Personal reactions

When faced with such polarised behaviours in the outlined under challenges, it is very often the case that practitioners will automatically (unconsciously) react to these kinds of behaviours by feeling:

  • puzzled and irritated
  • frustrated
  • helpless to help them change
  • defensive when with them
  • fearful of upsetting the person and getting into an argument
  • manipulated by the person.

The cumulative effect of working with such behaviours combined with other sources of stress in our lives can result in our emotional responses becoming amplified. If we cannot make sense of these challenging, extreme and sometimes risky behaviours we may begin to feel exhausted, personalise their responses and feel critical towards them and lose our capacity for empathy for them. We then risk automatically reacting by:

  • becoming punitive and hostile
  • becoming over-involved
  • avoiding them.
The personality disordered offender unconsciously provokes feelings in others which they themselves have experienced, most commonly, feelings of anger, rejection and unfairness

In addition, practitioners might experience problems in getting much needed input from other mental health and social care services for PD offenders, inconsistent inter-agency working and having to work within narrow and rigid organisational protocols to managing risk and highly challenging cases. As a result, probation practitioners are at increased risk of burnout.

The above are common occurrences, experienced by many if not all staff. However, in a small minority of staff, working with personality disordered offenders will expose their own dysfunctional personality traits. In such colleagues, unexpected outbursts of extreme hostility or rigidity, or entangled or overly involved alliances with offenders may emerge. You will need to consider talking with such colleagues, and if need be, alerting a senior member of staff to your concerns.