10 Commandments of Character Development – Part 4

Last week’s article focused on the role of gratitude in character development.  Humbly recognizing and being sincerely grateful for the gift of life and all our other blessings is a prerequisite for cultivating a sense of obligation to do our part to make the world a better place.  Attitudes of entitlement, however, which are heavily encouraged and reinforced by certain aspects of modern culture, necessarily impair a person’s ability to forge a character of integrity.

In the industrialized societies, most folks live in an age of relative abundance.  The developed world actually wastes enough on a daily basis to feed and clothe the disadvantaged among us a few times over.  And for the most part, most of us are troublingly far removed from what it takes to create the abundance we enjoy, so we’re prone to take most of what we have for granted.  We’ve forgotten the basics of the human condition: survival itself is inherently a struggle.  And we’ve forgotten how recent a development in human history the kind of civilization most of us enjoy these days is.  To all too many a young person, food gets to the table merely because someone puts it there.  And the someone who puts it there simply gets it from the grocery store.  That person might have stopped at a “money machine” along the ways and simply gotten cash.  Even in adulthood many of us are “removed” by several degrees of separation from the realities that make the whole interdependent system we call civilization work.  We have to do a better job teaching our children how it all works – and not just with words.  We have to show them as well as let them experience for themselves how the things we need are produced, shared, bartered for, and above all, earned.

Neurotics are prone not only to feel overly responsible for everything but also to “give” quite freely to those they view as less fortunate.  And while there really are folks among us so disadvantaged that they cannot fend for themselves or can’t sustain themselves without additional support, there are many more folks who are quite capable but who lack a sufficient sense of responsibility and/or obligation to contribute as opposed to merely take.  And such folks make it very difficult for the truly needy to secure the support resources they need.  There’s plenty that could be debated here, but when you look at the big picture for any meaningful length of time and with any objectivity, it becomes amply clear that the overly conscientious neurotics among us have helped to create what has rightfully come to be known as an “entitlement society”.

Perhaps nothing is more toxic or potentially dangerous than attitudes of entitlement that are carried into relationships.  Behind the “possessive thinking” exploitation, and callous use and abuse of others, and many other problematic thinking and behavior patterns that disturbed characters display in their relationships, one can always find a mindset of entitlement.  And anyone who enters into a relationship with a person who doesn’t clearly demonstrate sincere gratitude for the good things that have come their way as well as a heartfelt obligation to earn respect in their relationship by the manner in which they conduct themselves and express that appreciation is cruising for an eventual emotional bruising.

The next “commandment” of character is to cultivate and maintain an appropriately balanced sense of self-worth.  I was among a very small minority challenging traditional assumptions about self-esteem promoted so feverishly in so many “pop psychology” books in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  The old notion was that you could simply never have too much self-esteem and that most problems people had stemmed from too little of it.  It was also assumed that if anyone displayed any signs of ego-inflation, it was actually an unconscious “compensation” for underlying feelings of inferiority.  It never really occurred to anyone that a person could actually think too highly of him/herself or that sometimes a person’s excessive self-regard is a genuine reflection of their imbalanced and unhealthy self-concept.  I was also among the first to suggest that self-esteem is but one dimension of a healthy self-concept and that it differs markedly from what I like to call self-respect (see also: Self-Esteem and Merit).

In my work over the years, it’s hard to think of anything that I came to realize impacts character development more than achieving a balanced sense of self-worth. As I say in Character Disturbance:

Keep a balanced perspective on your sense of worth.  Thinking too much of yourself is as dangerous as thinking too little of yourself.  Do not dismiss your accomplishments, but don’t laud yourself or lord over others any position of good fortune you’ve managed to secure.  Avoid pretense.  Keeping a balanced sense of self and being genuine will hep you stay humble and avoid false pride. (p.140)

Perhaps the most critical factor in developing a balanced sense of self is knowing how to honestly and correctly attribute credit for things.  Again, from Character Disturbance:

You are not synonymous with your talents, abilities, or physical attributes.  They are all endowments (i.e., fortunate accidents of nature, or “gifts of God”) the universe entrusted to you.  Recognize where things really come from and give credit and recognition where credit and recognition are truly due.  (p.141)

Who we really are and what determines our real worth has less to do with what we’ve been endowed with and much more to do with what we’ve done with what we’ve been given.  That’s why:

