1. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Passive Aggressive Abuse

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by jazzabel, Mar 21, 2014.

    Seeing how the internet, literature and society is riddled with people whose only way to claim power is to develop passive aggressive behaviour, and how hurtful and confusing their assaults can be, I thought it would be interesting to share this excellent article. Whether you had someone passive-aggressive in your life, or are looking for ways to add character complexity and motivation:

     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
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  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've often felt that many cases of compulsive hoarding are an extreme manifestation of passive aggressive behavior. The hoarder can use "stuff" to occupy every square inch of a dwelling that is used by several people, hampering the use of every function of that dwelling, and when someone moves a piece of the hoard to try to use a function of their home, the hoarder can claimed to be the victim of that person's aggressive action. If the other members of the household don't want to be painted as aggressors, they have to ask the hoarder for help with everything--please, may I remove the stuff in the tub so I can take a shower? Please, may I move stuff and sit on this chair? Please, I'd like to use my bed? And then the hoarder can use all of the strategies above to delay acting on the request, and play victim when they're "rushed".

    Absolute control with no identifiable controlling action. It's perfect.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Passive aggression is a natural tool for abusers to discover. Abusers gain control incrementally, and applying pressure in ways that the target cannot identify clearly as aggressive acts make it difficult for them to break free.

    Passive aggression by itself is not abuse, though. Abuse is the creation and exploitation of a power differential.
     
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  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak : It's a very good point. A lot of CBT therapists, which I see most engaging with compulsive hoarders in TV shows such as "Hoarding - Buried Alive" focus mainly on obsessive-compulsive component of it, as well as the emotional issues that might have lead them to 'insulate' themselves with all that stuff. However, there are also those nasty passive-aggressive hoarders who you can see don't care about their suffering families and put their rubbish even above their own children and spouses. Whoever had a tough task of counselling passive-aggressive personality disorder patients before, knows that they are practically incurable. You can't challenge them because they explode, they are deaf to feelings of others because they are deeply narcissistic as well (it all ties in to support a fragile ego) and they hate and antagonise therapists and anyone who figures them out, so the only way is to very slowly get them to see how hoarding is endangering them, or what they can get out of clearing the house etc.

    @Cogito : I understand what you mean. It's called 'passive aggression' because the aggression is secondary to their issues. They could grow up, work on themselves, go to see a therapist to deal with childhood traumas but instead they choose to be delusional about not having any faults. Obviously, I'm not referring to anyone who can't afford medical help or who lives in an environment where there's stigma attached to personal development.

    Interestingly, passive aggression is an immature defence mechanism characteristic for children, especially as they age, ages 6-7 onwards. It comes from being subjugated to parental authority and realistically being weaker, cognitively, physically, financially etc. But as they age, normal adults overcome the passive aggression and perhaps re-visit it occasionally, Others, however, make it into an integral part of their personality, and that is virtually impossible to change later on.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep. I think that much, perhaps most, treatment of hard-core hoarders is missing the point. An alcoholic who drinks too much is not doing so because he doesn't know how to get himself a Coke. A hard-core hoarder is not hoarding because he doesn't know what to throw away. If you offered the alcoholic a Coke, he'd keep drinking. If you offered the hoarder a dumpster, he'd keep hoarding. These are not behaviors that the sufferer instinctively wants to cure.

    I'm sure that there are many organizationally-challenged people who need the equivalent of learning how to open a Coke, or how to get over the fear of that pop-and-fizz when the Coke opens. But those people are not, IMO, on a milder part of the same spectrum as hard-core hoarders--I believe that they are on a fundamentally different spectrum. I believe that almost every success story for therapists treating hoarders is a person on the first spectrum, not the second.

    Edited to add: I realize that I'm mixing addiction and personality disorder in the same analogy. I suspect that hoarding has some of both.
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak : Yeah, the hoarding can be a symptom as much as a disease. I know this is an off comparison, but it's the first that came to mind (I worked in forensic psychiatry for too long! lol). True paedophiles (who are typically extremely passive aggressive) comprise barely 5-10% of all child sex offender population, because assaults on children can arise in many different contexts - robbery, murder, kidnapping, and unless it's connected with exclusive sexual interests in children, which is pretty rare, it is a different 'illness' or 'defect' even though the final crime is the same.

    Well, addiction, obsession and love and aggression are all very closely related in the brain. Hoarders are addicted to the pleasure of getting a new thing, much like a lover is addicted to the feeling of being with that someone special, and if it's to be taken away, they can turn aggressive. The more severe and unchanging their personalities, the more 'disordered' they are.
     
