Category Archives: Personality and Character Disorders

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 – 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.

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.

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

The CD Continuum Wrap-Up: The Preeminent Role of Character

As I assert in my book Character Disturbance, and have been illustrating in my postings over the past few weeks (see also: Character Disturbance Exists Along A Continuum, The Continuum of Character Disturbance – Part 2, and The Character Disturbance Continuum – Part 3), character pathology exists along a continuum of both severity and specifity in comparison to its counterpart pathology: neurosis. And character disturbance of some type and degree is a much more commonplace these days than pathological neurosis ever was.  It is indeed the “phenomenon of our age,” which is why it’s so important to understand what character is all about and how a person’s character disturbances contribute to the kinds of problems they’ll likely cause themselves and others in life. 

For a long time, mental health professionals paid little attention to character and its role in people’s psychological dysfunction. Moreover, there were some in the professional community (especially those more firmly aligned with the medical and biological perspectives) who viewed it as both scientifically unsound and socially and ethically inappropriate to view a person’s problems as in any way a reflection on their character as opposed to purely the result of some  “biochemical imbalances.” Thankfully, in recent years this trend has been reversing.  Many now realize the importance of character and the preeminent role it so often plays in the kinds of other pathologies a person might exhibit.  Besides, we’ve proven pretty convincingly lately that pills alone can’t make people well, even in those cases where the biochemical underpinnings of a condition are significant.

There is an inextricable relationship between the symptoms of psychological ill health a person is likely to display and their basic character structure.  Narcissistic individuals who by stroke of good fortune have experienced a string of uncanny successes can become nearly delirious with self-confidence, displaying the kind of grandiosity that sometimes accompanies a manic episode. But when faced with failure that is both undeniable and impossible to attribute to external sources, these same individuals can also become quite despondent. Emotionally “dependent” personalitities can experience periods of heightened tension and depression upon losing sources of emotional suport.  Insecure and socially “avoidant” personalities can experience anxiety bordering on panic when forced into a position of self-assertion and leadership.  Sociopathic characters for whom the “jig is finally up” and who have had their illusion of omnipotence and control shattered can become truly deadly.  Who we are as a person is a big factor in determining how we might respond to a given environmental circumstance.  And while even the healthiest personalities can succumb to situational stressors, the strength and integrity of our character provide the best defense against a whole host of psychological problems (for more on this see the article:  (Character as a Psychological Immune System).

Correctly assessing someone’s character is not only crucial for professionals trying to make sound judgments about prognosis and the most appropriate intervention, but also important for individuals evaluating the prospects for a relationship. These days, you simply have to know where someone lies on the character disturbance spectrum to “get it right” with respect to understanding and dealing with them.  Last week, I gave an example of a man significantly character-impaired.  And all the signs were there early on: a lack of empathy, a disdain for accepting obligation, the incapacity for loyalty and fidelity, etc.  If only this man’s relationship partner had give proper weight to these features of his character (all of which were telltale signs of his malignant narcissism) and disregarded all of the commonly held but erroneous beliefs about what might be driving his troubling behavior (e.g., insecurity, trust issues, fear of commitment, past emotional wounding, etc.) – in short, if she had trusted her gut instead of the conventional wisdom, she would have saved herself a mountain of heartache.

Over my many years of practice, I learned one crucial lesson the hard way:  character matters.  Even in those cases where brain abnormalities are responsible for the problems occasioning professional intervention, the role of character can’t be discounted or ignored.  People with various mental illnesses or developmental disorders will vary widely both in the kinds of problems they present and their likely response to various types of intervention depending on their dominant character traits. And I’ve also learned that despite the common perception that character issues are both impossible to change and therefore pointless to address, focusing squarely on them is often the real key to making things better.

This week, our country witnessed another tragedy when an individual of severely disturbed character took the lives of several folks whose only “crimes” were the color of their skin and their faithful search for life’s untimate truths. And while the political pundits will again debate whether the tragedy was the result of the ready availability of guns, cultural factors that promote racism, the poor availability and pathetic state of mental health care, etc., in the end you can’t escape the role of character. Attitudes of superiority and entitlement in a person are always a problem and it’s frightening to see how seriously sordid actions arising out of them can become when such attitudes go unchecked.  And, besides, what kind of character thinks it wise to give such a disturbed individual a lethal weapon for a gift?  Before all the facts are in on this case, we’re sure to find abundant character pathology all around.

