“Character Disturbance: Too Much Anxiety, or Too Little?” Comments, Page 1

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13 Comments (One Discussion Thread) on “Character Disturbance: Too Much Anxiety, or Too Little?”

  1. Hi George,

    I totally agree! It’s kind of like innocence?

    Can anxiety in a personality be a the presence of other illnesses?
    Bipolar? How about high agitation symptoms? What could that represent?
    ADHD? Or?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Diane. You raise some very interesting questions about the kinds of attributes that might be present in an individual’s personality makeup. I subscribe to the school of thought that sees personality as a style that results from the dynamic interaction of multiple contributing factors, some of which are constitutional. For example, some individuals are endowed with a limbic system that is very well-developed and perhaps more active and contributes to experiencing both fear and anger with greater intensity than others do. This can have a fairly significant impact on personality formation. Some individuals are endowed with more insouciant temperaments which can contribute to a greater propensity for passivity in their personality structure, etc. There’s even evidence that behavioral manifestations that appear like classic hyperactivity or attentional deficiency could in fact be the first “soft” signs of emerging bipolar illness. Bottom line is we’re just beginning to discover all the contributing variables. The only thing we’re coming to know with relative certainty, however, is that some of our older metaphors which attempted to postulate simple, general rules about personality and then tried to make us believe that these rules adequately described the intrapsychic dynamics of EVERYONE are narrow-minded at best and at worst counterproductive when trying to work with individuals (or those in relationships with them) whose personality characteristics do not really fit well within traditional frameworks, especially the frameworks having their origins in the theories of neurosis.

  3. “For example, some disordered characters have such a passion for novelty and such a craving for excitement that they constantly seek shallow, intense, and short-lived high-risk sexual involvements and other interpersonal titillations. But this characteristic thrill-seeking behavior is sometimes framed as necessarily stemming from a “fear” of intimacy or commitment. I think this mistake is often made because it’s difficult for neurotic individuals (or traditionally-minded therapists) to imagine why a person wouldn’t necessarily prefer a stable and intimate relationship over multiple risky encounters unless they were in some way “afraid” of something deeper.”

    This is great and had me mischievously wondering if ‘neurotic’ here could not be often replaced by ‘woman’ ;-) Whether this is innate or cultural conditioning is another question, but honestly, how many women have never said “oh he’s just afriad of commitment?” Is there actually any research on character disorder and neurosis with a gender breakdown? It would be fascinating.

    “This kind of thinking also reflects a long-held but unproven tenet of classical psychology that everyone will naturally gravitate toward healthier life choices unless they are “hung-up” by unconscious fears born of early trauma.”

    Well although I wouldn’t talk necessarily of unconscious fears and early trauma, I would agree that *most* people gravitate towards healthier life choices when given the chance.

    For me almost a definition of therapy is to look at exactly what there is in front of me, the person not the theory. It works both ways. So if someone is behaving abominably and clearly feels no remorse I don’t think “well I’ll dig a bit harder, it’s in there somewhere”.

    Here again we run into different client populations, people who come to therapy out of their own free will obviously have got some little desire to make healthier choices in there somewhere. But then again some of them really do fit your analysis pretty well. What if I treated them a priori like a character disordered person rather than as I do – as a ‘some tiny part wanting to make healthier choices’ person? I suppose that is where I see the danger in this way of categorising, for me as a therapist.

    For people in abusive relationships though, I think what you say is clear and illuminating – possibly life saving.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Sarah. Your comments always reflect such thoughtfulness and insight. When dealing with the “person” without preconceptions, it’s often difficult to assess where they lie on the neurosis vs. character disorder spectrum. So, for the most part what I have done through my career is look carefully at the “clustering” of the various traits and see which ones far outweigh the others both in number and intensity for each individual I have counseled. Sometimes there was enough neurosis to work with to use more traditional approaches in counseling. Sometimes there was not. The main potential pitfall of not assessing carefully enough where a client falls on the spectrum has to do with how the therapist or the partner in a problem relationship might misinterpret or misframe behaviors in a manner that enables emotional or other abuse (e.g., framing “combative” behavior as “defensive” or exploitive behavior as “dependent” or an unhealthy desire as a “fear” of the more healthy). For example, I counseled a couple who’d been in counseling before and were very “couch broken” as we say and familiar with all the typical “jargon.” The woman complained about their “co-dependent” relationship, citing how she depends on him for approval because she’s never felt too good about herself and he stays with her, but he “depends” on her to pay the bills, wash the clothes, fix the food, etc. because he’s so incapable of that on his own. Plus, whenever she gets fed up with being the workhorse and doormat and confronts him, he gets so “defensive” because his underlying self-esteem must be low. Of course, you may guess where this is going. She was the only somewhat “dependent” person in this relationship. He was fully capable of pulling his weight and had no impaired self-esteem, but gleefully abused and exploited her willingness to enable his irresponsibility while he carried on multiple affairs, and never concerning himself about who’d be taking care of the family while he had a great time. Plus, whenever she started balking, his careful, manipulative brow-beating marched her right back in line. What I’m saying here is that the correct “framing” of the issues is paramount. This woman changed her life virtually overnight once she accepted the re-frame that matched her gut hunches but went against most of the conventions that she’d been exposed to in traditional counseling. She came to trust what she had always suspected about him and the nature of their relationship and began to empower herself by setting limits, seeing disordered behaviors for what they were, and in the process gaining self-esteem and respect, thus overcoming her need external approval and for hookups with persons like her partner. I have literally hundreds of similar stories to tell. It’s been the most edifying aspect of my career to have heard such stories and to know that they’re the reason my only published book to date has endured for almost 14 years.