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  7. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Interesting read! One thing I would add is that passive aggressive people can be highly dismissive, especially when you react/argue with something vaguely upsetting they've said. When confronted they'll sometimes say they were "only messing" or joking, and they'll constantly distort the facts as a kind of tactic of deflection. It might get to the point where they muddy the waters so much with bullshit you can't be arsed arguing any more so you just leave it. This ties in with their deeply ingrained refusal to accept blame, and to externalise problems rather than look within
     
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  8. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Mackers : I think everyone will, sooner or later encounter such a person. I think it's the mixed messages they give out that fool people the most. We all love a redemption, and are endlessly optimistic about people's ability to change and apologise, and passive aggressive exploits that. If they were straight out nasty, people wouldn't engage with them. But they pretend to be nice or apologetic while they are just baiting you and waiting for you to drop your guard so they can lash out again. Also, a big part of their repertoire is splitting, which means they split people into angels and devils, and play them against each other. Their view of the world is black and white, there is no middle ground, and they groom others for support by showing them the excessively nice face, which is a total opposite of their nasty face they show only to their enemies. Unfortunately, anyone who even accidentally witnesses their nasty side, automatically becomes an enemy, so there's no escape. Otherwise, enemies are usually so because they have something the passive aggressive believes belongs to them or they should have, so envy is also big part of what motivates them. Dropping snide remarks to provoke the argument is another big one, then pretend to not know what the other person is upset about and using their defensive reaction to claim themselves a victim, usually to people who don't know what just transpired. Passive-aggressives are master manipulators, and they thrive on gossip, backstabbing and creating community prejudice towards the object of their hatred.

    Violent men are often like this, so the community can't even imagine that they are a monster, they more readily believe his wife is a 'bit of a fantasist' and whatever other manipulative lie they told to make it impossible for her to get help and support.

    Also, the snide remarks can turn into extreme verbal abuse really quickly. In psychiatry, it's the passive aggressive patients who express the most vitriol against the psychiatrists, and filth that can come out of their mouths is quite incredible. If you can imagine the worst you ever felt about someone, times ten. Their rage is in fact quite crippling. One moment they are all smiling and innocent, and when they don't get what they want, or feel you figured them out, they turn so nasty, it makes it difficult to believe it's the same person. And as much as they work the hardest at hiding that nasty face, but sooner or later, it always comes out.
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Incredibly interesting article AND discussion here. Thanks for posting it. I'd never thought of the connection with hoarding, but yes, I see that. However, the only hard-core hoarder I know lives alone. I think she sees it as a way of controlling her environment, not having dominance over another person. She's 'normal' when she's not at home. It's not till you visit her home that you go ...wooah... She's only hurting herself, not other people.
     
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  10. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    That's because hoarding is an obsessive compulsive disorder which is totally uncharacteristic of someone that is passive aggressive.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that's how I originally saw it. However, I can also see that passive-aggressive behaviour might mimic genuine OCD 'hoarding.' Somebody whose 'hobbies' deliberately fill important living space inside a house, and they think it's kind of funny that their spouse has to try to clean around the mess, and they make no attempt to keep it clean themselves. That sort of thing.
     
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  12. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    But that is more of a dependence issue, or more along the lines of Munchausen Syndrome than hoarding. Hoarders don't know they are hoarding, they think it is normal and rationalize the problem.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right @jannert. Most people who don't have working knowledge of psychology tend to pigeonhole behaviours into diagnoses, failing to realise the complexities of psychological states. Heck, even those who work with psychiatric illness can develop 'blindness' to causes and aetiologies they aren't familiar with, and therapists who have limited training (typically one technique only) will do the same. This is why, on programs such as "Hoarders" you have the hoarders you as a viewer can empathise with, seeing their emotional struggles and be delighted when they respond well to therapy for obsessive-compulsive and mood symptoms and at the end of the programme, their house is spotless and their family is happy. And then, you have those nightmare hoarders, who just as you described, use the rubbish to control people in their lives (and their environment) and they typically don't respond to any kind of counselling, fight with everyone every step of the way, and end up with no progress, resentful etc.

    It's worth mentioning that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) are two very different conditions, with very different treatments and prognoses, but most laypeople group them together because both are suffering ]from obsessions and compulsions. OCPDs are very controlling and passive aggressive, they are non-negotiable and cutting, almost tyrannical in their approach to things, so even though they too are addicted to the high of accumulating stuff, as there's always a reason why they chose this way to express their resentment and rage, that isn't the main motivation behind refusing to do anything about it. Interesting and easy to understand article about OCPD and how it differs to OCD is here and I'd add that clinically, their major difference is that OCD is usually very responsive to SSRIs, since OCD is an organic illness, whilst OCPD is usually resistant to treatment, or can experience very modest improvements after very long-term therapy efforts.

    Wrong kind of therapy can be actually quite detrimental, because what works to resolve one conflict, might only inflame or strengthen another. Unfortunately, in this day and age of insurance companies dictating the amount that can be spent on each patient, this kind of cheap and limited training of therapists has become the bulk of psychological help most average earning and poor people can hope to receive. So while majority responds to even limited help, the difficult cases are left to fend for themselves. This is also why I generally object to such shows anyway, because they are more concerned with good television than people's dignity and helping them .
     
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  14. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I live with a few passive aggressive people and this describes them pretty much exactly. Instead of confronting people about simple things like, not doing laundry while someone showers, they leave notes around or will actually spite everyone for an entire day. They will talk aloud to no one in particular and say things like "well I would go out but I couldn't shower earlier". It's so unbelievable and almost funny how poor they are at communicating their needs.

    A group of passive aggressive people trying to coordinate an outing is beyond frustrating. Everyone wants to go the place they want to go and the time that's best for them, but they don't bother communicating and just assume it'll all magically work out in the end. Then when things inevitably end in conflict they spite each other for reasons like "they never go where I want to go" or "it's always rush rush with them". All of which is so easily avoided if they just talked to each other, instead they all end up having a passive aggressive party for an entire week.

    They basically make other people feel bad for not being able to read their minds. Not being able to communicate they're needs I can understand from their upbringing, but self victimization is, to me, the abused part of it all and is the poison in any relationship.
     
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  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @rhduke : Sometimes I think such people can only relate to others through conflict. As much as they profess being completely peaceful and harmony loving, they do everything to sabotage every interaction they have, so they could act out their psychodrama of angels and devils around them and poor them, victims, in the middle of it all. They never tire of it, it's always the inevitable outcome, In my personal life, I avoid such people as much as I can because it feels too much like work, to be honest. But it's difficult when you can't get away, especially is there's more than one, and all the drama associated with it.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe that hoarding is being disconnected from OCD and becoming a distinct disorder. (That is, in the listings/definitions of disorders.) And I believe that calling it OCD was always a mis-sorting.

    Edited to add:

    This is an argument against hoarding being OCD--people with OCD are aware that their issues are issues. It leans more toward OCPD or another issue.
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is there absolutely no one that the hoarding bothers? No kids, even adult kids who have nightmares of her waking up in a fire even if they don't live there, no pets, no bugs going into someone else's environment, no other attached dwellings that would share in the fire risk of a hoard, no mess in the front yard that annoys the neighbors, no smell that can be smelled outside, no crying and acting hurt when her kids won't bring the grandkids to her house, no nothing? How is it that you happen to visit her home? Is there any guilt if you'd rather not visit?

    I'm not saying that that's not possible for a hoarder to hurt no one, but I know that a lot of hoarders who live alone have adult kids who are beside themselves with worry. Those hoarders are still hurting someone.
     
  18. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    There are so many different things that are grouped into OCD, and many times they are misrepresented. Take for example gambling. Sometimes it can be compulsive, but not always OCD. Instead it can be part of a manic episode as part of bi-polar. Bi-polar is often recognized wrong by people that are uneducated on the matter. Lots of people in the general public think bi-polar means having more than one personality, which is multiple personality disorder and not bi-polar. For these reasons and many like it, is why many don't view psychology as a science because it is so hard to put people into specific categories. However, as it is being explained, the passive aggressive people are not hoarders, they are attention seekers and keeping their home messy is not the problem, because they know it is a problem.
     
  19. jannert
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    Well, she's never been married, and I honestly don't think she is trying to upset anybody. And her home wasn't filthy or anything like that. Just chock a block with stuff, to the extent that she couldn't really function very well. Example: her kitchen table was piled high with papers and mail, because the shelf she'd designated for that sort of thing was clogged with wee figurines. So every time she eats, she has to move everything from the table and take it into the sitting room and put it on the one chair that hasn't got stuff piled on it. This is the one she sits in. Then when the meal is over, she brings it all back. The house is reasonably clean. The knick-nacks get bit dusty, but the floor gets hoovered, and the bathroom and kitchen are clean enough. There are no pets. It's just that she can't resist gee-gaws of all kinds, and won't consider either getting rid of some of them, or packing them away and taking them out in 'shifts.'

    She hoards 'useful' things as well ...plastic food containers (all washed and neatly stacked.) Her closets were filled to bursting with neatly hung clothing. Her drawers are all filled, as are boxes and other things. She's left a narrow pathway to the bed, but there isn't any other space in the bedroom. Her bathroom and hall closets are filled with many changes of towels and sheets, etc. All washed and neatly folded away. She admitted she has hobbies she'd like to try (like sewing) but she just doesn't have room. I tried making suggestions about what could maybe be culled to make room, but she didn't seem receptive to the idea, or at least to the idea of making time to do it.

    I have visited her many times, and have to bite my tongue. She's not dirty, so there really isn't anything to complain about. But her stuffed house makes it very difficult for her to expand her horizons at all.

    It was interesting, the effect this had on me, the first time I saw it. I went home and had a good clear-out!
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that passive aggressive people always or even usually know what they're doing, and in fact I think that the descriptions that started the thread referred to "lack of insight".

    You're assuming that there "hoarders" are not passive aggressive. I'm arguing, instead, that a very large subset of hoarders, a part of the population that is included when people try to medically describe "hoarding", is the kind of hoarding that I describe. That the hoarding behavior is in large part motivated by passive aggression and a need for control, a drive that goes to the point of self-harm, though the self-harm is a byproduct, not the goal.

    You mentioned Munchausen, and I can see a similarity, except that Munchausen is about positive and sympathetic attention, and I believe that hoarding is about control and about more negative emotional reactions in witnesses.
     
  21. Lewdog
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    @ChickenFreak I disagree because many of the hoarders I've seen are more willing to let a loved one go than to let their things go. The gain an emotional attachment to the objects, and so many times part of that attachment is passed along in the form of saying things would have a purpose for someone else and that is part of why they don't want to get rid of it, which is counter-productive in itself.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    Interesting. I'd have to know more about her and her other relationships to know if she fits my definition of what I might call a mild malignant hoarder. It doesn't sound as if she does.

    If she did, I think that you'd be telling me about how you'd discussed her house with her many times and that, thinking about it, you realize that she subtly opened those discussions while simultaneously making you feel guilty for involving yourself in her business. That she'd complained many times about how inconvenient her house was and listened to advice that she ignored over and over again. Or that she'd seemed open to cleanup help and you'd spent many hours helping her, then been frustrated when your efforts seem to go unappreciated as she filled up the areas again, and how after the cleanup she badgers you endlessly about where you put her widget, she thought you would have realized how important her widget was, sniff sniff boo hoo. About how she kept trying to give you stuff, and how you felt obligated to take it to get it out of her house, and then pressured to keep it because she'd be upset if you got rid of it. And so on.

    Of course, she might still do all that with her kids (edited to add: ah, I see, no kids), but, yes, she doesn't sound like that kind of hoarder.
     
  23. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    It does almost feel like work dealing with these people in the sense that I have to work to keep myself in a positive mood. There's nothing like coming home from a good day of work or school to learn cold war thirty has broken out because someone over watered a plant or someone was too loud when they did the dishes. I just walk away from them so they don't get the satisfaction of handing me some pissy attitude I in no way deserve.
     
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  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm confused as to why this would go contrary to what I'm saying? Surely making it clear that the stuff is more important than the loved one is the worst kind of passive-aggressive pain that the hoarder can cause for the loved one?
     
  25. jazzabel
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    Anything is possible, but just because it's now been classified as distinct it doesn't mean it isn't related to other conditions, such as OCD or OCPD or what have you. Having witnessed multiple changes in DSM and ICD classification, back and forth and back and forth on so many issues, I can tell you that there is a lot of politics and ego on those panels. So what's more important from the clinical point of view is phenomenology of clinical symptoms. As a psychiatrist, you don't actually have to label someone as schizophrenic, or obsessive compulsive or even depressed, in order to treat them with best medicine available today. You can keep their diagnosis purely descriptive and treat the constellation of symptoms instead. In fact, phenomenology's been used by psychiatrists to communicate much more precisely about individual patients then a simple diagnosis would allow. Goodness knows, there are patients that different psychiatrists would diagnose differently, but their symptoms, and words used to describe them, remain the same, so there no confusion. When we write that someone's affect is incongruous and blunted and they suffer from passivity phenomena, it is a much more accurate description of the patient's situation than simply saying 'onset of schizophrenia'.

    I learned American-style multiaxial diagnosis in psychiatry and this is what I continued to use in the UK because I believe it is a more comprehensive system. In it, each patient receives a five-axis diagnosis. Axis 1 is your immediate psychiatric issue that needs treating, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety etc. Axis 2 are your co-existing personality disorders or traits (paranoid, borderline, avoidant etc) or developmental disorders. Axis 3 is your organic illnesses, which are always relevant especially by the way they affect the Axis 1 condition. Axis 4 are your psychosocial stressors, loneliness, break up, poverty, unemployment, difficulty accessing medical care etc. And Axis five determines the level of functioning, and thus indicates the severity of the condition or relapse or recovery. It really looks at each person as an individual, and it best shows the interplay of all various facets that work together to produce the illness and symptoms in individual patients. this also allows to tailor the treatment more effectively.
    This is word for word description of a former friend of mine. It took me seeing her have a third child, and fill up two extensions with rubbish and junk, to realise she'll never, ever change. Since I couldn't bear watching those kids choke with asthma in that filth, and I wasn't brave enough to report her to Social Services, I stopped returning her calls.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014

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