LITTLE ROCK A mother grows weary of her son's childish temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. Although she dislikes being bullied by her son's emotional displays, she is afraid that he ishurting inside.
A wife is angry with her husband for insisting that their daughter earn perfect grades. But when she confronts him about his unreasonable demands, she winds up feeling like the bad guy herself.
In these cases and others, Dr. George K. Simon Jr. of Maumelle said these people are unnecessary victims being controlled by a covert aggressor, otherwise known as a manipulator.
"When you're being manipulated, chances are that someone is fighting with you for something that's difficult to see, and you may feel guilty in the process."
Simon took 10 years to write his now well-known book, In Sheep's Clothing: Dealing with and Understanding Manipulative People. In its 11th year in print, In Sheep's Clothing has been published in several different languages, and is No. 11 on the "Top 100 Bestsellers in Psychiatry" list, according to www.human-nature.com.
For the past 20 years, Simon has specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of character disturbance. He has presented more than 150 workshops nationwide and serves as the supervising psychologist for the Sex OffenderRisk Assessment Program at the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
A native of Michigan, Simon got his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1985 from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. During his time in school, he met and married his wife, Sherry, who also holds a doctorate in psychology. Not long after completing their degrees, the Simons cast about for a place to settle that would fit the couple's interests in both child psychology and other facets of the discipline.
"We came to central Arkansas in 1984 and fell in love with this place," he said.
In 1986, while maintaining an active private practice in psychology, Simon became progressively aware that many of his patients' problems stemmed from difficulties they had dealing with manipulators and others with character disorders. Around this time, he also began to collect data on dealing with these difficult personalities.
His research led to offering workshops on this same topic, which led to invitations from corporations and agencies all over the nation. Ten years later, In Sheep's Clothing met with favorable reviews, even leading to Simon's appearance on CNN and other nationally televised programs.
Asked why the book continues to garner so much attention after more than a decade, Simon said that the current approach to psychology is based on the work of Sigmund Freud from more than a century ago.
"Back then, people were riddled with guilt and remorse, and could literally 'think' themselves into physical and mental disorder." These traditional approaches to mental health just don't work, he said. "Many psychologists said that a person wasn't to be blamed or held accountable for their actions," he said. On top of this, the "victim" was (and is) often made to feel to blame, and thus seeks counseling and therapy to help deal with what is in effect the "bully" on the block. "Our past traditions taught us to deal with neuroses, as opposed to character disorder. With a character disorder, the person has no restraint, no conscience."
He also said that a lot of women tend to buy his book after having tried traditional approaches to problem solving with tricky spouses, bosses,their children, and with other problems.
As a result of "letting themselves go" Simon said manipulative individuals have no fear related to the consequences of their actions. "What I am talking about is challenging the belief that 'I'm OK,' regardless of what I am doing. If a person has lost 10 jobs in a row, the wife is pregnant, and still thinks that what they are doing is OK, there is a need to confront that thinking," he said. "You have to hold the mirror up to a person in a way that is not too damaging, and help elevate them in the process."
He cited the 12-step programs as a good example of a program intended to impact mind, body and spirit, for a more holistic approach to traditional psychotherapy.
"These steps are very powerful from a character-building standpoint, even asking for God's help to remove defects of character," he said. "For someone who is used to winning at everything to admit defeat, that they are powerless, and that they need guidance from power greater than themselves can lead to what is called a 'metamoia' (Greek for 'change of heart')."
Another factor perpetuating the hatching of con artists is the continuing glorification of the lone wolf hero, independent to the end.
"This behavior may have served us well in the past when society was still functioning as clans or tribes. Being singleminded served a function in our evolution, but is no longer needed," he said.
Parenting styles have lead to children becoming more difficult to deal with.
"The pop psychology of the '80s and '90s cautioned parents against damaging their child's self-esteem." The fallout of this conditioning can also be seen in the public schools. "Teachers are dealing with undersocialized, undercivilized children. Problems in schools are not so much academic as social in nature," he said.
In the bigger picture, Simon feels that we are experiencing a collective breakdown in the culture of our country in other settings, as well. The descendant of a Turkish immigrant, hisgrandfather was so overjoyed at being able to live in a place that allowed religious freedom, that he would literally "kiss the ground" out of respect and love for the United States, he said.
"We are reaping the results of the culture of narcissism that flourished in our country during the 1960s and the 1970s," he said. "The 1960s, in particular, was like living within a very dysfunctional nuclear family where the parents are often either absent or negligent. When those circumstances continue for a long enough period of time, the 'inmates take over the asylum'," he said. "We rebelled against everything."
Part of the fallout of the "Me Generation" has resulted in America having one of highest rates of incarceration of its citizens than other developed nations, he said. Simon believes oftentimes criminal minds are a product of individuals learning the rules of the street rather than the nurturing values that come a traditional, loving family.
So how can one deal with these difficult people? The best defense against a manipulative person is to get away from him or her. But when that's not possible, be alert and recognize when you are being manipulated, Simon said.
It is wise, however, to choose your battles carefully, he said. Recognize that the manipulator is trying to get you do what he wants you to do, so unless you have to deal with the controller, resist being drawn into his games.
If you are in a work situation with the person, things shift a bit, Simon said.
"You must become an artist at crafting a 'win-win' solution," he said. "If you have a tyrannical boss, you might empathize with the need for you to work overtime. However, you can then state that the demands on your energy are intense, and that you will be willing to help out if you are allowed some flexibility. There can be a way for both of you to get something out of your boss's demands."
Simon's new book (the titleof which is as yet unnamed) promises to provide a more expanded discussion of personality disorders, to include additional causes behind the explosion of difficult-to-deal-with people.
Even though his book may be popular, some of his theories have mixed reviews. "Treating people's personality disorders is not popular," he said. "It is much easier to dismiss someone's behavior as a result of a chemical imbalance, and to medicate the person accordingly."
River Valley Ozark, Pages 141, 149 on 09/16/2007