  5. Hi George,

    I agree if the therapist does not catorgorize and get a clear picture he or she could damage their patient or patient! That’s why in a abusive relationship marriage counseling often times ( more so then not ) creates more damage. I am learning that their really isn’t very many therapists out there that can handle the job of a character disorder. They seem too afraid to judge it as such!

    Funny that an expert actually fails the client under these circumstances. Right now I just talked to a women and her counselour is clueless… actually has been highly rated in the state.. But it is not a shock to me…Easily wrapped up for the controller manipulater type.. Actually it was a slam dunk. It is disappointing since so many seek help and don’t recieve it..

    Expert in the area of domestic violence know and state they are few and far between. I sure hope that changes for their is high need for that all over the world.

    So if you work a board for educatiung people in this field. Someone better start writing some really useful educating materials on it.
    Its obvious if you have done work here, you have agreater grasp of the scenario. And could help teach other colleages.

  6. “What I’m saying here is that the correct “framing” of the issues is paramount. This woman changed her life virtually overnight once she accepted the re-frame that matched her gut hunches but went against most of the conventions that she’d been exposed to in traditional counseling. She came to trust what she had always suspected about him and the nature of their relationship and began to empower herself by setting limits, seeing disordered behaviors for what they were, and in the process gaining self-esteem and respect, thus overcoming her need external approval and for hookups with persons like her partner.”

    I have exactly the same kind of stories to tell, it’s the same process for the client – except that I work the opposite way around – we clarify the gut hunches and out of them comes the reframe! If I introduced the reframe first for me this would be a matter of introducing more “counselling conventions” – OK, much more accurate ones, but still reinforcing the power relationship.

    What I will do with clients is point out that these stories are common, that there is a recognisable pattern.

    I think our work may not differ much at all in practice, but I feel that element of whether the analysis is found within the client or supplied by the therapist is vital.

    What about the gender element? Any ideas?

  7. Thanks so much for such good comments, Sarah, Diane. Sarah, I absolutely agree that therapists should validate first and then the validity of the re-frame becomes more clear. You’re correct also that interpreting or re-framing “for” the client can often make it appear like you’re taking away control and it’s counter-therapeutic.

    The gender question is a great one. Although there is no hard data on this, but after years of experience I have some ideas. I also have mounds of feedback from readers of my works and from workshop attendees. About 7 out of 10 readers and 6 out of 10 workshop attendees have historically been women (although that leaves a surprising contingent of men!). As will become clearer in some future posts, I think there are some contributing variables that are more common to men that shape personality types which tend to be more character disordered. Among these are a greater propensity for aggressiveness and for ego inflation. Whether nature or the cultural environment plays the greater role here varies I think. But it’s hard to overlook the role of cultural values because every day it appears that females with such traits are either growing in number or are at least coming to the fore more. I do think that there are characteristics far more common in women that make them vulnerable. Many women don’t seem to “get it” intellectually or emotionally when it comes to understanding the motivations of their partners, especially when those partners are abusive or exploitive. They dismiss their “gut” or intuitive hunches in favor of more Polyanna-ish thinking. I think this is partly due to a culture that values reason over intuition and a zeitgeist in which we’re not supposed to make negative judgments about people. But the greater issue appears to be a hesitancy on their part to accept that someone else can be so different from them. It’s a case, I think of classic, neurotic denial. Believing someone really is the kind of character your gut tells you they are is unnerving, unpleasant, and hard to accept. It reduces anxiety to pretend things aren’t as your gut tells you they are. Plus, there’s that seemingly benign but destructive message that filtered into the public consciousness from traditional paradigms that EVERYONE is basically the same and to some degree neurotic and if they do display problems, it’s only because they’re struggling with fears and insecurities just like you. Messages like this helped women learn not to trust their guts. The other thing is that exploitive and abusive men have “radar” for naivete, unsureness, and emotional vulnerability in women and seek out relationships with these kinds of women (the vice-versa is also sometimes true).