The credit for your life and innate capabilities belongs to nature, or, ultimately, the creative force behind nature.  The credit for what you do with all you’ve been given goes solely to you.  This is the essence of merit.  Honor the life force within you as well as all who might have nurtured your potential by using your gifts for the good of all.  It’s not so much the outcome of your actions that matter either, for that’s not entirely in your hands.  Rather, it’s the effort you make that matters most.  Judge yourself on your merits. (p.141)

The easiest way for children to get a “big head” is to overly bask in their talents or to be praised incessantly by their parents and others for the gifts they have.  Sometimes they’re told repeatedly how cute they are or how smart they are – like they had anything whatsoever to do with any of that!  The problem really comes, however, when they lack a proper sense of how to attribute credit for their gifts.  Only when the realize where their gifts come from and how fortunate they are to have them can they begin to develop appropriate awe and humility.  Our culture also sends all too frequent messages to our children that they’re inherently “special.”  While there’s no doubt we’re all inherently unique, to equate that uniqueness with “special” status is erroneous and dangerous to sound character formation.

What our culture doesn’t afford sufficient recognition for and reinforcement of is a person’s meritorious conduct.  And by meritorious conduct I’m not talking about heroic actions.  I’m talking about the essence of merit.  That is, willing yourself to make the tough choices – to do the right thing – and to humbly use your gifts for the greater good.  Only when we have legitimate pride in our willful effort to use our talents well and for the betterment of all can we become “right headed” about our worth as persons.  And we need to focus less on what our culture tells us matters most:  the outcomes of our efforts.  We’re such a success-oriented society.  But the outcomes of our actions – even our best-intended ones, aren’t entirely in our hands.  The merit in our decisions is not in what gets produced by them but in our willingness to make the right decisions, despite ever-present temptations to do otherwise.  And sometimes, maintaining the commitment to do right in the face of a lack of success or achievement is not only the toughest thing to do but also the truest indication of a solid character.  Recognizing and reinforcing the good things we do with what we’ve been given in humble appreciation for our gifts leads to a balanced sense of self-worth.  We all need to do a better job of assigning credit to folks who act righteously, and individuals themselves need to better recognize and reinforce themselves for making the tough choices as well.


41 thoughts on “10 Commandments of Character Development – Part 4

  1. Another bunny trail here, sorry.
    Three months ago I moved into a new community that is fairly close knit, people know other people, and are about doing things so that people can readily get to know them — more readily in any case than in anonymous neighborhoods.

    So that’s given me a chance to get to know about 10 people enough to discern the CAs among them. It turns out that it’s not that hard when you see people in action, and can verify your observations with other neighbors (gossip, if you will).

    The news is not good. I say we are outnumbered 2:1. I am shocked… but so far, those are the numbers. What’s been your experience?

    1. Back in my mother’s day……they used to go out in groups. A whole gang of them used to do things together and you could get to know someone from a safe distance. Then when there was a special interest between two people you would start the dating process one on one or double dates, etc……makes SO much sense.
      I only knew one person who knew Spathtardx and not very well…………this guy should have been red flag number one and no need for another!! I knew absolutely no one else from his life or past. He isn’t from where i live and neither am I. I made every mistake possible and ignored and misinterpreted/ got talked out of SO many red flags. They are so good at getting you bonded up with them, of course they never bond with you……I was putty. Easily confused, fast and deep bonder,,,,,,love hungry,,,,romantic……
      I handed it to him I guess……I didn’t know how deep I was jumping. I knew but I didn’t KNOW. It doesn’t make any sense in SO many ways.

  2. Vera dear, They do seem to be popping up left and right. It’s like once your eyes are opened to them, they just get larger than life and so much easier to see! I’m 54 years old……I’ve been around the block…….I’ve never had someone this low in my life. I’ve never heard a story from a friend about something like this happening to them. I’m in no hurry to ever go through something like this again but I do have a desire to love someone again the way I loved “him”, only have it be real.
    I think there is an abundance of disordered individuals in this world, no doubt. where to draw the line between Spaths and Ppaths and disordered CA’s and all the other variables is still shrouded in mystery to me. I’m 100% sure i have my OWN disorderedness. But covertly aggressive?? I am WAY too impulsive to be covertly ANYthing!! LOL

    1. Puddle, after I wrote it I realized that CA is too strong here. Most of these folks seem to me in the category of run-of-the-mill character impaired. Here are flags that apply to all of them: ready to bullshit you, frequent promise breaking, superficial attention to make you think you are special (I think the “instant bonding” you refer to), excuses instead of responsibility, ignoring their obligations to others.

