Character Disorders and Relationships

When a Character Disturbance Becomes a Disorder

Character disorders have become more prevalent in our times. Unfortunately, modern culture enables, promotes, and even reinforces character disturbance. And, as mentioned many times before, character disturbance is a spectrum phenomenon. That is, the degree to which someone is purely character-impaired versus “neurotic” varies. We define neurosis as the conflict that rages between primal urges and qualms of conscience. Therefore, we define character disturbance as the relative absence of neurosis. The degree to which someone’s character disturbance rises to the level of a “disorder” also varies.

We all have a distinctive way of seeing things and doing things. And we have a unique “style” of relating to others. That’s what defines our personality. But sometimes a person’s style of relating is in itself problematic. And for many years, we’ve defined a personality or character disorder a certain way. We’ve seen it as a style of coping so extreme, so inflexible, or so deviant from the norm that it impairs functioning and causes distress. But in our day and time, this definition appears to have outlived its usefulness.

Character Disturbance Impacts Relationships

Character Disorders always present problems for relationships. In fact, many now think it wiser to define character disorders by the way they negatively impact relationships. Character disorders impair intimacy, trust, growth, etc. within a relationship. The distinctive way a disturbed character views you and deals with you defines their pathology.  Narcissists, for example, may see you as a desirable object to possess because of how it makes them look. But that makes it hard for them to relate to you in a truly reverent way. And that makes true intimacy pretty impossible. It also makes abuse and exploitation more likely.

In the coming weeks I’ll be talking much more about character disturbance and relationships. And I invite the readers to share their experiences. Trying to relate in a fulfilling or intimate way with a character-disordered individual begets a lot of pain. But that pain can also instruct you about what to look for and insist upon in a relationship partner.


Character Matters airs live this coming Sunday evening at 7 pm EDT. Call in at 718-717-8296 to share, discuss issues, or ask a question.

An updated workshop schedule can be found on the Seminars page. And, as always, be sure to avail yourself of and tell others about the valuable information in my four books and many articles on this blog.

Be Sociable, Share!

31 thoughts on “Character Disorders and Relationships

  1. Narcissists also are entitled. If they do’nt get this entitlement THIS GRACE AND FAVOUR.
    Sort of I TREAT YOU AS I CHOOSE and YOU TREAT ME AS I CHOOSE. They can and do get vengeful and vindictive.

    1. Yes, was just with a family member today who is narcissistic and seems to have no idea how her behavior effects others – but then again maybe she does and is just ok with it, if that is so that makes me mad, but she seems clueless.

      1. Kat,

        Of course they act clueless, if the CDN let on they knew their behavior was unacceptable, others might put pressure on them to change or at least behave.

        Also, remember the CDN is arrogant and truly believes they are right, if they know it is wrong and many do, they ultimately convince themselves it is right, therefore, the CDN believe a lie, their own lies.

        1. BTOV,
          Hi and thanks for that insight. If they believe their own lies, and I would say this person doesn’t as much fabricate but rather exaggerates mainly, then they deceive themselves and may be blind to their actions and how they effect others. She is arrogant and believes she is right. She shows a lot of resistance to change and is responsibility avoidant in that nothing is her fault but is the fault of others. Overall she is what I have heard described as an “energy vampire” in that she sucks the life out of you with her constant negativity. She is miserable. One would wonder what secondary benefits she could be receiving that would be worth it, and the only thing that comes to mind for me is that she doesn’t have to make an effort to change, and she can continue believing she is right – but to me that trade-off just wouldn’t be worth it.

          1. She doesn’t as much fabricate, do you mean she doesn’t much lie? She rather much exaggerates or may I ask does she embellish things. My question is whats the difference, in all instances she is lying. No matter if you exaggerate, it still is lying, its not the truth. Embellishing is a form of lying. A lie is a lie is a lie, no getting round it it is a lie.

            OK, she is an energy vampire, she sucks all your positive energy and strength from you, leaves you with all her toxicity and throws you in the heap with the rest of her discards and goes on to her next victim.

            Why would they want to change when they can dump all their toxic spew on you. No responsibility, they can always find another person to feel sorry for them and pick up the slack.

            They are miserable creatures and get a sense of control and strength have pulled the wool over your eyes and lured you into her web and sucked you dry.

