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.

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15 thoughts on “Character Disturbance Exists Along a Continuum

  1. My siblings are somewhere on the continuum. It is really hard for me to evaluate sister and brother as I don’t have the clinical detachment necessary to make any kind of airtight case about what they are.

    I do know my sister is incredibly neurotic…afraid of everything. Her biggest fears are social; humiliation, inadequacy, lack of status. The red flags here are obvious and the tendency towards narcissism based around being the golden child in a messed up family are pretty glaring. She is all surface. There is little inner life to speak of. She has NO interests in anything, except working out, extreme focus on health and fitness and a perfect home. She presents in a very effusive, warm way but when push comes to shove, she really isn’t there.

    “There is no there there.” That quote by Gertrude Stein about Oakland, referring to the city’s lack of a vital centre, is very much a red flag of narcissism. When you are with someone with narcissistic tendencies, you get the feeling they are, to some degree, hollow. The ‘personality’ is a construct, a facade. It’s very sad. As far as I know my sister has always been empty. When she was a toddler I can remember being curious about a void, a blankness about her (unless she was interacting socially) and wondering what caused it. I don’t know how a professional would treat a complete lack of interest in anything not directly related to the client, coupled with all of their various fears. But, if that could be addressed, it might help her. She manages to function at a very high level, work wise, remained married and is just shy of damaging too many people too much, so therapy is not even on the table.

    I have to limit my interactions with her because she’s callous with a creamy smile.

  2. Married and divorced four times, living in his mothers basement, alcoholic, texted me 6-8 times from work the morning after I met him, lied to his mother so he could come see me and asked me to cover for him, brought me flowers ( how sweet? ) from his mothers garden……..all in the first week. I saw most of these as red flags but he had a way of making every one of them sound………….ok! LOL!

  3. Flowers everyday, presents, finding my address in the phonebook before I’d given it to him, telling me he marry me on the first date…telling his family he’d found the woman he was going to marry three weeks before he even met me. Stalking me (unknown to me) for a month before meeting me. His ice cold stare with the first fight,which wasn’t really a fight…gosh how many should I list. Ostracisating me at a family get together. Touching me all the time!

    1. Oh and telling me I was his princess…treating me as such opening car doors, pulling out chairs at restaurants but if someone uses the “princess” line RUN AWAY FAST!

      1. where did you find this guy? “princess”….wow. i just caught this guy redhanded trying to drive me crazy…and he made a point of calling me princess…and his queen. the warrior princess.
        thank god..because i prayed to god for forgiveness because i could not forgive him…it was killing me. and then i found dr. simon’s work and i busted him.

      2. where did you find this guy? “princess”….wow. i just caught this guy redhanded trying to drive me crazy…and he made a point of calling me princess…and his queen. the warrior princess.
        thank god..because i prayed to god for forgiveness because i could not forgive him for what had he done to me psychologically..but i had no proof..it was killing me. and , then after that prayer i started finding answers. then finally i found dr. simon’s work and that’s when i busted him.

  4. The major CDs in most recent years have been in laws , particularly the women who married into my husband’s family but as time passes I realize his father is just as character disturbed only much less aggressive. There were plenty of red flags but because I wanted to be lined and loved I ignored them. Here were some (thankfully I’ve cut these creeps off now and my husband fully supports is).

    Father in law- during those years was never that interested in anyone who was different from him or had different lifestyles. Not even interested in his own son because he wasn’t exactly like him. Only gravitates to others he views as exact extensions of himself. Made several inappropriate and downright racists comments. Has very little sympathy or empathy for those he (or the people who purport to ‘love’ him) have done to deliberately harm others including me and his son. Only cares about his life and his desires even if it hurts others. Refuses to take responsibility for any wrongdoings although he might ‘appear’ to agree but continues with the same behaviour and then makes excuses. Generally poor judgement and has done reckless and irresponsible things ( ie. possibly sexually molested a step grandchild although obviously not enough evidence for court).

    Step mother in law- major red flag was that she had overly high expectations if everyone else how she should be treated but paid little regard to how she treated others and can be downright mean, nasty and conniving. Would leave the room on frequent occasions in a tantrum over what she perceives as ‘slights’ and not return even if it is her guests. Deliberately bad mouths almost everyone, conniving, behaves more like a 5 yr old than a 65+ year old, and has no remorse for the very deliberate actions she has taken to destroy the lives of others. Her motto is to never apologize, and even when others might apologize to her she twists it into something else because she automatically projects her own horrible attitude onto them.

