Establishing and maintaining healthy, productive relationships is fundamental to human existence and happiness. And the impact certain kinds of relationships can have upon us simply cannot be understated. Loving, supportive, and nurturing relationships have a certain character to them. And of course, the character of the individuals comprising a relationship has a lot to do with what the character of any particular relationship will be. That’s why it’s good to have the tools and skills to make adequate character assessments before entering into a relationship.
Many survivors of an abusive or otherwise toxic relationship live in fear of making a fatal mistake again. They also question how they got themselves into their bad situation in the first place. They become unsure of their judgment, and this can leave them feeling confused, lost, mistrusting, and even paranoid (for more on this see: (Toxic Relationship Aftermath: Doubt, Mistrust, and Paranoia?).
I wrote Character Disturbance to give the average person a primer on personality and character pathology. And almost as soon as I’d finished it, I realized how many more volumes I could easily have written on the topic. Adequately judging character is no easy business. It’s not even easy for professionals with years of training and experience, which is just one reason why some professionals choose to ignore the issue. But in our times of widespread character disturbance, being a good judge of character is more important than ever. You simply must know what kind of person you’re dealing with and how to spot the red flags that getting involved with them will invite trouble.
It wasn’t too long ago that most folks in the Western world still observed some traditions cultivated over centuries to help individuals “vet” candidates for serious relationships. Dating, courtship, and formal engagement were commonly part of this process. Dating was often conducted both in the company of and under the supervision of trusted friends and sometimes even official chaperones. This was to keep the purpose of dating focused on becoming acquainted as opposed to all the other possibilities. After a period of dating, formal courtship might ensue. If things got “serious,” a marriage proposal might be expected and the couple, with the family’s blessing (i.e. the family believed that at least the minimum requirements were met for a person to be a potential marriage partner) would become engaged. And during the period of official engagement, not only would the couple get to know each other more intimately (as the result of more frequent contact) but also the extended family would have an even greater opportunity to scrutinize the potential marriage partner for behavior patterns, attitudes, and other proclivities that might signal trouble ahead. Even then, built into most marriage ceremonies was the fabled anxiety-raising question about whether anyone attending the ceremony knew of any reason whatsoever why it might not be a good idea for the couple to seal their vows, followed by an exhortation to speak up quickly so that potential disaster could be avoided. Marriage was taken very seriously and wasn’t entered into lightly.
Relationships these days are very different. And while a case can be made about the benefits flowing from the increased freedom folks have in selecting and entering into relationships (there was a time, after all, when marriages were simply “arranged” by the family and sometimes even without the consent of one of the parties – [usually the bride]), it would certainly be fair to say that these days relationships are entered into far too casually and for less than optimal reasons all too frequently, which is why they so often fall apart so quickly or turn out to be so dysfunctional.
I’ve counseled hundreds of couples over the years. And I’ve always asked each spouse to give the top three reasons they had for getting involved with their partner. I can tell you the answers, though sometimes hard to comprehend, no longer shock me but are always very telling. Still, even when a person is fairly conscientious about entering into a relationship, it’s possible to get fooled or blindsided. That’s because some disturbed characters are very adept at the art of impression management. They know how to pull the wool over your eyes and win you over. In short, they know how to get what they want, but once they have it, there’s less need for pretenses, and that’s when all the trouble usually begins.
The surest way to avoid potential victimization is to know the basic personality types and exactly what makes each type of character “tick.” Every personality type displays specific, distinctive, and often telltale “signs” that tell you what a person is all about. These signs are easily discernible once you know what to look for. And in Character Disturbance, in addition to enumerating these signs, I also outline all of the contributing factors, specific behavior patterns, ways of thinking, attitudes and predispositions, and interpersonal maneuvers that might raise a red flag or two about the overall health of someone’s character. Of course, to have an objective eye for these things requires that any character issues you might have yourself also have to be reckoned with. So, even though I gave some extra attention in my book to the relatively non-neurotic and conscience-impaired character types, I deliberately included enough information on all the various personality types and dimensions of personality that everyone could find themselves somewhere among the descriptions and in the process come to a greater degree of self-awareness (the same can be said also, but to a lesser extent, about The Judas Syndrome). Knowing yourself, your blind spots, and perhaps even the distorted lenses through which you might tend to view things, is another crucial component of being able to make sound judgments about the character of others.
