Dealing With Character Disturbance is All a Matter of Perspective

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It was only when I came to realize that the most traditional and commonly accepted approaches I had learned in training as a psychologist were not useful in helping people understand and deal with the disturbed characters in their lives that everything began to change.

One of the most important advances in mental health care over the past several years has been the development of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The central tenet of CBT is that how we think about things has a strong bearing on the decisions we make and the actions we take. So, in addition to focusing on maladaptive behavior patterns, therapists who utilize the cognitive-behavioral paradigm work with their clients to explore their attitudes, core beliefs, and dominant thinking patterns, to increase their awareness about how their typical ways of thinking predispose their actions, and to challenge and modify beliefs and attitudes that are problematic and dysfunctional as a way of prompting positive behavior change. That’s the heart of CBT.

It’s now become a relatively widely accepted axiom that our perspectives on things greatly influence our actions for better or for worse. But that axiom applies to everyone, not only clients seeking help, but also therapists who might offer such help. The theoretical orientation of the therapist, and his or her perspectives not only on the nature of the problems presented, but also with respect to the appropriate way to intervene, can make the difference between a truly edifying therapeutic experience and continued frustration and dysfunction.

Ever since my first book In Sheep’s Clothing introduced a novel perspective on understanding the most manipulative and other problematic personalities, I have received regular emails and letters from folks testifying to the fact that merely casting off old notions and adopting a new outlook was the key to making revolutionary changes in their lives. Since the publication of my new book Character Disturbance, such testimonials have only increased. One woman wrote:

I spent years reading almost everything I could lay my hands on but nothing made sense until I discovered your book. The viewpoint you advance made everything finally make sense. At first I mourned all those years I lost trying to understand. But I’ve made peace with that now, especially knowing that armed with new insight, I’ll never be a “victim” again.

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Another wrote:

After reading your book, I know I’m one of those people you term “neurotic” and several of the relationships I’ve had have been with people you would describe as “character disturbed.” Once I really understood the difference, my whole outlook changed. I not only don’t feel so badly about myself anymore, but I’ve become a much more conscientious judge of the character of those I involve myself with. The light has definitely come on!

Still another wrote:

Just changing my view on what was going on was a most appreciated, more effective, and far less costly substitute for years of therapy and tons of self-help books.

Naturally, such feedback is edifying. But more importantly, these comments attest to the power of perspective in dealing effectively with one’s circumstances. And adopting the right perspective could not be any more important than it is when it comes to understanding and dealing with the character-deficient persons in your life.

Perhaps this person makes the point best:

I cannot tell you how helpful it was to gain a new perspective. I stuck out a relationship for many years thinking that one day he would “get it.” Now I realize I didn’t get it — that is, until now! I no longer waste my time trying to get him to see the light. Now the burden is on him to mend his ways. And I’m working on what I need to do to be more solid myself. Seeing things in a different light changed everything for me, including how I see myself.

I could easily add my own testimonial here. I had a very eclectic professional training, both theoretically and with respect to practical skills. It’s only when I came to realize that the most traditional and commonly accepted approaches I had learned were not useful in helping people understand and deal with the disturbed characters in their lives that everything began to change. So, at a very personal level I know that how I view situations greatly influences how I might intervene. Perspective matters. And discovering a perspective that better explains the nature of character disturbance has made all the difference in the world in my efforts to intervene in a manner that empowers folks and helps them change.

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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