            “Jokes on you Sucker.” Full of glee and self righteousness they brought you down. The trade-off to you wouldn’t be right, why ?
            Because you don’t have the self-centered perverted thinking the CDNSP have. The CDN are some sick twisted puppies, I need to be careful here, many are rabid.

          2. “but to me that trade-off just wouldn’t be worth it”

            That is what you think. Not everyone thinks like you. 🙂

        2. Andy D, that’s true, we all don’t think alike.
          BTOV, I am trying to hear what you are saying, but I can’t wrap my head around her purposely feeling some kind of satisfaction about draining me. It seems to me she is unaware of her toxic behavior. But you are giving me another perspective. I am starting to read the CD book, I ordered the In Sheeps Clothing but it hasn’t arrived yet. I am really trying to understand this because one runs across these people in life and I need to identify them. The reason I go around her is because she is my sister and I feel obligated and at first I thought I could “help” her by pointing out some behaviors in the belief that insight would help her but she was resistant and would not acknowledge the behavior. I took it as she was blind to it, as we all are to some of our behaviors. But the other perspective is that they are aware and are just not willing to do the work and change, or they are not willing to change their behavior because they see no reason to. I don’t know why this is bouncing off my head. I have to let it sink in I think.

        3. BTOV and others, Iam thinking about confronting her and telling her I can’t be around her like this, and then tell her the constant barrage of negativity is too much. But her negativity is from her negative thoughts, she only thinks of the negative side of things, never the whole picture and her words can’t help but come out negative because her thoughts are negative. But here is what I am concerned about, I do not believe she is willing to change and I don’t want to hurt her and tell her that if there is no willingness to change on her part. In order for her to change that would mean lots of counseling and a sincere heart. I don’t want to hurt her without a possibility that it would bring about change. Then again I could just let it go and cut ties but she will want to know why. Has anyone been in this situation with a family member and what did you do?

          1. kat,

            Instead of confronting one fine day about past events, better may be to confront right after she does something wrong. Very likely she will try to wriggle herself out by using all sorts of tactics. But, you can just the focus on wrong behavior, a sort of “you did ABC and that is wrong”. It is bit harder to twist something that happened moment ago.

            “Then again I could just let it go and cut ties but she will want to know why.”
            I doubt if she will want to know “why”. What does she gain by doing that? Sympathy? I think she will probably just add another entry to her long ever-growing list of things wrongfully done to a righteous person.

            You should prioritize yourself higher. What do you want? And do not let her mess with that. Try to pick something that you can control, e.g. “I want my evening to be free” vs “I want you to be free in evening for me”.

          2. Andy D, thank you. You bring up a good point with the wriggling out of her behavior. I know I can’t continue with this, its too much. I don’t want high blood pressure or a heart attack from the stress.

      2. Kay
        She probably is clueless about the grief she cause because she does not care about others and how they are affected.

  2. I feel truly sad for the children raised by sociopaths. It must be so confusing for the child. I was married to a sociopath-didn’t realize he was one while I was married to him, just thought he was a liar, disloyal, etc. and in general a horrible person,but our children had me and most of the time it was me raising them but the one grown child now has sociopathic behavior despite my influence. Her child is very fearful and anxious. I fear the cycle will repeat in the child. This grieves me no end.

    1. Kat,

      I have family members like you describe. Do you mind my asking how old your sister is? I will answer in regards to this.

        1. Kat,

          Most CDN begins in ones early years, the creation of a false self. By this time in life and depending on how intelligent, subtle and wily she has honed and developed her manipulation skills, she will only get worse.

          Once she understands you are not naive and have got her number the odd are she will plot against you. These people never change and when they have flying monkeys to do their dirty work the CDN can cause more damage.

          If she is your only sibling you can have some control over boundaries and how she treats you. The CDN usually don’t want to lose there only source. You may love your sister and have genuine feelings for her but her are not sincere.

          I am 62 and in my life I don’t have the energy, but more importantly time to waste on a sick individuals who will never change. As sad and difficult it may sound the best thing for you is to just slowly cut her out to the point of NC. I did this with mine and it went very smoothly.

          There are to many good people, single and alone who are more than glad to welcome a well rounded good person into their lives. My opinion comes from having been there. Andy gave you some good pointers too.