    In my book, I talk about two other characteristics that women in particular display when staying in abusive or exploitive relationships. They get trapped by what I call the “slot machine syndrome” whereby after they come to terms with the reality of the situation, they face a choice to part with a substantial investment of time, energy, life effort, etc. (it’s like when you realize the one-armed bandit has taken you but you think about all the money that’s in there and say to yourself ‘maybe if I give it one more try…’). In severely abusive relationships, women have come to trust their gut and they realize at a very deep level what others have too long discounted, namely that the most vulnerable and dangerous time for them is when they make the choice to end their torture. Having come to realize the true character of their abuser, they know instinctively that there isn’t a restraining order on earth that can keep them safe. That’s why good support networks are so critical.

    Well, I think I might have rambled a bit too much. Anyway, those are some of my thoughts.

  8. “…..one of the principal ways people get manipulated by disturbed characters is by misframing some of their more abusive or exploitive behaviors.”

    I appreciate this clarification.
    My first visit to this website, I think, was in June 07. I needed to research the behaviors I was seeing in my husband, mainly, and also my own reactions.
    After having read through the Loser articles and posts, as well as the various pieces on Personality Disorders, it became ultra clear just what has been happening in my home.

    Because I was just newly aprised of his infidelity(ies), I was a mess-myself and needed quite a bit of time to sort through all of the information.

    Beside this, I remembered his own psych eval administered in 01, when we were having our son’s ADHD isolated.
    (He aked for an eval because he thought he had some developmental disorder or ADHD too)
    Somewhere in my house there was his Psych report which I needed to find. My thought was that maybe I could see from his eval just what he is dealing with, and maybe I could make a more informed decision as to how to respond best.

    Oh well. In July last year I did manage to find that report while he was out of town. Yes, I was able to learn enough from that report to help me respond appropriately to him and make a sound decision.
    In the course of the next few months, he did finally attend two counseling sessions with me, although our relationship is changed forever.

    He did freely admit to the counselor his verbal and psychol. abuse and manipulation of me throughout our 32 year marriage. I simply answered that I wouldn’t be able to carry on in our marriage, that I was emotionally spent.
    From there I did move out and filed for and recieved a divorce.

    Ouch. For someone like me who believes that Love Conquers Alllll, this is tough.
    My actions seem abrupt to our 4 kids, of course. I feel awful about what this has done to our relationship. But I simply cannot be caregiver to someone who believes that I am out to harm him, number one, along with believing that it is his duty as ‘husband’ to guard me.

    Misframing, is a very good term. I misframed all of his behavior which turned out to be very convenient for me as I was raising our kids, which I had a great time doing. They are all awesome.

    I believed any of the myriad characteristics were simply answerable by a lack of maturity.

    I also believed, as he put it, that ‘it’s a guy thing’, that guys don’t understand their wives.

    * In public he walked behind me, because he was slower than I. Without fail he also embarassed me in public, or tried to. In restaurants I would ignore or change his focus by asking questions about the menu.

    *He had a hearing problem….in one of his ears…maybe the right, maybe the left.(even though the specialist declared him to have perfect hearing)Auditory Hallucinations.

    *Beliefs about medication that were nonsensical, “aspirin changes my mood, I don’t want to take it.” “Antibiotics put me right to sleep. They make me sluggish, I don’t want to take those.” This after his taking nursing courses.

    *Repeatedly verbalized beliefs about others being out to destroy him, his work, take away his work, lay him off…

    *His repeated ‘misunderstanding that the open heart surgery was not needed, all the doctor and hospital was doing was getting all the money they could out of him, etc.

    *His repeatedly verbalized belief that he shouldn’t have gotten married and had kids when he did and then second guessing himself with, “Maybe now is as good a time as any other….”

    *After spending months over the past year gently but firmly drawing him out he finally admitted that he was never fond of going out to dinner with me because he believed that whatever restaurant we were at, I would leave that restaurant with another man.

    I spent my entire marriage misframing, interpreting, encouraging and overcompensating for someone who I don’t even know! How about that!

    Love does conquer all. I love myself and him enough to know and admit I cannot be his or anyone else’s MENTAL HEALTH CAREGIVER. Character Disordered people (Paranoid-Schizophrenic) don’t want mothering or caring from anyone.

    I made a hard decision based on the fact he did not believe he needed help and on what I came to understand to be a potentially dangerous situation, if I continued in that. Although he never raised a hand to me or oddly, never raised his voice, he did occasionally quietly remove personal property to destroy it behind our garage. I needed to be able to walk out on my own power.

    I told myself I needed a break from thinking and analyzing this stuff; at times I absolutely hate the subject of psychology because of what has happened, even though I’ve been learning a lot and have great regard for those who have some mastery of it. I must feel the need myself to have mastery over my own life and how to do that without paying attention to these things and dealing with them now, is beyond my comprehension. I want all this to become somewhat less important than it is right now. Eventually the space and time elements will help that.

    All this is written with complete regard for the guidance God, has given me also.
    The correlations in scripture, especially Proverbs and Psalms regarding human behavior, are evident and have been real helpful. Lots of Losers, Manipulators, Narcissists, etc.
    I am very grateful for the clarifications on this site and thankfully now, I will be visiting more at my liesure.

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