Inattentive Thinking and Character Disturbance

Disordered characters hear what they want to hear, remember what they want to remember, and learn what they want to learn.

Disordered characters think in ways that lead to problem behaviors. In prior posts we’ve looked at “thinking errors” such as egocentric thinking, possessive thinking, and extreme thinking:

Another problematic pattern of thinking common to disturbed characters is Inattentive Thinking.

One of the early researchers on character disturbance, Stanton Samenow, referred to inattentive thinking as a “mental filter” because he observed problem characters to selectively “filter” what goes on around them, paying attention and heed primarily to the things they’re concerned about and disregarding just about everything else.

Disordered characters hear what they want to hear, remember what they want to remember, and learn what they want to learn. They invest themselves intensely in the things that interest them but actively disregard the things they find dull, mundane, or boring. Most especially, they frequently pay little attention to the things that others desperately want them to be more concerned about.

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Inattentive thinking frequently accompanies the responsibility-avoidance tactic of “selective attention” (to be discussed in a future series of posts). This tactic is a more deliberate attempt to “tune-out” someone who is trying to make a point, teach them a lesson, or get them to consider something most people regard as important. Disturbed characters will frequently only half-listen or not pay attention at all whenever they hear something they don’t like. Most of the time, the things they find themselves not wanting to hear involve other people’s efforts to get them to submit themselves to pro-social values and standards of conduct. That’s why this erroneous way of thinking is a major reason disordered characters develop a lackadaisical attitude toward accepting social obligations as well as other antisocial attitudes.

People in relationships with disordered characters often wonder how they can be so unthoughtful. The main reason they’re thoughtless is because they simply don’t concern themselves with the kinds of things most of us want them to be concerned about. At other times, people feel like they’re talking to a brick wall whenever they try to make important points or ask for something they need. The reason for this is that the disturbed character doesn’t want to submit himself to the societal expectations most of us obey and therefore tunes-out any perceived requests to do otherwise. In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I give some direct advice on how to deal with a person who thinks inattentively and who uses the tactic of selective inattention. As a therapist, I use the techniques I advocate in all my work with disordered characters. The techniques can empower anyone in a relationship with a problem character and are absolutely essential to a therapist who wants to have the leverage to promote genuine change in their disordered clients.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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