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Communication and the Functional Sociopath
By William Polowniak, Ph.D.

Fritz Perls a famous Jewish psychotherapist known for his founding of Gestalt therapy once  said that refusal to communicate is the most toxic human behavior. I am convinced that he is right. Refusal to communicate really means refusal to listen and to enter into dialogue especially when we disagree. Usually people who refuse to communicate live their lives as “functional sociopaths.” That is, they are self-centered, they do as they please with total disregard for others and they indulge in subterfuge, self-delusion and see themselves as persecuted. Their delusions of self-persecution cause them to become angry manipulators.
     So why label people in “either or” categories as “toxic” or “nourishing” people? Labels themselves are dangerous and often unfair, but for the wise person they do help us see what to avoid. They help us to invest our energies in more productive ways. When we use labels, however, we must be aware that labeling others without caution is in itself a toxic behavior. Let us “be aware” when we choose to label others or ourselves.
     “Action speaks louder than words” Everyone’s mother has probably said this during our childhood more than once. My father used to say “Talk is cheap, whiskey costs money.” The typical behaviors of those who refuse to communicate are labeled by psychologists as the “fight?flight” response. Those who refuse to communicate are usually adept at manipulation, they have toxic behavior in general and when confronted by circumstances that proves their position is faulty, they will attack or run away, or they will attack and run away. “Toxic people are adept at pushing our buttons and provoking an over-reaction in others. But the up side of that is that they challenge us to remain centered and be a positive influence even if there is no reward to us directly. Our efforts to not add to the pain and suffering toxic people use to justify their emotional cruelty and brutal behavior is our best strategy. If they do not run they will not listen using a variety of tyrannical behaviors. They begin by raising their voices, then will shout, scream and rant and rave often appearing to be a raving lunatic. They typically  indulge in anger, condemnation and blame. They are adept at interrupting and often will not allow their adversary to finish even one sentence. We often see people like this on TV talk shows.
     So how does a person deal with  those who refuse to communicate? The best defense is listening, in silence, and adopting the posture of a detective. While listening, try to discover what is really at the root of the problem. All the while, if you must communicate, focus on short, simple and clear statements using “I” statements frequently; that is, if your adversary permits any pauses in their onslaught of anger, condemnation and blame. At the very least, actively listening in silence and non-judgment will provide your adversary with needed catharsis, will often defuse their anger and will not add to their fear of retaliation.
     Another thing that helps is to rely on trust and the great healer—time. We’ve all heard the biblical quote “Vengeance in mine, sayeth the Lord.” The fact is that time and life will usually bite these kinds of people in the behind when they least expect it. They sabotage their own life by alienating others, when in fact they desperately need and want love and affection.
 Another helpful thing to realize is that to the wise person, knowing that “not communicating” can often communicate more than we realize. Not retaliating, not interrupting the interrupter, but listening in silence or basically allowing the adversary to wallow in their own delusions of persecution will ultimately allow the TRUTH to emerge. Reality is the second best teacher. Do you know what the best teacher is? Pain. Very often only pain and suffering can communicate to the person who refuses to communicate.
     A final thing that is helpful is to remember that “help is not always helpful.” Recently I tried to help a person who was wallowing in her anger and hostility. Her remark to me was “I don’t need your help.” Often it is wise to avoid unnecessary contact with people who seem to be waiting to pick a fight or to blow up. If communication is really necessary it should be done in writing (and keep a copy) so that it is less likely to elicit a reaction or temper tantrum. And in the worse cases, if a toxic person retaliates and legal action becomes necessary to remedy the situation, what you have in writing may be valuable. In addition if a toxic person acts out threats they will thereby create the proof you will need to legally prosecute for blackmail and malicious mischief. Those of us who believe in community do not like to think of things like legal action or legal defense but the reality is that sometimes legal remedies do in fact create community and can force a more healthy emotional situation to prevail. Legal remedies can show the bully and the emotional tyrant that you are not afraid.
     Whenever a person threatens to take me to court and to sue me, my response is that “I love to go to court with people like you. Please sue me. Do it now.” You would be surprised at how this defuses the pompous threats of manipulating tyrants. And, the truth is that I really do love to go to court with people who think that their threats can frighten me into submitting to their demands. In court your adversary will show the judge their irrational behavior and you can force them to listen to reason when it is your turn to speak. You can also ask a judge to admonish your adversary and you can ask for and receive legal costs and punitive damages. But remember, your best defense is to always be honest, fair and loving and kind— especially when it is difficult.
     It seems paradoxical but genuine communication begins and ends with listening. Silence is golden. Words are often useless and unnecessary.
     I collect quotes. One of my favorites is from the Dhammapada. “Better than a thousand useless words is one word that gives peace.” Another favorite quote states, “Must we waste this moment on words?”
     One benefit of silence is that it allows the body and the being to relax into a natural meditative state of being. In this state of mind, we learn to listen to our bodies. More than that, we learn the difference between our cravings and what our body really needs for health.
     My all time favorite quote is from The Essene Gospel of Peace Book 1 “And Jesus said: But I say unto you: Kill neither men nor beasts, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. For if you eat living food  the same will quicken you, but if you kill your food, the dead food will kill you also. For life comes only from life, and from death comes always death. For everything which kills your foods, kills your bodies also. And everything which kills your bodies kills your souls also. And your bodies become what your foods are, even as your spirits, likewise, become what your thoughts are. Therefore eat not anything which fire, or frost, or water has destroyed. For burned, frozen and rotted foods will burn, freeze and rot your bodies also.”
     I hope these thoughts find you well and healthy, and I hope I can learn from my own advice by listening more and improving my communication through active listening. I sometimes forget.

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