Neurosis vs. Character Disorder: Responses to Adverse Consequences

Neurotics want things to be good and wonderful, take it hard when things go wrong, and blame themselves for failures. Disordered characters take adversity in stride and blame everyone and everything else when their actions invite disastrous consequences.

I’ve been posting on how neurotics differ from individuals with disturbed characters. I’ve pointed out that the two groups are very different from on another with respect to what they need and benefit from in therapy, and how aware they are of the problems they have that might come to the attention of a counselor. Neurotics are also very different from disordered characters with respect to how they respond to adverse consequences.

Neurotics usually try so hard to effect positive outcomes that they easily become anxious and upset when the endeavors they’re involved in go badly. They are generally hypersensitive to adverse consequence. They add stress to this hypersensitivity because they also tend to make internal attributions about the reasons things didn’t work out well. When a neurotic worker doesn’t get the “Good job!” comment she craves from her boss, she might well beat herself up with self-criticism, wondering how she fell short or obsessing about what more she might do to curry the favor she desires. When the neurotic therapist doesn’t see the positive change he hopes for his therapy group, he might well start worrying that he is a sub-standard counselor who needs to learn more and try harder. Neurotics want things to be good and wonderful, take it hard when things go poorly, and blame themselves for failures. Because they have such a high level of social conscientiousness, neurotics often use their sensitivity and self-focus to propel themselves into action that might make almost any tenuous situation better.

By contrast, disordered characters are largely undeterred by adverse consequence. They have a characteristic imperturbability when it comes to dealing with adversity, especially when that adversity is the direct result of their maladaptive behavior patterns. So, when the judge reads the riot act to a three time offender before sentencing, he remains unphased. To complicate matters, unlike neurotics who tend to blame themselves, disordered characters are prone to making external attributions whenever anything bad does happen. They are quick to see others and circumstances as the source of problems. So, if they’ve lost another job, had another marriage fall apart, run into legal difficulties, or even lost their freedom (i.e. have become incarcerated), they take it in stride, blame everyone and everything else, and keep on behaving the same way they’ve always behaved, despite where it’s gotten them. Some of the most disturbed characters even pride themselves in the notion that they cannot be “beaten” and might even intensify their dysfunctional “style” of social behavior with every negative consequence that comes along.

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