay calm and avoid reacting impulsively to their behaviors, says Frank. If your loved one is having a tough time handling their emotions, wait until both of you feel calmer to talk things through, he adds.