Externalizing Blame Can Have Deadly Consequences

Two days ago, a disgruntled former employee of a television station came upon a field reporter and her cameraman and shot them both dead before eventually taking his own life. These kinds of things seem to be happening more and more often.  And when they do folks tend to blame all kinds of things from the ready availability of firearms to the prevalence of untreated mental illness. But the fact is that because of certain sociocultural factors that have been tearing away at character-fostering institutions for decades there are far too many character-impaired individuals among us who are all-too-ready to blame everyone else in the world for their own failures in life.

Time was when mental health professionals almost universally accepted and promoted the notion that folks who externalize blame were unconsciously using the “defense mechanism” called projection to alleviate anxiety, shame, and guilt by attributing to others attitudes, beliefs, actions, etc. that they found too unconscionable  to admit were actually present in themselves. But that notion implies a person has the level of conscience to actually experience unbearable levels of shame, guilt, etc.. And time and experience has taught me that the greater reason folks find fault everywhere else is that they simply don’t want to bear the burden of reckoning with and correcting their own shortcomings.

In my book Character Disturbance, I point out that one of the main “thinking errors” to which disturbed characters are prone is what I call “quick and easy thinking” (for more on this topic see the article:  Quick and Easy Thinking). Like all of us, they want the precious things in life, but unlike most of us, they’re not willing to put out the effort to truly earn them. In their attitudes of entitlement, they feel they are “owed” something, and when they’re denied, they feel cheated. And when things go wrong in life because of their disordered ways of doing things, they’re supposed to experience discomfort. That’s the way nature has fashioned things. But what folks do to end their misery makes all the difference in the world. Folks who’ve failed and want a sense of power, control, and success back in their life always have two options: blame everyone else for what’s gone wrong and vent rage on them or take stock of themselves and begin the arduous and often lengthy task of self-correction and improvement. Which do you think is easier?

In the case of the disgruntled former TV station employee, he’d been cautioned several times about his “difficult to get along with” manner, and his unmodulated displays of anger and aggression.  And he’d been cautioned about this not just at the station he’d been let go from two years ago and still carried a grudge against but also from another station prior to that. That time, he blamed his difficulties on discrimination and filed a lawsuit.  When it comes to disturbed characters, it’s always someone else’s fault.  It’s far easier to blame than it is to accept responsibility.  Changing one’s attitudes, one’s ways of thinking, and especially one’s ways of doing things is really difficult, especially as we get older. Pointing one’s finger takes almost no energy at all.

The old notion about why folks commit murder-suicide is that they’re so deep into anger-laden depression that they no longer value life.  But after scrutinizing many of these cases very closely, another pattern emerges: a disturbed character’s last-ditch attempt to cheaply and quickly restore a sense of power.  And so it was with the gunman two days ago, who apparently boasted of the power he’d finally wielded over his supposed victimizers and only took his life when his planned getaway ran into problems.  Disturbed characters never let “them” (i.e. anyone who might exert power over them) get the upper hand, and they will never willingly accept the consequences of their actions. As far as they’re concerned, they write the story and determine the end of the story, period. They’d rather die than admit their culpability or subordinate themselves. So, if they know they’re going down, many times they become determined not to go down alone (for more on the topic of murder-suicide, see the article:  A Different Perspective on Murder-Suicide).

The tragedy we witnessed two days ago is an old, old story becoming far too commonplace in our character-deficient age.  We live in a complicated, demanding world and there are too many among us who never developed the character resources to deal adaptively with life’s challenges – especially failure – and to profit from their experiences, including their disappointments. It’s far too easy to just point a finger.  And sadly, for too many, it’s easier still to place that same finger on a trigger and shoot.  We can pass all the laws we want to but it won’t stop the madness. We have to face the character issue head-on and insist that those whose character is so disturbed that they’re dangerous receive the interventions they truly need. And we have to address the sociocultural factors responsible for “enabling,” promoting, and even rewarding so much character disturbance.

Character Matters won’t be a live broadcast this Sunday.  Instead, you’ll hear a previously recorded program.  But I should be back live Sept 6 and will be happy to take your calls.

Dangerous Deceptions and Character Disorders

I’ve been posting on one of the principal distinguishing features of character disturbed and character disordered individuals: their penchant for serious, sometimes highly “artful” lying (see also:  The Art of the Lie and Why Some People Lie So Much). And while character-impaired individuals are notorious for having chronic problems with the truth, there are two types of deceptions in which they engage that present the greatest dangers to relationships. The first type of deception is the kind that prompted me to write my first book In Sheep’s Clothing. It has to do with what some theorists and authors have called the art of “impression management” (for an egregious illustration of this capacity, see the article: “I Am Not a Monster:” Impression Management Ariel Castro Style), and sometimes it can be carried to a highly pathological extreme.  There are, unfortunately, people who are simply not who they appear – proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing who, while they know their own  nature all-too-well, don’t want you to know who they really are so they can get what they want from you.  But as I’ve mentioned before and illustrate in my book Character Disturbance, character disturbance exists along a continuum (for more on this topic see the series of articles on the character disturbance continuum beginning with: Character Disturbance Exists Along a Continuum), so the degree to which someone knowingly and deliberately misreprents themself and with truly malevolent intent can vary considerably.  The second type of deception disturbed and disordered characters are known for is self-deception, which I’ll have more to say about in next week’s series concluding article.