I pray not only that the families of the slain and the community in which they lived heal but also that we as a society finally resolve to face the problem that threatens us all on a daily basis in so many aspects of our lives: the character crisis and the sociocultural factors responsible for “enabling” and promoting it.

I’ll have much more to say about the events of the week on Character Matters, Sunday at 7 pm EDT (6 pm CDT and 4 pm PDT) on UCY.TV. The program will be a live broadcast this week, so I can take your calls.

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

The Character Disturbance Continuum – Part 3

I’ve been posting on the “phenomenon of our age,” (see also:  Character Disturbance Exists Along A Continuum and The Continuum of Character Disturbance – Part 2) and how character dysfunction ranges in severity from minor “disturbances” of character to a full-blown “disorder.”  Moreover, as I point out in my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome, most folks with character problems also fall somewhere along a continuum that has at its extremes what we have long called “neurosis” and pure character pathology.  And in my books and other writings I make the point that the differences between individuals lying at opposite ends of the spectrum could not possibly be greater on certain essential dimensions, which has great implications for a relationship and the kind of intervention likely to have an impact if you’re seeking professional help.

In last week’s post, I presented an illustrative vignette featuring a man called “Jack.”  Jack’s was an unusual case in that unlike most narcissists of our time, Jack was more the classic “neurotic” kind of narcissist as opposed to a purely character disordered one.  Jack’s “denial” tendencies truly reflected more of an unconscious defense mechanism as opposed to purely a conscious tactic of manipulation and impression management (for more on the two types of denial, see In Sheep’s Clothing, pp. 112-116, Character Disturbance, pp. 44-46, 182-183, and 204-206 and the articles: Denial – What It Is and Isn’t, Traditional Therapy Biases and Denial, and Denial – Manipulation Tactic 4).  And he had enough empathy, conscience, and capacity for shame, guilt, remorse, etc., to be somewhat horrified with himself when his denial mechanisms finally broke down.  Furthermore, the tears he shed, , were only a small part of why you knew Jack was not so character-impaired that it would be possible, (although likely difficult) for him to change. While tears can indeed be an indicator of the kind pain known to prompt truly unconscious denial, I’ve seen plenty of tears shed and for a variety of less than noble reasons. Sometimes when the tears roll, it’s primarily the result of folks feeling sorry for themselves, stewing about their behavior cost them as opposed to the harm it’s inflicted on others.  So tears alone are no reliable indicator someone is really remorseful (for an illustrative example see the vignette in Character Disturbance, pp. 81-82).  What really helps you judge the nature and level of Jack’s character disturbance was his willingness to not only make amends but also to do all the other things he had to do to help ensure that he didn’t allow himself to slip back into the bad habits that led him to so easily inflict the injuries he had inflicted in the past.  It was his commitment to changing, and for all the right reasons – not just “for show” –   that not only demonstrated Jack’s contrition was real (for more on contrition, remorse, etc. see the articles:  Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition, Contrition, Behavior, and Therapy, Contrition Revisited, and What Real Contrition Looks Like) but also that despite his flaws, he had a sufficient degree of character to profit from treatment (Jack utilized the worksheets I gave him, never missed a session, and demonstrated a clear change in his pattern of relating to others that held up over time).

“Mark,” was a much different character than Jack. He was a pretty narcissistic guy, too but not only was his narcissism of the more “malignant” or malevolent variety (for more on malignant narcissism see the articles: Malignant Narcissism and Malignant Narcissism: At The Core Of Psychopathy) but it was also more of a pure reflection of who he was at the core as a person as opposed to any “neurotic” compensation.  Mark had always thought a lot of himself.  In fact, he couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t hold a deep conviction that he was truly superior to most other people in a whole host of ways.  He just knew  he was smarter, more clever, and most especially less foolishly “hung-up” about the things most of the “peons” he’d met in his life let hold themselves back.  He was a winner, purely and simply, and those with compunctions – well, in the end they were just “losers.”  That’s how he saw it.  And he had nothing but disdain for losers.  The way he figured it, people get exactly what they deserve in life, and if they’re stupid enough to get taken advantage of it’s strictly their own fault. After all, it’s “survival of the fittest,” that’s the way the world works. And if you wanted proof of the legitimacy of what he thought about himself, you only had to look at the money, power and prestige he’d already managed to secure.  After all, as he frequently boasted: “if you can back it up, it ain’t braggin’.”

