Life is inherently hard, and leading a conscientious, responsible life is harder still. But some folks seem to have both the internal resources and the willingness to assume the burden of responsible living, whereas other folks either uncaringly allow the burden to be borne by others else or actively shirk the burdens they’re asked to bear. And therein lies the dilemma many decent folks have faced in their relationships with disturbed or disordered characters.
Many have wondered why some folks seem to accept the burdens associated with responsible living so readily, whereas others do so only begrudgingly, and still others refuse the burden altogether. What makes the difference? What makes some folks so willing to shoulder responsibility and others so adverse to the notion? Such are the questions the current series of articles will address.
I’ve written before about some of the reasons disturbed characters have such a hard time accepting the responsibilities of life. For one thing, they tend to be inveterate comfort and pleasure-seekers (for more on the disturbed character’s penchants for “hedonistic thinking” and pleasurable sensation-seeking see the articles: Hedonistic Thinking and The Will to Bear Discomfort: A Key Character Trait), adverse to bearing any kind of burden that’s not purely and immediately self-serving. Learning to be responsible is largely a matter of accepting burdens for the greater good, and folks lacking in empathy rarely have the motivation to bear such burdens. The willingness to do so can only arise out of love, which is why a person’s incapacity to genuinely love is always reflected in their shirking of responsibility. Still, it’s surprising how many people enter relationships fully aware of their prospective partner’s irresponsible behavior tendencies yet delude themselves about that person’s capacity to love.
All three of my books, Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, and The Judas Syndrome, devote substantial attention to the socialization process (i.e. the essential tasks of character development that must be mastered for a person to lead a responsible life). And in Character Disturbance, I sum up my philosophy of how a person becomes responsible this way:
Even though a person might begin life as a prisoner of both the natural endowments he was given and the circumstances under which he was raised, he cannot remain a “victim” of his environment forever. Eventually, every person must come to terms with him or herself. To know oneself, to fairly judge one’s strengths and weaknesses, and to attain true mastery over one’s basic instincts and inclinations are among life’s greatest challenges. But ultimately, anyone’s rise to a life of integrity and merit can only come as the result of a full self-awakening. A person must come to know himself as well as others without deceit or denial. He must honestly face and reckon with all aspects of his character. Only then can he freely take on the burden of disciplining himself not only for the sake of himself but also for the sake of others. It is the free choice to take up this burden or “cross” that defines love. And it is the willingness of a person to carry this cross even to death that opens the door to a higher plane of existence.
In the articles to follow, I’ll be presenting some vignettes that illustrate not only how various disturbances of character impair a person’s willingness to accept the burdens of responsible living but also how certain aspects of modern culture as well as the often well-intended actions of the overly conscientious (i.e. “neurotic”) among us “enable,” promote, and even reward character dysfunction. I’ll also be discussing these same topics on Character Matters over the next few weeks, so feel free to join the discussion by calling in!