I’ve told this story before, but I think it worth telling again:  I was asked to mentor a colleague who had recently carved some time out of his private practice to provide psychiatric services to a women’s prison.  It seems he’d been too often “conned” into prescribing several highly abusable drugs to inmates who in turn were selling them at a handsome profit and trading them for various favors.  And when I first gently approached the topic of why it probably wasn’t a good idea to simply take an inmate’s word for things when gathering the information necessary to make a diagnosis he asked a question that stands out in my mind even today:  “Why would they lie?” (Remember, this is a professional used to treating individuals who came to him in great distress and truly needed help).  Of course, it would have taken an eternity to list all of the umpteen thousand reasons folks who virtually lie for a living would have for casting false impressions, but suffice it to say that I had to really make the point that some folks simply don’t want you to know who they really are or what they’re really all about simply because they know that if they’re straight-up with you, you probably won’t give them whatever it is they want from you.

The most disastrous relationships I’ve witnessed over the years all began with a “con” of some sort. Sometimes the deception was both knowing and deliberate as in the case of one severely character disordered woman who completely but artfully misrepresented herself to a man of incredible financial means merely to gain access to part of a fortune and a lifestyle most of us could only dream about and the case of a notorious user, abuser, and “hustler,” who made it his life’s mission  to charm, seduce, exploit, and then callously discard women of great physical beauty. But other times the wool was not so calculatingly pulled over the eventual victim’s eyes. There are times in all of our lives when we simply don’t trust our better judgment – when we won’t let ourselves see what we’re afraid to see – or when we simply can’t accept what seems too unsettling or unimaginable to believe. And because the most skilled manipulators among us often know our vulnerabilities better than we do, if we’re “in denial” or put the mental and emotional blinders on for some reason or another, we unwittingly make a covert-aggressor’s quest to take advantage of us a whole lot easier.

We live in an age where character disturbance is certainly more prevalent and, arguably, more severe than it used to be. So it’s unfortunately quite dangerous to be too trusting a soul in our times. We simply can’t judge on appearance. And we have to be really sure about our own character health if we’re to fully trust our gut. We have to be particularly mindful, cautious, objective, and be sure to gather the facts. There are individuals out there who are not who or what they appear and if we take the way they present themselves to us at face value, we could easily be duped.  Fortunately, a person’s track record will often betray them. So, offer all those contemplating a relationship the same advice I gave the good doctor I referenced in the story above years ago: do your homework – look objectively at the history – don’t just take his or her word for things – be mindful of your own needs and vulnerabilities, and then maybe, just maybe you won’t get the wool pulled over your eyes.

Character Matters will again be a live program this Sunday so tune in at UCY.TV at 7pm EDT (4pm PDT) and join the conversation!

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Why Some People Lie So Much

Some would argue that lying is simply part of human nature – that we’re all less than truthful at one time or another. And sometimes our lies are relatively inconsequential, not really hurting anyone to any significant degree. But lying can be a real problem at times, bringing unnecessary pain and suffering into the lives of others and poisoning our relationships. And there are those truly disturbed characters among us who appear to lie repeatedly, even about little things, and often for no apparent rational reason. Such folks simply can’t seem to tell the truth – even to themselves, let alone others, and more importantly, even when the truth would appear to do just fine. Sometimes we’ve called thes kinds of foks “pathological” liars because their behavior seems to make no sense. But there’s actually method to the pathological liar’s apparent madness, and once you understand why some people simply prefer to lie – even when the truth would do just as well, you’ll have a better idea of what goes on in the mind of life’s most manipulative and seriously disturbed characters.

Myra never really understood James (as always, key facts and details in the vignette that follows have been altered to ensure anonymity).  Even during the time they were dating there would be times when things he said just didn’t add up.  She’e hear different versions of things from family members, and sometimes the facts as he told them just didn’t check out. But she’d never caught him being untruthful about anyting big, so she dismissed her concern. She also speculated that he might have “trust issues” and believed that as extent of her loyalty and trustworthiness became apparent to him, he’d drop his “defenses” and be more open and vulnerable. Moreover, many of the little things she had reason to believe he had misrepresented appeared to involve his social image, which led her to believe he must be suffering from some self-esteem issues. With enough support and validation from her, that should resolve, she thought. Only after years of marriage and when the proverbial “crap” began “hitting the fan” (e.g., what he’d really been doing with their money, how many affairs he’d really had, how few of the things he’d told her about his past, his family, or himself were really true, etc.) did she realize the extent to which she’d been duped. Still, she couldn’t understand why someone would lie so much, even about the most semmingly inconsequential things.