    Wife of BIL #1- very clever at being charming and sweet, but right from the start something was very off. Everything seemed just about her. She spoke badly about people as though trying to pit people against each other for her own twisted pleasure and social status gain (as time went on this has been confirmed). She seems to form alliances more than mutual and respectful friendships. She knows just how to use information to manipulate people to turn against others. She even tried it with me once against someone else, but lost interest when I wasn’t so easily manipulated. She takes 0 responsibility for what she does and generally comes out on top because she has a clan of followers who positively reinforce (or enable) this type of behaviour which is truly unfortunate.

    Wife of BIL #2- overtly character disturbed. Impulsive, obnoxious, unreasonable, mean and rude with no really good excuse for it. Has no inclination if taking the slightest responsibility for how nasty she can be to others. The classic ‘mean girl’ bully. She idolizes a select few whom she sees as extensions of herself and degrades others. People seem to be more like objects then actual people to her. From day 1, I seemed to be a an obstacle that needed to be broken down and even removed (with the help of wife #1) instead of a human being with feelings– not to mention her having any care whatsoever about what negative impact this might have on other family relationships (ie. My husband, our children, my husband’s brother whom she claims to ‘love’). I had a sickening feeling the first time I really had the chance to sit down and talk to her and my gut instincts were bang on.

    2 BILs- definitely something wrong there but not sure if it’s character disturbance or passive dependent personality. They’re basically just like dumb sheep who have no real voice and were desperate to get married.

    I wad surrounded by a ‘family’ of character disturbs and I endured the hell for years, but after one incident something snapped in me and I cut them off for good. Best decision I ever made for me and my family. And thankfully my husband supports my decision because he can’t even deny anymore how hopeless and aggressive they are. If I could do it all again I wouldn’t even try to be a friend to them. I would have confronted them diplomatically from the very first incident, and when the crap hit the fan (as I’m sure it would have) I would have politely excused myself and set firm boundaries then and there instead of enduring years of of inner bitterness, resentment and pain because I wanted them to be something they are not. We live and we learn.

    1. I do not know if any one has noticed. But there is a facial expression
      I associate with narcissism. It is like LisaO says ” There is little inner life to speak of”
      The Face is Blank. It is expressionless, eyes wide open and stairing.
      Their face never changes, it shows no emotion. Some what like a babys face when looking round a strange new room. It is like they do not know were they are. You see it mostly when they are driving. Stairing blankly ahead.

      1. I Joey, there are a couple facial expressions to be sure. They are very hard to describe but I get the feeling that what ever is going on on the surface is not what is going on underneath with all of them!

    2. You have a way with words I do not possess myself. I copied this from your post. “I would have politely excused myself and set firm boundaries then and there instead of enduring years of of inner bitterness, resentment and pain because I wanted them to be something they are not. We live and we learn.”
      Thank you. You have discribed my relationship I had with my mother
      in 3 sentences. Thank You again

  5. You hit the nail on the head LisaO when you wrote “When you are with someone with narcissistic tendencies, you get the feeling they are, to some degree, hollow.”

    It’s like they’re living their life as an extension of your own (or the others they are interacting with) but as a way to be combative/ argumentative/get one up on you. Like parasites living off a host, or like barnacles clinging to the hull of a ship. We need to rip them away from us – then perhaps they’ll shrivel up and die, unless they find another host to feed off of. But without the others there to feed their egos, who are they?

  6. Dr. Simon, I believe that your method of dealing with CD is truly a breakthrough in psychology and nothing but good can come of it. I don’t think however, that most of us on the discussion board are willing to risk the chance of giving them this opportunity. I suppose it would have to come from the professionals.

    Your books are so wonderful in helping us realize what went wrong in our relationships with the CDs and they help us to heal and validate us, but I know for myself, I would not be willing to touch the issue. My life was turned upside down by my xnh and I don’t wish to be near him in any shape or form.

    I believe that more information needs to be given to the general public so that they can be aware there are people like this. I certainly never had knowledge of this segment of our society. I went into it blindsided. My situation became apparent about 8.5 years ago and I believe there has been more information out there regarding CD. I also believe this condition has worsened in more recent years. Knowledge of CD has certainly changed my world. I only wish it was much, much sooner than when it did.

      1. I used to think that any one incarcerated or disordered should have the chance to have the proper psychiatric care to change. However, with what I now know about the disordered and the difficulty there is in helping them change, I am baffled as to why more isn’t done to determine who actually can or can’t be helped. I am still curious about Dr. Daniel Amen’s brain scan and why that isn’t used. It seems if it does what he claims it does, it would be a good tool to determine who can be helped.

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