When W-O-R-K is a Four-Letter Word

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Many people enjoy a healthy and sometimes rewarding or even fulfilling relationship with work. For some others, though — especially for some problem personality types — work is more than literally a four-letter word, especially when it benefits someone else.

Recently, I wrote about attitudes toward work (see “Changing Attitudes Toward Work”). But there’s an important issue involving work sentiments that I did not address in the last article, namely the dysfunctional and socially problematic attitudes that some types of personalities have toward work. For most of us, work is not only a perceived necessity but also, many times, a life’s passion and a means to personal fulfillment. And for those of us fortunate enough to be involved in an enterprise that makes the best use of our talents and allows us to make a meaningful social contribution to boot, our work can be a most rewarding experience. But unfortunately, for some individuals work is truly a dirty little word.

There are several personality types notorious not only for their distaste for work, but also for the negative impact that their distaste for work has on society. I have written extensively on these personalities in both of my books, Character Disturbance, and In Sheep’s Clothing, as well as in prior posts on this blog (see “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities”, the series on Aggressive Personalities, and the series on Thinking Errors of Disturbed Characters). And two of the most problematic aggressive personality types I’ve written about — the unbridled aggressive (i.e., antisocial) personality and the predatory aggressive (i.e., psychopathic or sociopathic) personality — are in part defined by their seriously dysfunctional attitudes toward work.

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It’s not that the problem personalities among us won’t work at all. True, some are, for lack of better words, lazy and parasitic (e.g., some antisocial and sociopathic types), but even these folks can sometimes put out considerable sweat and effort. What they really resist is engaging in the kind of work that for most of us is begotten out of a sense of social obligation. They simply detest putting out effort that might, even in part, benefit someone else. They’re quite capable of spending inordinate amounts time and energy working purely to get something they want. A criminal type of personality, for example, might spend weeks ‘casing’ a particular place of business, taking careful notes, and concocting elaborate plans to rob it successfully. But putting the same amount of energy into finding or keeping a legitimate job, demonstrating the loyalty and consistency necessary to be considered for advancement, or making the investment in personal self-development to merit consideration for more advanced position are completely different matters, and most unattractive enterprises.

Problematic attitudes toward work are hallmarks of many disturbed characters, not just some of the aggressive personalities. Some problem characters (e.g., those with narcissistic traits) feel too entitled to anything they want to feel a sufficient sense of obligation to really earn things. Others (e.g., manipulative ‘con artist’ types) derive far more satisfaction from the idea of getting something for nothing or by swindling someone else than they can possibly get from putting in an honest day’s work. Still others have outright contempt for work, especially if the work’s primary purpose is something other than pure self-benefit (e.g., caring for one’s family, contributing to society, etc.).

Perhaps the toughest job any of us has in life is the work it takes to develop our own character. None of us is born perfect. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, some of which are naturally endowed. And we all have our share of hardships to overcome. So the greatest single challenge we face is reckoning with ourselves in such a way that we make of ourselves a productive, contributing, and respect-worthy person. Disturbed characters resist this kind of work more than any other. Why? Because even contemplating such an undertaking is too much like putting someone or something else ahead of one’s purely selfish desires. And for the character-impaired individual, nothing is as important to them as what they want. Besides, wanting something for nothing is, as mentioned before, another hallmark. So even when it comes to respect, they want to come by that in the same manner as everything else: without having to earn it.

Making the choice in one’s heart to be the best one can be for the welfare of all requires an uncommon level of dedication and commitment (see “Forge Sound Character With Hard Work”). And there’s absolutely no reason to submit to this arduous and life-long undertaking unless one has a deep and underlying sense of social obligation. But doing the work of character development can be another one of those labors of love. It certainly takes a lot of love to do it. It’s ironic that l-o-v-e is also a four-letter word. But it just doesn’t have the same connotation to people of integrity that w-o-r-k does for the impaired characters among us.

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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