      A couple of them may be deeper into it, because they also show over-aggressiveness in conversation, boasting and self-aggrandizement, and impression management (I am so charming, and have so much to offer you, just wait! Look, I am so in synch with you! I am so glad you are my friend! — while barely giving you the time of day, hoping you won’t notice the discrepancy).

      We all have some disorderedness, I think, just because we grew up in a disordered culture. But for us, we are like fish out of water, this is not our preferred way, whereas they are fish in their waters, happily swimming around.

      1. Vera, Have you done much reading about Psychopaths?

        I can be what might be considered superficially charming…….Im just friendly to people but I don’t see myself like Spathtardx was……”Hey good looking”, “well hello sweetie…..
        so weird……we were out in public so infrequently and the few times he would say something like that I just froze. I remember it not feeling good. BLAH!
        Humans are just too bizarre. It really does feel like the twilight zone to me, this world.

      2. Since superficial charm can easily fool many people, I’d be ready to assume it comes from predators’ innate confidence and thus feels natural to them.

        In contrast, some people, whether for defensive purposes, as means of controlling themselves(and going a bit too far, suppressing their emotions habitually), as an automatic habit or out of dim awareness, can force themselves to put up an image and act as if that forced image was really them. Don’t you usually sense that these people, with a front, have a certain slight phony feeling to them as if. Like the usual sayings go, putting on airs or putting on a front.

        Odd how some naturally internalized quality can help a manipulative personality fool others more easily.

        1. J, He seemed perfectly easy in the roll but it was so drastically different than how he ACTED around me. I’m sure the way he is when he is not around me is WAY closer to the truth.
          Im just a “friendly” person unless I have reason not to be but in SOME instances I saw in him a kind of reserved politeness that doesn’t come as easily to me because i tend to be more impulsive, for lack of a better word. I his “reserved politeness” really just him holding himself back till he asses someone? I’ve never seen someone “study” other people as intently as he did. If he is indeed a P-path,,,,,,,,that is known as the “predator stare” and I have never been around someone before who does that………actually one other person and I think he had some serious signs of being a P-path.

        2. We all fall somewhere between two extremes. Those extremes are conscientiousness to the extreme of neurosis and self-service to the extreme of moral and social abandon. So how people are manipulative varies. Sure, being social animals with social intuitions, we naturally influence or adapt to others around us without it necessarily a´having anything to do with getting what we want at their expense.

        3. Not all disturbed characters are so extreme, either, that they could be called outright evil. Just sleazy, scummy, despicable, loathsome, unscrupulous and so on.

  3. I’ve brought up the topic of radical evil here before and wondered how traditional psychologists have missed that some people can be evil.

    Is it because evil is seen as a transpersonal force and by that logic, it’s something that entices a person?

    1. J, I was speaking of this analogy earlier and it is interesting to think about…..
      If an insect invades a tree, a healthy tree or maybe an injured tree…… and possibly also even introduces a detrimental fungus to the tree… the tree will weaken and eventually die. The injury the tree sustained would normally heal and the tree would be able to continue to live a normal life span. BUT, when an opportunistic insect comes along it jumps on the chance to do what it knows to do! It may bore holes in the tree now because the bark (it’s normal protection) has been knocked off and has left it vulnerable.
      Is the insect that jumps on this injured tree’s unfortunate injury evil? How did it just happen to come along and find an injured tree to “take advantage of”?
      NOW……the insect has contaminated the tree with a fungus that it picked up crawling across the forest floor…….is the fungus evil? Is the insect at fault?

      I know………….a tree is not a human, and insect is not a human and a fungus is not a human. So does that mean that only humans are capable of evil? Across the board in life, nature, etc…….destruction is part of creation. The other side of the same coin in a way………
      maybe I’m off the mental deep end with this or in the wrong swimming pool all together! LOL!