Over the years working with disturbed characters I came to realize that the folks we call “pathological liars” are not as irrational or as mindless in their behavior as they might first appear. And while it’s natural for a person to speculate about all the possible underlying reasons for such lying, I came to realize that when it comes to pathological lying, there’s really only one major reason for it. Lying is one of the most effective tactics a person can use to both resist aceding to moral principles and simultaneously manipulating and managing the impressions of others. In a way, it’s the ultimate manipulation tactic. And pathological liars have a singlular purpose in doing it: namely, to keep a position of advantage. That’s right. Disturbed and disordered characters treat life like a game or contest and never want to play on a level field. Whenever they engage, even in the simplest way, they want the advantage. If you’re in the dark about who they really are, what’s really going on with them, what they’re really up to, how they really feel about something, what they really want, etc., then you’re automatically in a one-down position, which is just the way they like it. Keeping you unawares and thereby gaining a leg up on you – that’s what it’s all about, pure and simple. Forget all the other reasons you’ve ever entertained about why they do these things. The reason some people lie, even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense, is to maintatin a position of advantage, so it’s easier for them to take advantage of you.

I’ve heard hundreds of stories (like the one above) over the years about relationship partners who’d led “double lives” and were exposed for the disturbed characters and frauds they really were only after bank accounts were already drained, affairs that had been going on for years finally came to light, or the many stories that had been told were finally proven bogus. And in each case, the victims of such duplicitous behavior found wondered how they could have been “duped” for so long. They also entertained a myriad of potential reasons their partner behaved the way they did. But what they rarely considered is that there are some people whose character is impaired in such a way that an equal partnership with them is simply not possible. There simply cant be trust when right from the get-go it’s all about position and impression management, exploiting weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and looking for opportunities to take advantage (for more on trust and relationships, see the series on this topic, beginning with Trust: The Foundation of Any Relationship). And while many a victim’s guts may have been churning at the “red flags” they sensed about these things, most tended to discount their gut feelings because it seemed so unfathomable to them that there could be people so hell bent on maintaining a position of advantage that they would never reveal their true nature or real agendas. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of being so egregiously conned, many victims also struggled with shame, guilt, and a tendency to constantly question their ability to ever again be able to make sound judgments. Surviving a relationship with a pathological liar can leave almost anyone feeling quite unsure of themselves and confused. That’s why I wrote my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing. Once you understand the true nature of character disturbance, cast off old notions about why people do the things they do, and pay greater heed to that churning in your gut and the warning signs about someone’s character, you’re less at risk of being deceied by an artful but pathological liar.

So the next time you have encounter with someone whose outlandish claims don’t seem all that believable and whose stories just don’t add up but who also appears to have no reason to deceive, pay attention to the uneasiness in your gut. Consider the possibility that you’re dealing with someone who lacks both the desire and the capacity to relate to you on fair and equal terms and may only want to take advantage. And don’t waste time and energy asking yourself why. Just heed your instincts, walk away, and watch your back. Odds are, you’ll be really glad you did.

This Sunday’s Character Matters program at 7pm EDT (4pm PDT) will again be live, so I can take your calls.

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Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

The Art of The Lie

The fictional TV character Gregory House is famous for unabashedly asserting that “everybody lies.”  He’s also notorious for saying or doing whatever he thinks he has to do to achieve his ends.  He’s a cantankerous yet somehow lovable character who often doesn’t have the best intentions but sometimes does a world of good for folks in desperate situations.  He’s also the consumate manipulator, and the writers behind the character knew well that a master manipulator like House would have to be a truly artful liar, well-versed in the many subtle ways to deceive.

House was right about one thing: we all lie from time to time.  Sometimes the lies we tell are pretty innocuous.  It’s not necessary (and many would say it’s unwise) to be perfectly truthful about  how hideous we think someone looks in a particular outfit, or how “lame” we think the joke a friend of ours just told really is.  Sometimes, it’s a mark of civility to be less than fully candid. But as we all know, being untruthful can be a real problem, too, especially when we do so with malicious intent, when the truth would do just as well, or when we do it so habitually and convincingly that we begin to believe our own falsehoods (for more on this see the articles: Seeing the World as They Want to See It:  The Self-Deceptive Thinkin of Disturbed Characters and Manipulators:  Do They Really Believe What They’re Saying?).  And we also know that ardent, troublesome liars often try to justify themselves by pointing out the truism that we all have flaws.

There’s been a lot of research on lying in recent years, and when you closely scrutinize the 12 or so reasons science now tells us people generally have for lying it boils down to 2 basic motives:  to secure something we find desirable but don’t think we can get honestly, or to prevent something we find undesirable from occuring. Lying, in a scientific sense, is an instrumental behavior, a purposeful, goal-directed act of will.

Lying and manipulation are, and always have always been, close partners.  Covertly aggressive individuals know that if they’re to succeed with their hidden, nefarious agendas, they have to  be able not only to deceive but also to do so without being readily detected as being conniving.  And, as I first pointed out in In Sheep’s Clothing, this strategy is at the very heart of manipulation.

Manipulative people are among the most skilled liars.  As masters of deception, they know the many and subtle ways to lie.  Perhaps the biggest single reason their tactics of manipulation and control work is because their surface-level behaviors can easily have you believing one thing while underneath the surface something else is really going on. That’s why in my first book I stressed the importance of getting intimately acquainted with the most common tactics covert aggressors use and why I stressed even more in Character Disturbance how important it is to recognize above and beyond all else that when someone is using any of these tactics, they’re primarily fighting for a position of advantage, looking for ways to get something from you without your fully realizing it or to take advantage of you in some way without being uncovered as someone out to abuse or exploit you.

In the current series of articles, we’ll be taking a deeper look into the “art” of deception. I’ll be presenting vignettes that illustrate how craftily covert aggressors use various tactics to deceive and thereby manipulate and control.  The examples along with my commentary will be designed to help you attune yourself to clues that someone’s trying to put one over on you before they succeed in doing you in.  I’ll also be presenting some examples that illustrate what can happen when a person’s incapacity/unwillingness to be truthful reaches a level that they begin to believe their own lies.  I hope the commentators will also share some examples of how dishonesty on the part of a relationship partner dealt a death blow to that relationship by eroding all sense of trust (for more on trust and relationships see the series on trust, beginning with Trust:  The Foundation of Any Relationship).

Sunday’s Character Matters program at 7 pm EDT will be a live broadcast, so I can take your calls.  The topic will be on narcissism and especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder and some prime examples of this character disturbance in our political arena.

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Trust and Relationships – Wrap Up

Solid relationships depend on trust.  The biggest commitments in life require that we give a part of ourselves away, which is impossible to do safely in the absence of trust (for more on this topic see the prior articles:  Trust: The Foundation of Any Relationship, Trust and Relationships – Pt. 2, and Trust and Commitment Go Hand in Hand.  Still, none of us is superhuman, and we’ve all done something at one time or another to call our trustworthiness into question.  The difference between normal, conscientious individuals (i.e. “functional neurotics”) and character-impaired or disordered types, however, is that disturbed characters:  a) have a relative lack of compunction about betraying someone’s trust in the first place and b) feel a lack of obligation to repair the damage caused by their trust betrayals.

In my work with troubled couples over the years, I’ve witnessed too many instances in which a trust violator might actually have some degree of practical regret for their misdeed but little remorse or contrition for the pain caused by the trust breach itself.  I’ve written before on what real contrition looks like (for more on this and related topics, see the articles: What Real Contrition Looks Like, Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition, and Contrition Revisited).  Folks with any integrity of character are crushed in spirit under the weight of the pain the’ve caused others – especially the ones they purportedly love.  And such folks also appreciate the special kind of pain (and loss) that trust breaches cause.  So, they’re willing do whatever it takes to repair damage.  They know and appreciate that trust has to be rebuilt slowly and deliberately.  It takes perseverance and commitment and full acceptance of the fact that despite one’s best efforts, earning back someone’s trust takes time.  Persons of character accept the obligation to do their repair work freely and willingly, without acrimony.   They take responsibility not just in words but in action, demonstrating with every effort their willingness to take the lead in healing the wounds.

As asserted in the first article of the series, trust is the very foundation of a healthy relationship.  Without it, it’s impossible for a relationship to blossom into what the kind of almost mystical experience a truly intimate relationship can be.  And, like all of the most valuable commodities in life, it has to be earned.

Character Matters will again be a live broadcast Sunday, so I can take your calls.  And I’ll be talking a lot about our character-impaired age and why it’s so hard to place trust in our leaders, our business enterprises, our government, our friends, our spouses, etc..

Also, my sincerest thanks to the unprecedented number of you who have taken the time and made the effort to contact me directly over the  past few weeks to verbalize you support for my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome and for the articles on this blog.  It’s been a truly phenomenal week, and the validation truly means a lot.

 

 

 

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Trust and Commitment Go Hand in Hand

Trust is the foundation of a healthy intimate relationship (for more on this topic see also the articles: Trust: The Foundation of any Relationship and Trust and Relationships – Pt. 2). Commitment, however, especially our capacity to remain faithful to critical values and principles (which is what largely defines our character), is the foundation of trust.  When it comes to a developing and maintaining a sound relationship, trust and commitment go hand in hand.

So what does it mean to be committed? The word commitment dates from medieval times and originally referred to the voluntary entrusting of oneself or one’s property to the custody of the state ( the process of civil commitment still embraces this original meaning). When one commits, one freely and unrservedly surrenders some personal freedom, and binds oneself to another entity or self-imposed obligation.  So to commit is to truly give oneself away. One of my favorite definitions of commitment is attributed to Ashbash:

Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It’s not just in the words that speak boldly of your intentions but in the actions that speak louder than the words. It’s making the time when there appears no time, and coming through time after time, year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of:  the power to change the face of things;  the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.

One of the things I especially like about the above definition is the notion that commitment necessarily transforms an abstract conceptual promise into a tangible everyday reality.  Commitment is much less a matter of making a verbal pledge and much more about daily demonstrating behaviors that evidence the solidity and intractibility of that pledge.

Unfortunately, I know of too many instances where a lack of commitment doomed a relationship, especially a marriage, and often from the very beginning.  Sometimes, neither party to the relationship was emotionally or characterologically “ready” to fully and freely commit.  Other times. one person truly did give him/herself away but the other person didn’t and that fact would not come to light until a lot of damage had been inflicted.  Still other times, one of the parties was in denial about or simply chose to disregard the signs of the shakiness of their partner’s commitment.  I give examples of all these scenarios in my 3 books, In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome.