          1. BTOV, I agree, I do think I have no choice but to cut her out. Funny, she was like this from a very young age. She seemed to be jealous of all her siblings from this young age and nobody could figure out why. None of her siblings want much to do with her because of her attitude, which is why I felt sympathy for her because she is all alone. I didn’t sleep half the night over this. I talked to a Godly friend at church today and explained the situation and she advised NC as well, and to not accept the guilt I may have over doing that, I know I will struggle with that but ultimately she is responsible for herself and her behavior. I will continue to pray for her and hope that God can change her, that would be a miracle. Its very sad to me to see individuals no matter who they are, to live such a miserable existence, whether they know it or not. Its so easy to be negative, and takes training yourself to see the good side of things and to be grateful, so its a conscious effort for all of us I believe, and these negative thinking patterns can be so ingrained I wonder if the person even realizes how miserable they are, they are so accustomed to how they feel – like the boiling frog in the pot that gets used to the water slowly til they are cooked. Thanks for the input and encouragement to seek out good people.

          2. Kat,

            They do realize how miserable and hateful they are, the CD are very aware. Their Pride, false Pride is what will destroy them and they are more than happy to take anyone they can with them.

            On the otherhand, you have love and patience, kindness, empathy and humility. She would tear you down faster than you can blink and you still pray for her. You have your answer, you see the difference.

            Never stop praying for her, I never stop praying for the CD in my life either. I DO NOT have contact with them, they are to toxic. I do forgive them and this sets me free from carrying all that ugly stufff around like they do. However, Never forget what they are capable of and will do.

            It will take time, read everything you can get your hands on, the archives of this blog are full of stories like ours, ask questions, post your feelings, whatever, you need to set you free from feeling you haven’t done enough. Many times I have my doubts and false hopes and that is all they are. Only God can change a hardened heart when it has come to this point. I have only seem the CD dig there heels in deeper.

            You can’t change anyone, only yourself. It took me a long time to get to my place of understanding. Keep at it, eventually, you will trust your gut instincts. The guilt will begin to fade when you are away from the toxic person for your eyes to open and know the truth.

            Kat, I encourage you to keep posting and working through what you dont understand, eventually you will understand.

            Take care and blessings

          3. Kat,

            “ultimately she is responsible for herself and her behavior”
            You can make a large poster of that and hang in few rooms in your house.

            That frog in boiling water is a good analogy. But, usually it is applied to victims… may be you are frog… just figuring out that water is too hot. 🙂

          4. BTOV, thank you, I learn from your posts and Andy’s. I do have much to learn about CD’s and it takes time – I work full time so will be a bit slower process. By the grace of God I have forgiven my ex CD husband, glad not to carry the baggage around, bitterness is a cancer. I got to see what happened to my ex – he died in hospice last month and even his live in “fiancé” of nearly six years just abandoned his dead body in hospice and took off, didn’t tell anyone, just disappeared. Me and my daughter paid the cost, nobody else stepped up to help pay, not even his family. Nobody cared, not his family, not his children. Pretty sad. Again, thank you for your encouragement, I am sorry you have the CD’s, one can never have a relationship with them and that’s such a shame but its their choice. I am sure I will have questions in this process and its good to know others have gone thru it and have knowledge to share. Blessing to you also.

        2. kat,
          She is in late sixties. Treat it as she is well set in her ways.
          She is getting worse. Treat it as now her facade is cracking at the seam and ugly stuff that was long hidden is finally coming out.

          You should protect your boundaries and do not let her cross them ever.

          1. Thanks for your input Andy, I am just starting a class on Boundaries using a book I think BTOV suggested, its at a church near me. As a child she was always really mean to her siblings and jealous. Its odd how this is from an early age. Its almost as if its genetic, but maybe something happened before that, that was traumatic for her. I sense she is in a very dark place and its depressing.

          2. kat,
            Sometime people make a bad choice, and cover it up with a lie. And that starts the slow descent for the rest of the life. It is hard to catch the lie at the moment, especially if one still has the trust of the other. So, even the parents with best of intention cannot help, till the damage has been done. And, many normal people just do not have skills to handle that kind of child or project. Genetics may also play a role. A child’s temperament can probably be judged within few weeks.