After living with Mark for 7 years, “Evelyn” had become more than a little weary.  She’d done her best to forgive him for his episodes of infidelity.  After all, as he insisted many times, it was “just sex” and he was a man with strong drives and needs. But lately he’d been showing so little interest in her and in their relationship that she was beginning to feel invisible, so she cajoled him into coming to at least one therapy session so they could work on “communication issues.”  Only once had she thought about leaving, but she’d already put her career on hold to provide Mark with the support he needed for his business ventures.  Plus, the lifestyle they enjoyed was more comfortable than she’d ever dreamed possible for such a young couple and she wasn’t keen on giving that up.  But she hated feeling as empty and unfulfilled in her relationship, and finding it difficult to believe that there wasn’t something much more between them in the early days, she was determined to get “the magic back” and hoped therapy could help.

“I guess you could say I’m here because I told her I’d come,” Mark announced as our meeting began.  “I don’t really see the need for it, but if it will make her happy, I guess I can deal with it, ” he proclaimed.  Evelyn stated that her main concern was that he didn’t seem to show much care for her anymore and this was making her feel emotionally abandoned and alone.  Mark’s retort was for a person who “had been given everything,” especially in the way of material comforts – and by the way, thanks only to him – Evelyn could certainly be seen as “one ungrateful bitch.”  How the comment stung Evelyn was obvious from her nonverbal response and the tears that instantly welled up in her eyes.  But then she began musing out loud (mentioning to me all the possibilities she’d considered). Maybe Mark had a “fear of intimacy.”  Maybe he’d been deeply hurt in the past and this was his way of dealing with it.  Maybe he had “issues with women” because of something a woman did to him.  He must be wounded, right?  Maybe he even had a sexual “addiction” (she’d read about this in a book). Why else would he act like that?

What would unfold before that fateful session was over was that even though the things Evelyn speculated about can indeed sometimes account for the kind of behavior Mark displayed, in his case, this was certainly not the case.  Mark didn’t really need anyone else, so he never felt the need to take anyone else or their feelings into consideration.  Mark had all he needed in himself.  His narcissism was the very definition of pathological self-love. And it was not a “neurotic” compensation for anything, it was just what it was.  Mark loved himself and no one else.  True, he had desires that from time to time required others to play a role in fulfilling – like for sex and for image-enhancement (and he’d already proven his ample ability to secure “arm candy” when necessity dictated) – but he didn’t really need anyone, nor did he particularly care about anyone – that is, anyone other than himself.  And he just didn’t understand why someone who had all he’d given Evelyn simply wouldn’t show their gratitude by just not placing demands on him and gratefully attending to his needs when necessary. Mark’s narcissism was truly of the malignant variety, and because malignant narcissism is at the heart of psychopathy (again, see: Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy), despite the absence of other typical features of psychopathy, he would prove to be one of the more psychopathic individuals I’ve come across.  He was heartless (i.e. devoid of empathy capacity) and as a result had no remorse.  And he had used Evelyn, even from the beginning, although it would take awhile before she realized just how badly.

Evelyn would learn all too quickly how expendable she was, and would also learn how utterly useless (some would even say inappropriate or perhaps even harmful) “therapy” is when someone is as lacking in empathy capacity and as pathologically self-centered as Mark is.  She would also learn the hard way just what her real value had been to him all along.  She would pay for being so “demanding” by being left pretty much high and dry (Mark had the moxie shield his ample assets very well) and it would take Mark no time at all to find her replacement.  And for a while she would unfortunately beat herself up over the fool she knew she’d been played for.  Mark always said that everyone gets just what they deserve, and just as she had done on so many other occasions, she believed him.

I’ll have more to say on this case in the wrap-up article next week.

Character Matters on Sunday at 7 pm EDT (6 pm Central and 4 pm Pacific) was scheduled to be a live program but due to some unforeseen circumstances, it will instead be a rebroadcast of an earlier program, so I won’t be able to take your calls.  We’ll be back live on the 21st.

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

The Continuum of Character Disturbance – Part 2

In my books Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, and The Judas Syndrome, I make the point that disturbances of character exist along a continuum (for more on the spectrum of character disturbance also see the article: Character Disturbance Exists Along A Continuum) with folks varying widely with respect to how seriously impaired (or possibly “disordered”) they are in character and the degree to which there is some degree of “neurosis” in their makeup as opposed to pure character pathology.  Fortunately, individuals relatively devoid of all neurosis and who are therefore only severely character disordered are rare.  However, given the sociocultural “zeitgeist” or atmosphere of our times, character disturbance of some significant degree is unfortunately quite widespread, negatively impacting relationships and affecting just about every aspect of our lives. And pathological levels of character disturbance are certainly more prevalent than truly pathological levels of “neurosis.” Gone are the days when folks struggled with so much unreasonable guilt or shame or experienced emotional turmoil over their basic instincts so severe yet so repressed that they made themselves sick  (with such bizarre maladies as psychosomatic “blindness” and “paralysis”) with worry. In times past, mental health professionals spent most of their time dealing with such cases and other milder expressions of “neurosis.” But in recent years professionals increasingly find themselves dealing with some degree of character disturbance.

It can be particularly challenging to discern just where someone lies on the character disturbance spectrum.  All too often in troubled relationships the extent of a person’s character disturbance only becomes evident long after much damage has already been done. But because over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals on the CD spectrum, I’ve learned some fairly reliable ways to better recognize the indicators and by sharing some stories derived from that experience, you might also find it a bit easier to understand what to watch out for.  What follows below is one of those stories.

“Jack” (As always, events, names, details, and any other potentially identifying information in the following vignette have been altered to preserve anonymity) was your archetypal narcissist.  And even though three different mental health professionals were hesitant to formally assign the “disorder” label to his pathology (Many folks, including professionals, view such a label as necessarily implying hopelessness as far as treatment is concerned and therefore resist “stigmatizing” folks who function relatively well at least in some spheres of their lives with such a personality disorder diagnosis), if Jack didn’t qualify for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) diagnosis, then no one did (Of course, as many of you know, the disorder is no longer recognized as a distinct and reliably identifiable personality disorder in the official diagnostic and classification manual of the American Psychiatric Association – and you can learn more about this in the articles Narcissism: Pathological Self-Love and Big Changes Coming for Psychiatric Diagnoses). In fact, Jack’s life was a perfect example of a “disordered” personality pattern, with his relationships at work, at home, and in the larger community all significantly negatively impacted by his extreme egocentrism. grandiosity, and sense of entitlement.

When I first met Jack, I could see how others might be initially impressed or charmed but I quickly found myself having a highly negative gut reaction.  “Just who does this guy think he is?,” I found myself musing.  “Does he not hear himself?,” I wondered.  He was a successful business man to be sure.  But savior of the entire universe, I think not.  Still, that’s the way he came across – as God’s perfect gift to humankind.  I was more than taken aback.  Now Jack had only come to see me because he had to do so.  He’d gotten himself in some trouble because of his presumptuous behavior with a female co-worker and as part of his plea deal on the sexual harassment charges filed against him, he’d been ordered to get counseling. Now as readers of my books know, narcissists, especially in our time, tend to lie far more on the purely character disturbed versus “neurotic” side of the CD-Neurosis spectrum. Most narcissists really do think they’re all that, aren’t compensating for insecurities when they demand adulation from others, and know exactly what they do and why.  As I’ve stated many times at workshops, for the CD narcissist, it’s not that they’re unaware, it’s that they simply don’t care (especially about what others think). So whenever I’m dealing with a narcissist, I’m always looking for the possibility they have at least some degree of neurosis because that speaks to a much better prognosis.  Fortunately, it turned out that there was indeed some neurosis in Jack and it manifested in the telltale ways it typically does, once his substantial “defensive armor” was pierced, which, I must say, took a bit of doing.