    2. Isn’t evil destructiveness out of conscious malignant intention, out of own volition?

      Then again, evil’s been seen as transpersonal, so perhaps that’s why psychologists have so long thought humans deep inside are only affected by evil, not harboring it. I think we can say some people harbor evil, because it’s delicious for their narcissism.

      In other words, evil doesn’t only find expression in invading unfortunate people unaware, it also expresses itself through the fertile mind of willing messengers.

      1. J, Great wording there! Yes, I’m sure an insect doesn’t attack a tree with the intention of destroying it. It’s only doing what nature has programed it to do and even though it doesn’t say to it’s self……Im going to attack this tree which is already injured because eventually it will die and become housing and nutrients for the rest of the forest, the death of the tree actually does support other forest life. It is not doing so because it has some conscious twisted selfish intention.
        So then I go back again to the potential of good and bad in everyone and that bad is the conscious CHOICE of the individual to do wrong and it becomes evil when the actions of the person choosing to do bad have a detrimental affect on another person/ other people/ society in general. Back to the apple………..they were told not to eat the apple but because they didn’t really KNOW by experience what the ramifications of eating the apple would be, they were easily manipulated into making a choice that was bad for them and of course……….Eve got scapegoated.

  4. It’s the intention to really affect another in a detrimental way that makes it “evil”, pathological, the desire to gain at the expense of another and then they inadvertently relinquish themselves to a life of isolation and lies, a Hell of their own making.

    1. In the long dark hours of the night, I do believe that they are aware that what they do is wrong, not good and that they ARE paying a price for the fleeting enjoyment of their own evil choices. No one can distract themselves 24/7…….they become the hamster on the wheel………………..

      The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie,
      comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.
      And having no respect he ceases to love,
      and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices,
      all from continual lying to other men and to himself.

      Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazo

  5. I want to thank you Dr Simon for this site and your work to keep it focussed.

    Having spent a day trawling the internet for other sites about domestic abuse and support and info for victims, I found I often didn’t like the ‘feel’ of them. Apart from the factual info re finances and law etc, I didn’t find them psycologically helpful in the positive way this site is.

    Your input and teaching seems to keep this site safe and sensible somehow.

    Balanced, focussed on what matters.

    I can get myself re-calibrated by reading your posts. And having your intervention in the comments from time to time keeps everything on track.

    Thank you, I really appreciate your integrity and willingness to share your experience and insights.


  6. Another thought popped into my mind while reading about compassion meditation.

    Isn’t it that compassion is easier if one feels compassion for oneself as well? Is self-compassion different than high self-regard? Can we say that while disturbed characters, especially malignantly narcissistic ones, have extremely high self-regard, they don’t have real self-compassion, because that space is taken by entitlement?

      1. J, I think you are right…..It is a small form of submission, submission to right action and also acknowledging humanness.

    1. “they” say, you can not love, respect, honor, etc….someone else until you first love, respect and honor yourself. Without even being able to find the words to explain the concept, it feels true to me. A spath has no true self……they dishonor themselves as human be-ings by living behind a false mask that portrays them as human yet they live as animals.

      1. So shouldn’t the saying be: “You can’t relate healthily to others before you have a healthy relationship with yourself.” ?

  7. When someone shames you for being paranoid…this is one I still have a hard time with – I’m addressing a concern that aFFects my well-being, finances, and the person deflects my query by saying omg you worry too much. The only coping technique I have is to then go around the person, find someone else. But its hard…

    1. Claire…..I SO understand! I had this problem before with a care giver to my mother. My gut was screaming out….”Something is wrong here with this person”!! No one would listen…….as it turns out, she was definitely a problem but until it really showed it’s self…..I got painted as paranoid.
      I can’t even begin to describe how many times I have felt this in this mess with Spathtard. It IS hard because I need support and understanding but most people have never been through this so they think it’s got to be something i’m just over reacting to. However, there ARE people who have read the emails from him and have witnessed the whole thing unfold who actually DO get it and are blown away.
      I think a person just needs to stick to their guns and ignore the comments. You have a right and a responsibility to address concerns about your well being and finances and get the answers you need to put your mind to rest.

      1. In the case of this incident, I had to come up with a strategy and I was trying to do it on my own but just spinning my wheels for weeks. So I tried to talk it out, find a friend/advisor here and there to try to get some clarity so I could come up with an action plan.

