People Who Have Trouble Following Rules

If as a child, you were asked to go to the right and you went to the left, if it's difficult for you, even today, to follow rules, we explain what may lie behind this behavior.
People Who Have Trouble Following Rules
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 03 June, 2023

It’s true that none of us really like rules. In fact, we often respond to them with defiance and daring rebellion. However, some people, from childhood, experience serious problems with following rules. They tend to be labeled as difficult, because of their behaviors and attitudes.

Behind this kind of personality can lie anything, ranging from a creative personality who needs to break the rules to a psychological condition. For example, transgressing social protocols and guidelines is one of the main characteristics of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). There are many interesting explanations for this personality trait.

Individuals who break rules exhibit a marked sense of entitlement. They think that they’re superior to others. Therefore, they find it difficult to conduct themselves appropriately in highly structured environments where fixed rules prevail.

Problems with following rules

Do you find it difficult to adapt to work environments? As a child, did you drive your parents mad by not obeying them? Do you feel uncomfortable in contexts in which others expect you to meet certain standards? Problems with following the rules are triggered by the almost persistent need to challenge authority. These people, when they’re urged to abide by certain rules or conventions, feel uncomfortable or even angry.

It’s true that most of us don’t like to feel that we’re subject to certain conditions, nor to social, work, or any other types of rules. They make us feel like our freedom, potential, and capacity for action are being prohibited. However, the difference between people who find it difficult to accept rules and those who abide by them is the principle of civility. We all know that to live in society we must obey certain guidelines and regulations. But, there are those who transgress them and protest against these invisible barbed wire fences. So, what lies behind these personalities? Find out here.

1. A greater sense of entitlement

A study published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science claims that those who resist complying with rules often present a sense of entitlement. They find it difficult to obey instructions, follow protocols, and adjust to the most common dynamics of any social setting. These personalities:

  • Find it difficult to integrate.
  • Don’t take no for an answer.
  • Have trouble resisting frustration.
  • Think they’re more entitled and have more rights than others.
  • Take it for granted that they have greater advantages and are more competent than everyone else.
  • Show a preponderance for the self over the collective.
  • Find it difficult to follow rules.

2. Rules are unfair (cognitive inflexibility)

Having trouble following the rules is linked to the way in which the individual processes reality. Some people demonstrate an inflexible and reactionary mental approach. This causes them to feel uncomfortable when it comes to any directive or mandate, or even a simple suggestion. They reject them as unfair guidelines that are meaningless or even harmful.

Often, these individuals claim to be free to act as they wish. They experience difficulties in integrating and establishing a clear separation between what they believe is best and what’s imposed on them from the outside. They don’t understand that, as social beings, we need certain guidelines to live together in harmony and with respect.

Those with antisocial personality disorder have the most trouble conforming to norms.

3. Lack of discipline in childhood

Many individuals who have trouble following rules have had upbringings in which there were no rules or discipline. This means that, when they reach adolescence and adulthood, they process all their social settings as a threat. They also manifest serious adaptation problems. This can result in deficiencies in their psychosocial lives.

According to the journal, Pediatrics & Child Health, effective discipline in childhood provides a foundation from which to develop good self-discipline and social adjustment. Those who grow up without boundaries turn into frustrated individuals who don’t know what’s expected of them, even less how to integrate.

4. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Oppositional defiant disorder in adults is characterized by constant defiance of authority. They’re individuals who are incapable of adapting to any scenario with rules. This means they’re unable to hold down jobs and tend to become social outcasts.

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research highlights that this condition begins to manifest itself around the age of four to six. It usually presents with the following characteristics:

  • Impulsiveness.
  • Challenging attitudes to authority.
  • Poor emotional regulation.
  • Low personal responsibility.
  • Little resistance to frustration.
  • Inability to follow rules.
  • Irritability and mood swings.
  • Risk behaviors and addiction.
  • Defining themselves as rebellious; as free spirits.
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

5. Rebellion and creativity

The highly creative personality with rebellious traits often exhibits clear difficulties in assuming norms. They process them as something that coerces them and vetoes their potential. These are individuals with serious problems adapting to highly structured and routine jobs. They get bored and desperate, start to protest, and often become reactionary.

In these cases, they don’t have pathological traits. Instead, they possess personality styles oriented toward openness, freedom, and the desire to experiment and go beyond the established ideas for developing as human beings. They’re idealists, figures who frequently end up feeling frustrated. After all, successful functioning in society always implies abiding by certain rules.

6. Antisocial personality and problems following rules

When talking about antisocial personality disorder, we often think of those who’ve committed crimes and have spent time in jail. However, this condition falls within a spectrum. In fact, as a study by the University of Birmingham (UK) explains, only half of the sufferers have been convicted of crimes.

Antisocial personality disorder is a mental condition that consists of impulsive behaviors, high irritability, and extremely low empathy. But, the recurring trait in antisocial personality is the inability to assume rules. Unsurprisingly, sufferers have a hard time living in society.

Dialectical behavior therapy can be effective in helping individuals improve their behavior and understand the value of following rules.

How to handle problems following rules

Rules are important. Every society needs to regulate individual behavior so that each person understands their role and respects the rules of coexistence. Rules avoid chaos and prevent anarchy and even violent behavior. Of course, this doesn’t prevent the fact that many of us consider certain rules to be unfair.

However, thanks to cognitive flexibility, ethical values, civility, and empathy, we understand the importance of complying with legal and behavioral frameworks that govern almost every social scenario. But, what happens with those who show problems in following rules? As a rule, an individual who frequently defies the rules is extremely resistant to change. What’s more, they tend to think that there’s nothing wrong with their behavior.

Some recommendations if you have trouble following rules

If you have difficulty following certain guidelines, norms, and social rules, here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Enhance your skills of empathy.
  • Improve your social skills.
  • Develop emotional intelligence.
  • Learn group work dynamics.
  • Get help to promote your cognitive flexibility.
  • Try and understand the value of standards and their importance in society.
  • Try dialectical behavior therapy. It’s an effective approach to addressing dysfunctional behaviors.
  • Address the effects of breaking the rules. For example, punishment, loneliness, disagreements, conflict, and lack of adaptation.

Finally, rules are important in everyday life, because they allow a better coexistence, favor social cohesion, and mediate personal self-control. If we’re not trained in these skills from childhood, we reach adulthood finding it really difficult to adapt and enjoy fulfilled psychosocial lives.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.