It’s particularly damaging and traumatizing when one person comes to a relationship with full commitment only to have that commitment dishonored and/or exploited by the noncomital partner.  Here’s an example:

Mary knew Mike would stick through thick and thin.  He would never betray her or undermine her.  He was not like so many of the other guys she’d dated.  She knew how seriously he took his vows and how sincere his commitment was to his faith.  And it’s not so much that she didn’t care about him.  She did care.  And she’d cared about him from the beginning, just not in the way she knew she needed to.  She knew in her heart that she probably shouldn’t have married him because she knew he couldn’t fulfill her emotional needs.  But he was solid, stable, and caring – a good man.  And good men are hard to find after all.  Besides, she wasn’t getting any younger, so how could she not say “yes,” even though a part of her heart was saying “no?” When she made that promise on the altar, a part of her knew she didn’t fully mean it, and eventually, the inveitable (to Mike, it was the “unimaginable”) happened.  The man she once yearned for years ago and almost snagged until someone else snatched him away was suddenly “available,” having recently divorced. They connected at a social gathering and Mary simply couldn’t ignore the chemistry.  And she knew she just had to be true to her feelings.  She hated to leave Mike and certainly didn’t want to hurt him but felt she would only be betraying herself in way if she didn’t claim this once in a lifetime opportunity to be with the true love of her life.  So she did. And she just knew it would make her happy and finally put an end to that deep yearning that had long been in her heart.  So when it didn’t, and the “love of her life” broke her heart, she was not only stunned but also thrown into an emotional crisis.  What had she done? How could she have thrown away what she did?  And how could such a horrible thing happen happen to her when she was only following her heart?

Commitment has value in and of itself.  As the quote above asserts, it’s the very stuff of character.  And it’s just as devastating to one’s character development and overall well-being to be incapable of commitment as it is to be truly committed and have one’s commitment dishonored, exploited, or trampled upon by someone who proves to be of disturbed or disordered character.

There will be more coming on trust, relationships, and commitment in the wrap-up article of this series next week.

Special Note:

Changes are ongoing with both the look and the internal structure of the blog.  And many readers and commentators have contacted me about the subscription invitations they’ve recently received in their emails, so here’s the skinny on that:  When the site’s platform was upgraded, many of the services it employs such as SPAM detection and prevention and subscription managment also had to be upgraded.  The new subscription management program required all existing subscribers to reconfirm their desire to receive email notices of posts. So if you want to be apprised of new posts when they go live, you have to confirm your desire to receive email alerts (these alerts also include alerts about other commentators commenting on your comments).  If you long ago chose to get off the notification list, rest assured that while you might have gotten a one-time invitation to subscribe, you are not on the active notice list and should not get future notices.  But to ensure this, simply decline the invitation to subscribe if you don’t want to be alerted.  Also be aware that with each email alert there is a provision to “unsubscribe” to notices at any time.  This feature was not working for a brief time when the site was transitioning from the outdated subscription service to the current, updated one, but it is working now.

Look for both advance registration information on this fall’s webinar as well as my itinerary for professional workshops for the remainder of the year and early next year to be posted soon.

Character Matters will again be a live program this Sunday at 7 pm EDT, so I can take your calls.

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Trust and Relationships – Pt. 2

Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. But it’s absolutely crucial to a marriage. Without trust, it’s not possible to safely give yourself away. And when the parties to a union can’t give themselves away, there’s really no marriage. Marriage is about the melding of hearts and minds. But  when someone entrusts their heart to another, only to have it crushed, the damage done is not only substantial but also can take years to repair, even under the best of circumstances.

I’m sorry to say that over my many years counselling troubled couples I’ve witnessed very few cases where the disturbed character in a relationship was truly willing to “own” all the damage they’d caused by their breaches of trust and then commit themselves to repair the damage. What follows is an example of one of the more unfortunate cases (as always, any potentially identifying details or circumstances in the vignette have been altered to preserve anonymity and confidentiality):

Looking back on things, “Jane” realized the warning signs were there all along. She should have trusted her gut but took the risk of trusting “Ted.” There was that time, for example, early in their engagement when Ted had a rendezvous with his former girlfriend and didn’t tell Jane about it until she confronted him after learning about it from a friend.  And she chose to believe him when he insisted “nothing happened,” that he was only doing the right thing by affording this woman the “closure” she desperately needed to “move on” with her life, and that he kept quiet about the encounter purely out of concern it would only unnecessarily worry her to know about it.  She chose to believe him despite the fact that by all appearances, this woman didn’t appear to be “moving on” all that much, frequently contacting Ted at odd times, prompting Jane to finally put her foot down.  It would be a few years into their marriage before Jane learned that something indeed “did happen” between Ted and his ex, and as much as it hurt for her to learn the truth, she chose to accept Ted’s explanation that “it was a stupid mistake” that occured only happened once (it didn’t) and only because he felt sorry for an emotionally vulnerable person with whom he was once close. And he insisted it would be wrong to dwell on something that happened in the past and over and done with anyway, so it was time to “forgive and forget.” But it was only a year or so later that Jane, while taking Ted the cell phone he’d forgotten on the kitchen counter, found a truly unnerving text message from one of his female co-workers. Her heart sunk. And she confronted him as soon as she got to the office. But somehow he made her feel guilty for adopting an “accusatory tone.” Again, he insisted, “nothing happened” and there was nothing to really worry about. He admitted that he’d “probably let a harmless flirtation get a little out of control” but promply promised it “would never happen again.” He even offered to leave his job (which would certainly hurt them financially) “if it would make [her] feel better.” But it’s what happened next that should really have clued her in to the kind of person Ted really was. After he’d made his so-called apology, Ted launched into a diatribe about how “paranoid” Jane was “because of that one little mistake” he made years ago with his ex girlfriend and how sad it was to think she might be checking his phone all the time now, when all she really need to do was “just get over it.” At the time, however, she wasn’t seeing things clearly. In fact, she remembers only feeling guilty herself for finding it so hard to trust. But looking back, Jane realized how many red flags had been raised not only about the kind of person Ted really was but also about the kinds of heartless actions he was capable of because of his apparent lack of honesty and empathy.