          3. AndyD,

            Well said and absolutely true. I have been that frog and got out just in the nick of time. Interestingly, looking back I have been that frog, many times, having just enough strength to leap out at the last moment.

            Finally, I was enlightened about toxic people and read everything I could. Out of the fog, WOW, does life with these individuals take on a whole different light, you see the truth.

            Yes, with age the mask begins to crack and mangled, malformed infant comes out, so many diagnosed with dementia, makes one wonder. ??????????

  3. I have read Martha Stouts the Sociopath Next Door. In it she has 13 Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths. These rules I think are just as good for dealing with any Character Disordered Person in a Relationship.

  4. My character disordered ex husband has been awarded equal placement of our 2 small children, now 3 and 5. The 5 year old is starting to catch on and ask questions and make comments: why is papa so mean? Why is he nice and then mean and then nice and then mean? Papa is trying to trick me into saying I love him more than I love you ( this was after weeks of him directly telling me, “I don’t know why mama, but I love papa so much more than I love you.” ) He also told me that papa is not mean to his younger sister, only to him, so we don’t need to tell her that he’s mean. It seem he’s chosen my son to be the one he abuses. And that he wants to protect his sister.
    People I’ve talked to who have also had to try coparenting with someone like this tell me the children will figure out what he’s like. And they’ll eventually make a choice. But while we are going through this I need to try to undo some of the damages week after week. I need to know how to guide and encourage the children. How to teach them the skills they need to survive (or hopefully thrive) despite the abusive environment in which they are being raised half the time. I myself was raised in a questionable environment and I’m needing to up my game. The children and I have love authenticity trust humor and emotional intelligence on our side.
    I appreciate some of the advice I’m able to find on this site and others for how to keep boundaries and interact with someone like this in the most effective way. but these seem to focus on adult relationships. My children cannot set the same kind of boundaries. We need help. I would like to know from Dr Simon or anyone else what skills I can teach my children to ensure they do not develop this same disorder and that they can navigate childhood in the most effective way. What resources are available?

    1. susie,

      I really feel for you, I will try to find some reading material on this. Important though is the fact you have been giving them positive nurturing. This is very difficult for the fact child role model their parents. Given their natural traits which I think you will find revealing as you go along , you will have more of an idea of how to deal with each child.

      It is difficult to have control over what happens when your children are with your X. Given the CDN history they usually choose a child they find more appealing and use the other as the scapegoat. Unless you can prove child neglect of some sort I think you may be stuck with the arrangement. You can pray your X finds another girlfriend, a new source that takes up all his time and then doesn’t want anything to do with the children.

      All you can do with your children is teach them moral integrity, character, the golden rule of do unto others as you would have done to you. Always be a good role model. Teach them the The ten commandments and if you have a christian back round take them to church and Sunday school. This will give the children a back round in the right way to act and the proper way to treat each other. Just one of many ideas out there and hope others
      chime in.

      I hope you keep posting and I would love for Dr. Simon to do a topic on how to bring up children in a toxic relationship.

    2. At the core of Narcissism is Envy. A form of HATE that the narcissist excells. Your son is probably the one he envys and therefore is the one being mis-treated.
      Narcissism in part is caused by OVER VALUING OF A CHILD. Always praise the effort undertaken and never the result.
      Look up Dr Brad Bushman When Narcissus Was a Boy on youtube

    3. Susie,
      I am sorry to hear the ex has equal placement. Pretty much the same thing happened in my relationship with the CD, he favored our daughter and verbally abused our son. He worked on my daughter to brainwash her to his way of thinking. Fortunately he was a drug addict and didn’t want any of the responsibility for them so when I left with my two kids I don’t think he actually cared, he was onto the next thing. I hope he loses interest and then you can do without him. Or maybe he will slip up and his custody can be taken away. This is a hard situation and its really good that you are aware of what is going on. I agree with what has been suggested about getting them involved with a church if you are open to that. They are going to see two different dynamics going on with you and him and they need to be able to see clearly which is the best and right way. Its going to be confusing for them unless they are immersed in what is good, I feel for you, that’s a tuff go and I would make sure I had plenty of moral support.

  5. Thank you Dr. Simon for all your hard work and insights. I’m so grateful for the freedom that I have received through the Lord and I’m also very grateful for your God honoring guidance and wonderful books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *