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.