So here they were, in a therapist’s office (at Jane’s insistance, of course), trying to salvage some semblance of a relationship after the sudden revelation that Ted and yet another co-worker had been having an affair for several months. Just going to therapy with Ted was hard enough, but when, on only the second visit Ted dared to suggest that she had “some part in this too” because her “paranoia” and “emotional distance” probably “drove him” into someone else’s arms, and then on top of that the therapist appeared to agree that “there’s always two sides to any infidelity story,” Jane had her epiphany. How could she have been so blind, she wondered?  Who was this person she had married, anyway? Could he really be such a selfish, heartless fraud? And if he was, as she had now come to believe, why couldn’t the therapist see it? Moreover, how could any reasonable person think a marriage to someone so deceitful and untrustworthy could ever work?

Now, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from this story and the hundreds I’ve seen very much like it. When people of decent character “make a mistake,” they not only take responsibility for it but they’re also willing to do what it takes to repair any damage they may have done.  And even when folks with significant character impairments deliberatly do bad things, if they have any shred of decency in them (i.e. any modicum of empathy and conscience) they certainly don’t add insult to injury by blaming the vicim of their trust violations and chiding them to “get over it” (for more on this topic, see the relevant articles on remorse and contrition, especially, Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition). A decent person who violates trust, works both diligently and unbegrudgingly to earn some trust back. Disturbed and disordered characters feel no obligation to do so, content to put the burden on others to “forgive and forget.” That’s the lesson Jane unfortunately didn’t learn until it was too late to save a heartbreak. If she’d only known the signs that would have revealed the kind of character Ted really was, she might not have married him in the first place. But she didn’t know what to look for and she trusted Ted instead of her gut. Worse, she entrusted her heart to him. Ted knew very well the wound he’d inflicted on Jane’s heart. And his actions testify to the fact that he was never really sorry (i.e. never had genuine remorse) for anything he’d done. As I assert in my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance and The Judas Syndrome, the truly contrite person hurts precisely because they’ve hurt the other person. Jane didn’t see it early on but she saw it clearly now: Ted was all about Ted – a narcissist lacking in conscience, empathy, shame, guilt, or remorse, and he always had been. He could never give himself over to her or to anything other than his own selfish desires, which made him an untrustworthy partner from the very beginning. And because of all the damage he’d inflicted on her heart by his betrayal of the trust she’d placed in him, it would be a very long time before Jane could allow herself to even think about trusting anyone again.

There will be at least one more post in this series, as trust is one of the more important topics.

Changes will continue to the blog over the coming weeks and information about the upcoming webinar and advance registration details will be posted in just a couple of weeks.  Details are being worked out for some regional seminars for professionals and some of those workshops may also be open to the general public.

There will be a lot to talk about on Character Matters this Sunday evening (7 pm EDT, 4 pm PDT), which will again be a live program, so tune in, and if you have a mind to, call in and join the discussion.

 

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Trust: The Foundation of Any Relationship

As a veteran therapist, I came to appreciate long ago how crucial trust is to establishing a healthy and positively impacting level of rapport in therapy.  The admonition to “never share your innermost secrets with anyone who can’t be trusted with them” has proven its wisdom time and time again.  But trust is not just a prerequisite for a sound therapeutic relationship. It’s an essential ingredient – perhaps the single most important ingredient – in any relationship, especially our more intimate relationships.

By far, the most common reason I’ve seen relationships fall apart is because trust has been violated in one way or another and to a significant degree. Trust violations are among the more reliable indicators of character dysfunction in your relationship partner. And the first time it happens you might be taken by surprise. But when it happens over and over again, you know you’re in for trouble. Oddly, sometimes you can become a bit desensitized to chronic trust betrayals, not affording them the importance they have. You might even dismiss minor trust breaches as simply inevitable or normal for any relationship. And you might even fault yourself for being overly sensitive or expecting too much. But there’s no bigger red flag for character disturbance and for the eventual fate of your relationship than a partner’s untrustworthiness.

Of course, honesty is a prerequisite for trust. And as I point out in Character Disturbance, impaired characters have a big problem with the truth. They not only tend to be dishonest with others but also many times dishonest with themselves. Sometimes, they even get to believing the falsehoods they propogate day after day. But other times, as in the case of the more manipulative, covert-aggressive types I describe in In Sheep’s Clothing, they just want to pull the wool over your eyes.  If you knew who they truly are and the real capacity they have for healthy loving, they might not be able to get what they want from you. So, they turn on the charm, say all the right things, do things that ostensibly bespeak positive regard for you to win you over, and you only learn how innately selfish and untrustworthy they really are (i.e. what they’re really like in character) after they’ve finished using you.

