Tag Archives: neurotic behavior

Neurotic vs. Character Disorder? Criterion Two – Conscience

Neurotics have well-developed and overactive consciences (i.e. superegos), whereas disordered characters have consciences that are under-developed and impaired.  Neurotics have a huge sense of right and wrong and always want to do the right thing.  They often set standards for themselves that are so high they’re virtually impossible to meet, causing themselves a significant amount of stress.  They tend to judge themselves overly harshly when they fail to meet expectations.  They take on inordinate burdens, proverbially carrying the “weight of the world” on their shoulders. When something goes wrong, they quickly ask themselves what more they can do to help make a situation better. 


Most disturbed characters don’t hear that little voice in their heads that urge most of us to do right or admonish most of us when we’re contemplating doing wrong.  They don’t “push” themselves to take on responsibilities and don’t “arrest” themselves when they want something they shouldn’t have.  Any qualms of conscience they might experience can be eliminated with great ease.  In the most severe disturbances of character (i.e. the psychopath or sociopath), conscience is not simply weak, underdeveloped, or flawed, but can be absent altogether. 


It’s really hard to fathom and accept that there are people in this world who simply don’t have the same degree capacity most of us have to be inwardly troubled when they contemplate doing things that are potentially very harmful to others or even themselves.  Not being able to accept this key difference between neurotics and disturbed characters can be a setup for possible victimization.  I’ve written about other important differences between neurotics and character disorders, such as how they differ with respect to experiencing “anxietyand will be elaborating on other differences in future posts as part of a series on the key differences between these two very different types of individuals. 

Disturbed & Neurotic Behavior

In most unhealthy relationships, at least one of the persons is likely to have a significant disturbance of character. Relationships can be particularly unhealthy if one person is significantly character disturbed and the other is overly neurotic. The primary defining qualities of the disturbed character are a deficient, immature, or absent conscience, ego inflation, problematic attitudes and thinking patterns, and irresponsible behavior patterns. When a neurotic individual hooks up with a disturbed character, they often try to be the conscience for both parties. When the disturbed character defaults on yet another debt, the neurotic floats another loan. When the disturbed character cheats again and blames the neurotic’s lack of attention, the neurotic tries harder to please. The neurotic may feel in his or her heart that the blame lies with the disordered character, but the disturbed character manipulates the neurotic into believing that everything is his or her fault. The disturbed character in such a relationship never has to develop any kind of conscience, because the neurotic frequently exercises conscience enough for both of them.

Relationships between disturbed characters and neurotics stay unhealthy because the neurotic doesn’t learn to assert him or herself and the disturbed character has no reason to modify his or her patterns of manipulation, exploitation, and abuse. If the attempt to secure professional help is successful but the therapist is not trained to accurately diagnose character disturbance or skilled in the radically different methods of dealing with it, the likely fruitlessness of the encounter can lead the neurotic partner to believe that there is no choice but to maintain the status quo.