        The first few don’t understand what I’m talking about, then say “don’t worry about what the person thinks” and that does not help – I’m trying to get information out of the person, and the person is being evasive.

        A third advisor says/validates this situation puts me in a compromising financial and logistical position but has to add “you’re being paranoid” and says don’t get enveloped in the drama.

        Finally the eighth says “why is she doing this? I would be mad too. It puts you in a compromised position, and there is no reason for her to do this. It probably won’t cause you harm but she’s cutting it really close.” Thank you!

          1. Hi vera – what do you mean by that?

            I sense that in times of general stress allies are harder to come by in certain ways.

          2. Claire, I mean that so far, I am seeing us outnumbered by aggressives and character impaired people. And so when we look for allies, it does not surprise that quite a few people invalidated you and your sense of the situation, before you finally found an ally. Does that make sense?

          3. Hi Vera I think there are some “lost cause” CAs, who cannot stop their deceptive ways even if it puts their own livelihood in danger, perhaps even their own life in danger.

            But in a culture that is not pushing back or effectively shaming this behavior, many people reside in the gray zone, and are being aggressive so as to not get eaten alive.

            As in, the best defense is a good offense.

            It could be a characteristic of just the circles I travel in, who knows. They’ll help, just not too much, and then they have to keep moving.

            Just my opinion.

          4. Exactly, Claire. I call them run of the mill character-impaired. I was there once. Like Dr Simon says, it’s on a spectrum. Discouraging, though, when you hope for an ally, eh?

          5. The pendulum is definitely swinging back. More and more folks are deciding not only that the lack of character has been too great and too long a problem but also that it matters enough to do something significant about fostering and restoring it. We’ll see more of this as time goes on, I’m sure (and I pray).

  8. hello all — when looking for people to help you sort through a situation, remember that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 out of every 4 people has some degree of mental illness or mental disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the ratio is one out of every three people. According to Martha Stout, 1 out of every 25 people is a probable sociopath. These people are not either/or, they are on a continuum (sliding scale). Unfortunately, these percentages will include some professional therapists. Point is, don’t give up looking for help. If you find that people don’t understand what you are going through, they may be unable to comprehend because of their own illnesses or disorders. Pray for guidance to help you find the persons that may be able to help you sort through your problems or situation.

    1. All those psychiatric governing bodies, all seem to be in a restructuring disarray right now.

      For example the info on group counseling/couples counseling being not just ineffective but harmful when emotional abuse is present – the psychiatric licensing boards would serve their best short-term survival rates if they began to disseminate that information more widely. And perhaps even hire “mystery shopper” clients to randomly check on which licensed therapists would take on such clients even though that type of therapy for that type of client shows to risk more harm to the neurotic in the relationship, even if the neurotic willingly sought out counseling.

      Or at the very least, the counselor/therapist should disseminate that “risk” checklist to the clients at the beginning of the first session before any counseling has begun.

      It’s just the Wild West right now, seeking a therapist, and in many other professions. But really one-on-one in the office of the therapist, you are taking a huge risk submitting to that kind of thing. It could help, it’s worth a try but the client owes it to themselves to evaluate every few sessions whether to continue. The therapist is just a person, just a human being, not a deity.

      Wish I could capture this better…

  9. Character Disturbance pushback (we need a twitter hashtag): Utah High School Football Coach Susptends Entire Team for Cyberbullying: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/26/utah-school-football-suspends_n_3991469.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=934901b=facebook

    “In a letter to the team from the school’s coaching staff last Friday, players were told that if they participated in community service activities, took character-education classes and participated in extra study hall sessions, they would earn the right to play again in upcoming games.

    “The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field. We want student-athletes that are humble to learn and grow through adversity and success on and off the field,” reads the letter, which was obtained by Deseret News. “

    1. I heard about this and almost fell out of my chair!! Score 1 for the Character Advocates Team! BTW, I’m writing a post right this minute for a popular blog about this very story. I’ll provide a link to it when it posts!!

      1. Within the week “all but nine” players were re-instated. At first my heart sank, that he re-instated the players that week.

        The “all but nine” players, however, looks like he meant business.

    2. Mormons, right? Go Utah! They understand certain things better than your average American. (Whatever the common bias may say about them.)

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