In the coming weeks I’ll be presenting some illustrative vignettes that demonstrate the crucial nature of trust and how to best protect yourself from the kinds of damage that accompanies various trust betrayals, whether it be the betrayal associated with marital infidelity or any other matter of trust ciritical to the survival of an intimate relationship. Now, we all do things both knowingly and inadvertantly that can damage trust. But individuals with a sufficient modicum of character integrity are willing to “own” their trust-damaging behaviors and work sincerely and ungrudgingly to repair the damage they’ve done to earn back some trust. So in some of the vignettes, I’ll try to illustrate how you can tell when someone has a sufficent level of character to trust them with your heart, even if they’ve been less than noble at times, and when, for the protection of your very soul, you simply have to sever ties to keep a person who is really one of those “people of the lie” from inflicting a fatal emotional wound.

I hope the series on trust and character will spur a robust discussion. And in addition to folks sharing their experiences in the comments, I’m open to those who have a firsthand experience they think is particularly illustrative of the damage that can accompany trust betrayals and which they want not only to share but also to get both my own and the commentators’ input on to submit their stories via the back channel, using the “Contact Dr. Simon” feature.

Some big news on several fronts will be coming in the next couple of weeks as will be some big changes in the appearance and functionality of the blog (which should vastly improve the blog’s performance on tablets, phones, and other mobile devices), so stay tuned!  And I’ll be doing a lot of talking about trust and relationships and the influence of our culture of agenda-driven misrepresentation and “spin” has had on the problem of honesty and trustworthiness on Character Matters over the next few weeks.

 

 

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

America’s True Greatness

This weekend we Americans celebrate the freedom to govern our own affairs.  Our nation was founded on a simple premise: Let people alone to pursue their dreams and they’ll inevitably not only thrive themselves but but also create opportunities and foster prosperity for the larger community. But the framers of America’s constitution also knew that the whole idea of a free society with limited government could only work if citizens had a strong and healthy internal moral compass.  How do we know this?  We have abundant written record.  For one, we have the famously preserved letter of October 11 1798 from John Adams to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts which in part reads: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Adams knew that neither laws nor governmental structure had the power to do what only a sound conscience is capable of doing. And his assertion is as true today as it was back then.  

Regular blog readers will recall that I’ve written before on the inextricable relationship between freedom and character (see, for example, Freedom and Character are Inseparable, Freedom’s Survival Depends on Character, and The Duty to Protect Freedom). But each year when important holidays approach, I post on the topic again.  It’s a matter that simply can’t be emphasized enough.  

Freedom is under unprecedented assault from two major sources: one external, the other internal.  The external threat comes from a radical ideology that seeks to compel the entire world to submit to an extreme interpretation of religious doctrine and stifle any dissent through heartless torture, terror, and killing (for more on this topic see: Radical Ideologies: Deadly Ways of Thinking). It also seeks to lure those among us who feel socially disenfranchised by offering them a perverted opportunity to affiliate with a new would-be dominating class. But perhaps the internal threat to our freedoms is more insidious: the character crisis that has plagued much of the industrialized world for the past several decades. Our marriages, our families, our businesses, our government, and our community relations – all of these things depend on us honoring the ideals and principles that make us decent individuals and have, at various times in our history, also made us both strong and great as a country. But because so many of us haven’t sufficiently honored and lived up to these ideals in recent years, our freedoms have been steadily eroded – increasingly impinged upon by a literal mountain of laws, rules and regulations that never really impact the scoundrels among us but place increasing burdens upon the folks who have always played by the rules and honored their obligations.  In the process, the burden on the socially irresponsible among us has become virtually nil while the burdens imposed on the socially conscientious among us have increased dramatically.  Such a trend cannot continue indefinitely.

My humble effort to help reverse the troubling trend mentioned above has largely involved my written works In Sheep’s Clothing,Character Disturbance, The Judas Syndrome, my blog articles, and, of course, the musical composition of which I am most proud: Anthem for the Millennium, or as it’s more popularly known, “America, My Home!”  Music has a way of touching the  heart in a way no other medium can.  And as we know, big social changes generally come about when individual hearts change one at a time.

So, as we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy this 4th of July weekend, I invite the readers once again to enjoy the song my wife and I were inspired to compose almost 16 years ago as we came to our own realizations about the vital relationship between freedom and character, and which gained popularity after a regional ABC TV affiliate paired it with a video montage of events surrounding the attacks of 9-11.  We hope that in hearing it you’ll be inspired to “pass the torch of freedom” to willing others and to future generations by doing your part to “make character cool again.”  Share the song with your friends, and, if you have a mind to join the ever-growing chorus of those performing it at patriotic events across the country, or know someone who might like to do so, please contact me using the blog’s contact feature and I’ll see to it you get sheet music, performance tracks, various arrangements, etc. I hope the song touches you in the manner intended. And my sincerest thanks to all the singers who at various patriotic venues this Independence Day will be carrying the its message:  “America’s true greatness lies not so much in her military might or economic power but in her people of good character who honor her best ideals and upon whom the very survival of freedom depends.”

I’ll be having more to say about this topic on the special Independence Day weekend presentation of Character Matters at 7 pm EDT on UCY.TV.  Now, enjoy (the most recently uploaded and highest quality YouTube version of) “America, My Home!