Next week’s post will focus on some specific strategies to use when making character assessments. It will include some examples from real cases to help illustrate the process. Hopefully, the information and examples supplied, as well as comments and anecdotes from the readers will help folks become able to judge where anyone lies on the spectrum of character disturbance.
31 thoughts on “Becoming a Better Judge of Character”
From the word “self-awareness” I recall this request I made. Dr Simon, would you also make an article about a continuum of self-awareness?
After all, it’s not sometimes someone’s self-awareness doesn’t develop. How do you go on to develop it, if you’re not even aware of how little you’re aware of? I may not be the most neurotic personality, but a great deal of my youth I’ve had a very foggy and dim awareness I’ve unfortunately cleared through the hard way, making plenty of social flubs. How is it that self-awareness develops at all?
Dr. Simon, what advice to you have for this situation for a neurotic personality recovering from a relationship with CD personality. Here goes: the neurotic has ended the relationship with the CD person years ago, has moved on in life with new friends and quality relationships and stability in other aspects of life. In the course of rebuilding a life, the neurotic in recovery has the misfortune of becoming involved with yet a new circle of CD personalities–they are out there in growing numbers like you say, in the workplace and anywhere else we operate in society. It is not possible to leave the relationship with the CD personalities, a clique of bullies essentially, one must simply learn to navigate them. The CD clique knows the neurotic has happily moved on in life, and shows no regret at having left the relationship with the CD person. Seeing the neurotic is a generally likable person, makes friends easily, is competent, goal setting, and likes life for the most part, the CD clique decides to smear the character of the neurotic, spreading falsehoods and lies. All in in a desperate, self-serving attempt to destroy the new thriving relationships the neurotic has built. The CD narcissists become enraged that others appreciate the neurotic, so they act out desperately to own the people receiving the lies. The CD clique claims to be providing a service to the community by exposing the neurotic, but the neurotic can’t speak for himself because no one will actually come out and make an accusation, the attacks are secret and the attempts are to isolate the neurotic. Why do the people who hear the lies believe them when the neurotic is obviously by all evidence a conscientious and unaggressive person known mostly for getting along very well with people? Is there a way to expose the CD narcissists for their self serving attempt to own others? it seem futile to try. but the people who listen and believe the lies about the neurotic in the face of evidence to the contrary are as desperate to attack as the CD personalities.
good question, I’ve asked myself this.
Indeed, what’s the psychology behind that?
Perhaps there should be a skill to bring up character smearing and similar matters in conversations in a natural, rational and generalized manner. Anyone have experience with this?
S, there’s another good site that handles bullying. This doesn’t completely answer your question, but perhaps this could give us all a bit of an insight why this kind of thing happens.
J! This line describes Spathtardx to a TEE!!
“the bully is a smooth, slimy, sycophantic individual who excels at deception using a combination of compulsive lying, Jekyll and Hyde nature, manipulation, mimicry of normal behaviour, self-assuredness and charm”
“Spathtardx.” Haven’t heard that one before. Funny!
Abigail……I have a host of names for the loser!! LOL! Most are not suitable on this site!
If we all got better at spotting those and accepting that anyone can be fooled, perhaps we’d all have easier time.
Thank you J, for sharing bullyonline.org. This is one of the best descriptions I have seen of the dynamics around the behavior. There are so many variables at play, and this site does a good job of identifying so many circumstances that surround this situation. Here is another one, the Workplace Bullying Institute, http://www.workplacebullying.org/ . The WBI is working to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill across the country and they’ve been successful in several states.
S, also about what to do about that:
*While we can’t control everything, perhaps there should be a skill to influencing some people to be less likely to believe random rumors and allegations. Like I said: “to bring up character smearing and similar matters in conversations in a natural, rational and generalized manner.” I once brought this up in a conversation with some friends in passing, because there was a good seam, speaking in a general manner: “When you hear a nasty thing about someone, you can’t automatically know whether the one shown in bad light is really such.”
Sometimes it may be have done in an indirect manner and tailored to circumstances. Hard to pin specifics. Anyone get what I’m saying?
J, I totally “get” what you are saying. That is the crux of the matter when it comes to COVERT manipulation and abuse! THAT is how they perpetuate their game and agenda!
“Hard to pin specifics”,,,,,,,,,,,EXACTLY! They leave and create so much wriggle room that the victim can easily be made to look “crazy” or wrong or paranoid when their gut says something is wrong here!
This is why I have thoroughly informed the police in my area of exactly what has gone on and the FACT that Spathtardx has been arrested and convicted of Domestic Violence in his past. I was actually VERY lucky to find an officer who was kind and understanding and most importantly AWARE of these types. I was very surprised by his level of understanding of the nature of these losers.
SO, if anything were to happen to me? They would know exactly where to start looking for the guilty party.
I’m saying we should be able to talk about these matters in a general, rational manner. Bringing it up in a conversation with some superior may be harder.
Still, is there any way to make one’s reputation inassailable to any false allegations? What ways are there to defend? I have a hunch it’s best to think of these things beforehand.
J, you’re right, it is tailored to circumstances. It’s as if the rumor was tailored to each recipient, shaded slightly to reflect what would be most offensive to that particular person. The American workplace would be much improved if more organizations offered training such as Dr. Simon provides and management took more seriously the drain on morale and productivity these aggressives create. There’s no way to make anyone’s reputation unassailable to every little thing, but an all out attack from multiple fronts is something that should be taken more seriously by management. If education about aggressive tactics were more widely available, it might help targets, and just as importantly bystanders who have this stuff foisted on them and are forced to take a side when they’d much rather never have heard it anyway. And if more people become aware that these “services to society” seem to always be spread by the same individuals, even and especially when they are in a position of power, one hopes a clearer picture might emerge. The individual at the center of this aggression attacked others within a year prior to this, some of whom left the organization voluntarily or were fired. One wonders if anyone notices the pattern of attack, always rationalized as being in defense of high-standards or some other cause that people would naturally want to defend.
It’s also interesting, S, that the page I linked to also refers to impression management of different sorts. Usually when I read of impression management in context of manipulators and the responsibility-challenged, I tend to first think of rationalization, minimization, trivialization and such. In this page it gains a new meaning.
I wonder if the scrutiny of possible spouses only happens now if the family is wealthy or royalty (England)? In those cases, it is probably more fueled by a need to protect the assets over picking a good spouse. I could be wrong tho.
Since traditional assumptions can be hampering us unconsciously, I think it would be beneficial to dissect them a bit more. I think I’ll be talking of this here in comments for days to come.
I’ve already babbled on and on about radical evil and how it has that implication that it’s a force that takes over a person. Perhaps it’s just me, but I see a subtle distancing between a person that chooses to do and the concept of evil, supposedly its own entity.
Also, do folks, when they excuse acting-up, act on a misplaced belief that someone acting up would be showing repetition compulsion?
I would say so! You assume that the person acting up would care that they have hurt someone and do their best to sincerely change their behavior, not that they are doing it on purpose and have no intention what so ever to change it. Most people would NEVER assume that someone is devious and covertly manipulating them.
maybe the person isn’t really “choosing” if evil is at the root of their choices?
how would it LOOK any different? a CA doing what CA’s consciously do to destroy others for their own gain vs someone possessed by evil who accomplishes the same results?
I have mentioned autonomous complexes earlier. You know how some of us find ourselves acting in ways we consciously didn’t intend and then we wonder what came over us. If we listen to certain energies that appear within ourselves, we recognize they have a message to us, whether it’s got an actual point or it’s dumb as all get-out.
For example: “Those others really let know they have opinions and saying them to you that blunt. Yeah, you know these ones mean no harm, but so what? They are lording themselves over like they were oh-so-superior, oh-so-wise. It’s annoying. They could as well say, ‘Look at me, I’m smarter than you’. You can tell them to shove it.”
We know, sometimes we may inadvertently ignore some aspect of ourselves or try to change ourselves too much right away, ending up trying too hard. These complexes can express themselves in ways we find awkward or even embarrassing, e.g. emotional explosions.
J, I think the make or break component is accountability so that even when you “didn’t mean” to do what you did, you are accountable for your actions. It takes maturity and humility to admit to yourself and others that you have been off base and hurtful in your words and deeds.
Of course, one of the tools a CA uses is to get you to believe that they have done nothing to spur you on to the point that you react in an unhealthy way.
Then some people get carried away by obsessions. Some hurt others because of poor people skills, poor social intuition or lacking emotional maturity. Some don’t reflect enough on their behavior and thus actually lack certain self-awareness. Of course there are many non-manipulative yet negative behaviors as well that I won’t list here, but kind of returns me to this:
There are many ways for a human being to go wrong.
Now, some energies can get really destructive(at least according to Jungian psychology), so if they don’t get what they want, if they get split off, they find their own will and cause problems in covert ways.
Some people, however, don’t have a need to suppress or split off anything and they give themselves a free reign of sorts, like a parent spoiling their kids. “Oh, you want to hit him for daring to tell us how we’re supposed to do? Oh well, sure.”
I’m not saying that they think they’re literally invoking evil. Some people know things to be abhorrent, but consciously invite evil to act through them, because they think it’s all okay if they don’t get pained by it.
So to answer your question: I think it returns to the degree to which a person experiences problems with his/her own behavior.
And no, as a side note, I don’t mean self-pitying or being bitter about having gotten the shorter end of the stick or being embarrassed about being held accountable. We all know those aren’t coping defenses but thinking distortions.
Now, I don’t want to be monologueing here dramatically, so please, folks, what thoughts does this bring?
when you say that it all depends to what degree these behaviors present themselves, that can be a vey subjective thing to judge.
I would say, it doesn’t matter WHY a person is aggressive, manipulative and destructive in their treatment of others…….they just ARE and once you discover this, get them out of your life as quickly and smoothly as possible. Even a hint of Spathtardness will send me running at this point, knowing what I know now!
Regarding evil, one of the most chilling books I’ve ever read is Malachi Martin’s book, Hostage to the devil; the possession and exorcism of five contemporary Americans. It’s currently available on Amazon at $14.49. It was loaned to me by a friend, so I don’t have a copy available now. If I understood it correctly, temptation is always around us. The “victims” at some point said yes to some temptation, thereby inviting the demon into their lives and thoughts.
I have known one man who seemed possibly possessed, even though he was attending church. I heard of another man, with whom I was not acquainted, who refused to shake the first man’s hand on being introduced to him, saying there was something evil about him. In our culture, refusing to shake someone’s hand is a very serious lapse of etiquette.
Is evil around us? Yes, I believe it is. I live on Main Street in a small town. One night I woke up about 1:30 a.m. and felt a sense of wrongness and evil in the air. I immediately started praying for protection from evil — this feeling lasted for about an hour. Then the feeling of evil left, I went back to sleep. The next day, I found that several businesses in the two blocks immediately around my place had been seriously vandalized, one business even had the main electrical wiring cut through. My house and business was not touched. I truly believe that God and/or His angels protected me.