Jack would have to be made to retell his implausible version of the events leading his legal difficulties many times before anything resembling a plausible true account would emerge. And for Jack to finally render the truth, he’d have to stop minimizing, projecting blame, and denying the substance of his wrongdoing.  When, however, to my great surprise he did, something truly unexpected (but indicative of a better prognosis) happened:  he broke down.  In fact, he sobbed for what seemed like hours.  And after he more fully realized just what he had done and the damage it had caused his victim, he demonstrated something else most more character-impaired narcissists don’t:  a commitment to changing both the ways in which he did and looked at things and who he was as a person.  Jack would work actively on himself and his character for years beyond the requirements of his plea deal.  That’s the way it is when there’s enough conscience in someone and they’ve overcome the truly neurotic denial (for more on the nature of denial the chapter on manipulation tactics in In Sheep’s Clothing, the section on the nature of denial in Character Disturbance and the articles:   Denial – What It Is And Isn’tDenial – Manipulation Tactic 4, “Denial” Top 5 Misused Psychology Terms – Part 1, and Traditional Therapy Biases and Denial) they’ve been in for years. “Jack’s” story is instructive in many other ways, which is why I’ll have much more to say about him and the things that can help you determine where someone lies on the neurosis vs. CD continuum in next week’s article. Character Matters will be a live broadcast this Sunday at 7 pm EDT (6pm CDT and 4pm PDT), so I can take your calls.  Perhaps you’ll have a story to share about a narcissist or some questions to ask about how to better tell where one of these types might lie on the spectrum of character disturbance. Advance Registration information for the webinar scheduled for September will be posted on this site in the next few weeks.

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

Character Disturbance Exists Along a Continuum

In my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome, I make the point that character disturbance is always a matter of degree.  Just as we’ve come to learn that autistic conditions exist along a continuum (the official classification now carrying the label Autism Spectrum Disorder), character disturbances exist not only on a continuum of intensity and severity but also on a spectrum that reflects the relative presence of what has been long called “neurosis” as opposed to pure character pathology.  Very few individuals are virtually devoid of any neurosis or are severely character disordered.  Most folks lie somewhere along a continuum that reflects varying degrees of neurosis vs. character disturbance.  I’ve written about this topic before (see, for example: Character Spectrum Disorders).  But in lieu of the widespread confusion that still exists about the spectrum of character disturbances, I though it best to introduce a new series on the topic.

The nature and severity of a person’s character disturbance are big factors in determining how amenable they are to various professional interventions as well as what kinds of interventions are most likely to be effective.  And getting it right when it comes to assessing where someone is on the character disorder – neurosis spectrum can be really tricky at times.  I can’t count the number of occasions a person another professional had deemed “nearly impossible” to work with was referred to me because of my reputation for dealing with highly disturbed characters only to find the person to have considerable neurosis (giving me a lot, therefore, to work with).  Similarly, I’ve come across my fair share of individuals who’d made the rounds of helping professionals and managed to receive just about every diagnostic label in the book except the severe character disturbance that was truly responsible for their problems.

Knowing where someone truly lies on the character disturbance spectrum is not only important for professionals trying to properly assess and treat but also for individuals trying to make sound judgments about a potential relationship partner.  Without a good sense of what to look for and how to evaluate what you find, you run the risk of learning far too late and after much unnecessary heartache how character impaired your partner might be.  So, in the coming series, I’ll be presenting some vignettes designed to illustrate the behaviors, attitudes, and other warning signs that might indicate the person you’re thinking of getting involved with or have become involved with has serious character issues or is even, perhaps, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” And because so many of the commentators possess the wisdom of their own experiences, I hope many will be willing to share their insights, especially anything they did in fact notice on the front end of their relationships that might have served as “red flags” if they’d only given greater credence to their gut instincts and paid more serious heed to their reservations.

Next week’s article will feature an in-depth look at two of the biggest red flags for serious character pathology, and, therefore, big potential problems for a relationship.

I’ll be traveling over the next several days, so Character Matters this Sunday evening will again be a rebroadcast of an earlier program.  But we’ll be back live Sunday, June 7 and I can take your calls then.  Also, look for details to be posted in the next 3 weeks or so on the upcoming Webinar in September as well as information on registration and early registration.  We’re still working on the best platform and format that will provide the most interactive capability as well as affordability but hope to have all those issues resolved soon.