Character Disturbance and Hardness of Heart

Hardness of Heart

What do we mean when we talk about “hardness of heart”? Folks with hardened hearts have an impaired ability to empathize. They also have an impaired ability to truly connect. This makes healthy, intimate relationships virtually impossible. The harder one’s heart, the harder it is to achieve real intimacy and to truly love.

Different Manifestations

Hardness of heart can manifest itself in many ways. A person can show it through insensitivity. They can show it through the callous use and exploitation of another. They can also display it in verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive behavior. Sometimes, however, their displays can be so subtle they go unnoticed for awhile. That’s how some folks get trapped into abusive relationships.

There are many ways a heart can become hardened enough to do such the things mentioned above. A person might have suffered so much hurt in the past that they built thick walls of protection around their heart. Or, they can simply have been so successful in manipulating others that they never had to develop any empathy capacity they might possess. And some folks became so successful at acquiring power and so enamored of both it and themselves that they came to despise openness or vulnerability. Then there are those rare but truly unfortunate cases where the qualities commonly thought to make up the human heart simply aren’t part of a person’s constitutional makeup. For more on this type of serious character pathology, see:

Can Anything Soften a Hardened Heart?

Can enough love soften a hardened heart? Many folks have entered relationships believing it can.  The simple answer to the question is simple: sometimes. But the more accurate answer is much more complicated. Sadly, all too many folks enter tenuous relationships hoping enough love will fix things and conquer all. So, the bigger question becomes how to discern when such hope truly exists. And to that question, there is no simple or easy answer. (Find more on these topics in: How Did We End Up Here?)

Like we’re realizing about so many things these days, hardness of heart is a spectrum phenomenon. Folks can harbor varying degrees of hardness in their hearts and for very different reasons. Regardless, penetrating a closed heart is always a challenge. But the important thing to remember is that no one bears the responsibility for “fixing” another’s heart. Only life itself can do that. Intense joy or nearly decimating pain can open even the most closed of hearts. (See: Hitting Bottom Can Help a Narcissist.) And in the end, it’s each individual’s personal responsibility to cooperate with any purification process such events can precipitate.

Next week I’ll be concluding the series on purity and sincerity of heart. And in the coming week’s I’ll be discussing the wider spiritual dimension of all the “commandments.” (See: pp. 140-148 in Character Disturbance.)


21 thoughts on “Character Disturbance and Hardness of Heart

  1. I definitely see hardness of heart in my family members. For many of the reasons stated above. Being successful at manipulating is so very dangerous especially to the manipulator. They truly can’t see how they align themselves with the enemy of our souls and thus, the eternal danger.
    I’m gonna be a grandma again but by my other child. All of a sudden my married child and spouse who were completely abusive to us for the past 9-10 yrs all of a sudden are feigning interest in us????
    Boy could that be exploited by us….Nope, sorry not interested in losing my soul!!
    It’s truly one of the saddest things to see in my life, my own child change so much and become so hard hearted towards me that he uses my innocent grandkids to say things no little one would ever say much less think on their own.
    Still praying and behaving according to God’s Word!!!

    1. Hi Priscilla,
      It is sad to have to stand by and watch this stuff go on. My daughter manipulates my granddaughter as well, only she had made her anxiety so bad she doesn’t want to leave the house. Its such a helpless feeling, you see the harm being done but are powerless to stop it. We are adults and are able to see what is going on and so there we have some protection. Children raised up by them for the most part are unable to see what is going on. I feel like I should be able to do something, something to make my daughter see what shes doing, but I have tried and its just denial everytime. Its beyond my control but its just so sad to see this happening and not be able to help.

      1. Pricilla, Kat,

        The family members I have had to deal with the older they got the harder their hearts became. They would connive and do anything they thought would harm me or cause me misery even if it meant harming and innocent person. I believe this state of sheer hardness of heart is a opening into seeing how heartless and empty the landscape within them is. It’s a shame to see them destroy another right in front of you and at the same time they know you can’t do anything about it.

    2. Priscilla,
      That’s so difficult to watch. And to be helpless.
      Hopefully you can have the grandkids visit at your home without the adults parents around. That would be your only way of enjoying them, and them you.

