When It Just Feels Right

About twenty years ago, I wrote an article entitled The Serious Problem Of Dysgraffitia. This article was originally published in a local newspaper and subsequently in my book, Confessions of a Maverick Mind (2014).

As a veteran neuropsychologist and expert in learning disorders, I took it upon myself to alert the public to this:

“serious and widespread condition (largely unrecognized and untreated) which afflicts millions of people: Dysgraffitia.

Whereas dyslexia affects the ability to decipher written symbols, and dysgraphia hampers the production of writing, dysgraffitia is a malfunction in the ability to see the handwriting on the wall; people with dysgraffitia have extreme difficulty in relating to consequences, a kind of deficiency in profiting from experience. Dysgraffitia does not necessarily involve deficits in logical thinking, but rather describes problems in the sensible application of what one already knows. It is a dysfunction in the ability to understand and learn from natural consequences. Sometimes known as the "ostrich syndrome," progressive forms of dysgraffitia lead some individuals to totally disregard the reality around them.

It is a serious problem because it affects most of us at some point in our lives, where we habitually attend to the urgent while neglecting the important. It influences the way we parent and teach children; it influences the patterns by which children develop critical living and learning habits, including discernment and critical thinking skills.” Confessions of a Maverick Mind (p. 165)

Upon publication, I received dozens of calls from people concerned about diagnosing and treating dysgraffitia in themselves or family members. Though it is real and pertinent, you will not find it in any medical or professional manuals. Actually, I discovered the condition of dysgraffitia. Along this line, I have also discovered and coined the terms for other mental afflictions, including the pernicious diagnosis of RI (Righteous Indignation), a right cerebral hemisphere impairment characterized by explosive frustration, inflated self-importance, a touchy sensitivity to being offended, and an overarching sense of personal entitlement.

Other Mental Health Considerations

Decades of clinical practice and research have led me to another important discovery, somewhat related to dysgraffitia and RI, but unique in its own consequences and progression for the afflicted individual and those in contact with the individual. This is the progressive and detrimental condition of stubbornoia.

You may recognize that the root of this term is the adjective, “stubborn”—meaning obstinate, dogged, tenacious, determined, hard to remove, and persistent. Whereas some of these qualities may be desirable for personal grit, motivation, and productivity, to be “stubborn” is generally regarded with distaste and as offensive. A stubborn person is someone who digs in his heels unreasonably, seemingly for his own pride, ego, and self-righteousness. Stubborn people are notoriously hard to deal with, and the description is often associated with that unfairly maligned animal, the mule.

Thus, we confront stubbornoia, a condition in which the person’s sense of being “right” is rigid and consuming, his attachment to his position is unflinching, and the associated behaviors that manifest and defend this condition range from isolating to unbearable.

Most assuredly, you have been called stubborn, at times, as have I. In the conflicting swirl of interpersonal needs and pressures, it’s common to react to frustration by labeling the person who won’t agree, cooperate, or follow through as “stubborn,” “selfish,” or “lazy.” However, it takes more than occasional disagreement or petulance for a pattern of behavior to congeal into stubbornoia.

The hallmark of this condition centers around the pervasive resistance to reason, common sense, and intransigence to recognizing the needs of others. The person with stubbornoia appears to be in a world of private logic, impervious to consensual reality about certain topics and mired in unyielding resistance to earnest and reasonable requests. Stubbornoia and compromise are like oil and water: they don’t mix.

Ironically, the stubbornoid person uses logic to rationalize and justify his own peculiar position. Stubbornoia has striking parallels with paranoia, a condition in which the afflicted believes with heightened conviction and alarm that people and circumstances are out to get him—despite the utter lack of any realistic evidence. Reasoning or arguing with a paranoid person about his delusion is futile; and this is also true in dealing with stubbornoia. There are, however, tactics to mollify and lead the stubbornoid to more sensible engagement. Before I delve into this, consider this true story about the nature of perception and reality, as shared with me many decades ago by a wise mentor:

In graduate school, I had a wonderful and talented professor who taught learning theory. He was also a creative songwriter and performer as a side avocation. He wrote and performed a catchy song entitled “Rapanoia.” As he explained, “If paranoia refers to things you’re afraid of that you shouldn’t fear because they have no foundation, then rapanoia refers to things that really are out to get you that you ought to be very concerned and vigilant about.”

Transposing this comparison to contemporary times and issues, you might be rapanoid if:

  • You are unconcerned with Isis and terrorism, and you feel secure and safe
  • You think that the impending bankruptcy of Social Security will take care of itself
  • You don’t spend much time thinking about the environment and climate change

Features of Stubbornoia

Now, returning to stubbornoia: the key features keeping exceedingly stubborn people dug into their positions are anxiety and fear. Though they may not recognize these negative emotions as driving their entrenchment, indeed these constitute the responsible and tenacious factor. Stubbornoia wears the guise of belief and rationale, but these masks belie the true nature of the disorder. Believing strongly in ideas, tenets, or values does not equate with stubbornoia. Critical thinking and logical problem-solving, combined with strongly held and consistent values are hallmarks of well-adjusted, sentient, compassionate, and realistic people. Stubbornoid people are those who feel so threatened by opposing beliefs or behaviors that they cannot put themselves in the other person’s shoes, nor are they willing to negotiate and compromise. “My way or the highway” becomes a way of life (and isolation) for those with stubbornoia.

Though you may encounter stubbornoia in any relationship or walk of life, a most prevalent and pressing context for it is in families, and notably in spousal or partner relationships. Because of the nature of the enmeshed commitment in such intimate relationships, stubbornoia can be exceedingly frustrating and disruptive—you can’t just walk away.

Interdependence with someone who shares emotional, financial, and companionship needs can require that you find some effective ways to mitigate stubbornoia. But how to do so when the very nature of the disorder imposes opposition and intransigence?

Dealing With Stubbornoia

The natural reaction to stubbornoia is to call it out in anguish and exasperation—as in, “You are so stubborn! I can’t believe you!” This instinctive response is sure to make the stubbornoid person more recalcitrant and defensive; therefore, refrain from responding in this way. Instead, develop and rehearse a softer and subtler approach.

Remembering that stubbornoia is fear-based, your best bet is to provide soothing reassurance to the person, while not necessarily endorsing or debating the contentious ideas in the same encounter. Meditate on the following words, as you prepare to engage with the stubbornoid person whose neck you are tempted to wring: mollify, assuage, reassure, placate, appease, soothe.

Stubbornia makes people defensive and isolated. So, if you treat the stubbornoid with attentive care to his feelings (bearing in mind that what makes him so exceedingly stubborn is the fear that giving in or giving up his position will make him hopelessly vulnerable and bereft of merit and confidence), you will proceed through the interaction with more peace and respect, if not an immediately satisfactory resolution.

Stubbornia is all about pride, ego, and the fear that compromise, rational consideration, or even capitulation represents the ultimate degradation or humiliation. You should seek to protect the stubbornoid from this imagined horror, even though it seems (and is) ridiculous. Stubbornoia means you’re not dealing with reasonableness or adaptive integration of thoughts and feelings. You are up against fear and trauma, and these respond much better to calm, safe reassurance than to confrontation and/or logic. The stubbornoid can only see and justify his need to prevail, even at the expense of peace, reason, and productive outcomes.

And what about resolving the material impasses with a stubbornoid who is locked in his intransigence and mired in his “rightness?” Well, there are no sure answers, no pat solutions. Over time in the relationship, the pattern of providing safety and nonthreatening discourse may build some trust and pave the way for a modicum of flexibility. Granted, it’s not easy.

We are currently studying an intervention that may intercept some of the harsher effects of stubbornoia. This is the life consequence, often serendipitously introduced, known as bustornoia: the unpleasant and deserving consequences that teach the stubbornoid person that persistence in being stubborn leads to very bad results. You can’t reliably depend on “bustornoia,” because God and karma dance in intricate ways beyond the complete apprehension of humans.

Until we can codify a streamlined and effective treatment for stubbornoia, make sure you get tested for it—not in the lab, but in the field of human relationships. Pay attention to how people treat and react to you. Be wary of your own self-wisdom. Rely on trusted others to give you candid feedback. Because we are all inherently selfish and self-justifying, stubbornoia can be a tricky and subjective diagnosis—one in which testing “negative” has its own ironic implications. It’s difficult to avoid contact with stubbornoia, since it is quite ubiquitous; but you can’t “catch” it, either. It develops in the heart and the mind, two places over which you exert sovereign choice.

Closing “Argument”

It’s not my intent to alarm you by explaining the perils of stubbornoia. I just think you should be aware and have information about this afflicting condition that could be affecting your life and relationships. Stubbornoid people have an ingrained attitude of being “right.” They can be provoked to try to convince those around them, as they actively seek to calm and validate themselves through the acquiescence of others.

Historically, when I’ve introduced these discoveries about novel mental health diagnoses and conditions, readers have contacted me with urgency, excitement, and even critical indignation. If you are inclined to inveigh your different opinions upon me, just be aware that my convictions may prevent me from buying it.