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

The Character of Bigotry

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston a much-needed national discussion has ensued about the scourge of racism, the plague of bigotry, and the “symbols” that can sometimes promote both. What’s been absent from the discussion, however, is a meaningful probe into the character of a bigot and the kinds of things that promote such troubling character development in any human being. For that reason, even though I’ve already shared a few thoughts on Charleston in last week’s post (see: The CD Continuum Wrap-Up: The Preeminent Role of Character), I’m departing a bit from my usual mode of topic posting to say some necessary things about bigotry and character.

I was more than a bit disappointed as I perused several sources for the current accepted definition of bigotry. Dictionary.com defines a bigot as: “a person who is utterly intolerant of any different creed, belief, or opinion” but offers nothing about what underlies such intolerance. The British Dictionary says a bigot is: a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race. Again, the focus is on intolerance, not what predisposes it. Merriam-Webster takes a slightly more comprehensive casting a bigot as: a person who both strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc., and who hates or refuses to accept members of a group (such as a particular racial, religious, or ethnic group). Clearly, none of these definitions speaks to what it is about a person that can allow him or her to hold such poorly reasoned, yet intolerant and hate-evoking attitudes. But as any reader of this blog or my books might already have surmised, I believe the answer has to lie in character – specifically, the inherently malignantly narcissistic character of the bigot.

I’ve written before about narcissism that reaches a hyper-pathological extreme (see, for example: Malignant Narcissism and Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy). It’s one thing to think really highly – perhaps even too highly – of yourself and to be self-centered. But it’s quite another to view others with disdain or even contempt because, after all, they’re just not you. A pathological degree of grandiosity (i.e. malignant narcissism) is always at the root of bigotry. Whereas the “garden variety” narcissist feels and acts superior, the malignant narcissist knows he or she is superior. Just ask him or her! And if you affirm his or her opinions, then you have some value. If you don’t, you’re pond scum. It’s that simple for the more malignant narcissist. Of course, the most extreme example would be a psychopath (some also use the label sociopath and I, as my readers know, prefer the label: predatory-aggresssive), who regards all those poor souls who care, fear, or have compunctions as inherently weak, inferior, and expendable creatures, and, therefore, their rightful prey. But there’s a lot of folks on the continuum of malignant narcissism who fall short of being out-and-out psychopaths. So while psychopathy is still relatively rare, bigotry, unfortunately, is not so uncommon. And in the age and culture of narcissism, it’s simply too easy for some among us to look down on those they view as inferior just because they don’t look like, act like or hold the same views as they do.

As readers of my book The Judas Syndrome already know, I believe Jesus of Nazareth knew exactly what he was talking about when he advised those who would follow his way of living about judging others. Some folks cite the part of one passage that reads: “Judge not,” as evidence that he advocated we simply not judge anyone about anything at any time. But a closer reading of all the relevant passages from the various sources renders a much different interpretation: We’re to be really cautious about exercising judgment. For the standards by which we judge others we will be the standards by which others judge us, and to the degree we hold others to account, they will hold us also to account. Moreover, if we really want someone to see reason (i.e. when we’re trying to “remove the speck from their eye”), we can’t be oblivious to the biases, prejudices, and other distortions in our own perceptions (i.e. the “plank” in our own eye), which are often greater than the flawed views of the other person, that make it truly impossible for us to rightly judge the situation. We’re advised, therefore, that when we simply have make a judgment about someone (and there are plenty of situations where it’s imperative we exercise good judgement), to do so in genuinely righteousness manner, not looking at the relatively irrelevant externals (a person’s appearance, background, manner, etc.) or with partiality or prejudice, but with an unbiased eye about what might lie in the person’s heart. Again, he had it exactly right. So did Martin Luther King, Jr., who openly prayed that the day might come when all people would be judged “by the content of their character” and not by the color of their skin. Sadly, his dream has not yet been fully realized.

It is reported that Dylan Roof told police that for a brief moment he had second thoughts about the horror he planned to inflict on his unsuspecting victims because “they were so nice” to him. But his perverted beliefs about their value as human beings and his sense of superiority and entitlement trumped any limited capacity for empathy he might also have had. And if that statement doesn’t illustrate in dramatic fashion the supreme importance of character, I don’t know what possibly could. Roof’s comments and actions not only testify to how dangerous it can be for someone’s narcissism to reach such a malignant level but also underscore how imperative it is that we successfully confront what I have long asserted is the defining issue of our time: the character crisis and the sociocultural factors responsible for promoting it.

Radical, bigoted ideologies are appealing to a certain kind of character (for more on this see: Radical Ideologies:  Deadly Ways of Thinking). And such ideologies will be around as long as there are hearts and minds receptive to them. To put an end to bigotry we must first be about the business of changing hearts and minds, necessarily starting with our own. But to even begin to do that, we have to confront the proverbial elephant in the room: character.

In the coming weeks I’ll be making some announcements about the latest foreign edition of In Sheep’s Clothing, some new material to accompany Character Disturbance, and the advance registration details for this fall’s webinar. And I’ll have a lot more to say on today’s topic on Character Matters this Sunday evening at 7 PM EDT (6 PM CDT, 4 PM PT), which will be a live show, so I welcome your calls.