  2. We can’t change anyone’s heart, make them see what they should see, make them realize the consequences of what they’re doing, unless they are open to really listen. And then do their own self-work.
    We can bang our heads till we bleed trying to help distorted people, but it doesn’t help till they truly want to work on themselves.
    Still, after over three years of coming to the realization of what had been happening to me in the long-term marriage, I’m still working on myself, trying to fix what went wrong within myself so that these things will never happen again, that I’ll not cozy up a friendship or romantic relationship with people who are not emotionally well. This has been difficult. There are so many relationships, I’m finding, that just are not healthy relationships. It’s difficult to reverse old patterns and habits, but once I’ve become conscious of it, I’m doing it.
    I don’t have to fix people. That’s not my job. Never was – but for my own reasons I took on that job, and to no avail. No more of that for me.

  3. I honestly don’t know how I’d handle that situation with distorted parents mistreating the grandkids. I guess there is nothing we can do, not being the parent in charge. I feel for you all.

  4. BTOV, Lucy,
    I have to stop carrying guilt around for not being able to get my daughter to stop being abusive to my granddaughter because there is nothing I can think of that I could do. When I address it, there is only denial. It’s verbal abuse – things like belittling her ideas, laughing at her, undermining her confidence. She tries to do the same to me but I know its coming out of a miserable person and am doing good at not taking it personally, but the granddaughter is brain washed. I have said things when we have all been together about the negative remarks, and said things to my granddaughter to build her confidence when her mom is not around, but its the daily verbal criticism that I can’t stop. And then when the two of them get together on criticism of me – my driving or anything can trigger them, I just have to go.

  5. kat
    Sounds like they’re making a game of abuse with you. Mom is teaching her daughter how to be mean and ugly.
    I think I’d limit interactions to being only with the grandchildren, minus your daughter. She’s poison.
    You may reach the point where you just get worn down, beat up, and give up. And that’s ok. It’s survival. It’s taking care of yourself.

    1. Yes, and to much exposure can lead everyone into adopting patterns of interaction of their environment.

      I’ve seen many times over the mean and abuser children often have a mean and abuser parent that teaches and encourages them from early on to be just like the parent. There may very well be exceptions, but most often I find that horrible people have learned to be horrible from at least one parent. Wifebeaters, especially. The wifebeater dad teaches the sons to beat, abuse, intimidate, control, degrade, dehumanize, objectify, and hate women from very early on.

      To a large degree, people are products of their environment. I myself was raised in a very prosocial manner, and yet after years of dealing with a monster, i began to sometimes act like him (not that I didn’t hate myself afterwards for it, or not like I hadn’t been traumatized and crippled from the abuse and violence).

      A person learns what they live. The Bible talks about this, I believe, and the verse that springs to mind is the one where it talks of bad company corrupts good character. Same with Proverbs, where it says warnings, like, ‘my son, if sinners try to entice you…’

      Finally, I think it’s very difficult to retain one’s good character when amidst wolves and fighting tooth and nail for survival. So I feel for kids who grow up with abuser parents who expect their offspring to be abusers like them. They really don’t have a chance.

      1. Olivia,
        There are those folks who have grown up with abuser parents that have managed to free themselves of the same behavior. I don’t know what the difference is, sometimes I wonder if it could be genetic. I pray for my granddaughter to have an awakening and brake free of this. It makes me so mad and sad that this goes on.

    2. Lucy, you are exactly right, it is a game for them when they do it. I can see they are enjoying it and my granddaughter is able to please her mother by doing it – one of the few things her mom expresses approval of her about. I have been cutting the conversation short when that happens as its on the phone now since they are out of state. The two will be on speaker phone in the car so it makes it easy to “have to go”. Hope things are going well for you Lucy, and thanks for your response, I have learned a lot from others on this site. Nobody knows what its like except those who have dealt with it. I have been going to a 12 step group but when I say something about having dealt with narcissistic people in my life, I don’t think the majority of people have any idea. People naturally default to how the average person is, not the motives of the narcissist.

    3. Lucy, you are exactly right, it is a game for them when they do it. I can see they are enjoying it and my granddaughter is able to please her mother by doing it – one of the few things her mom expresses approval of her about. I have been cutting the conversation short when that happens as its on the phone now since they are out of state. The two will be on speaker phone in the car so it makes it easy to “have to go”. Hope things are going well for you Lucy, and thanks for your response, I have learned a lot from others on this site. Nobody knows what its like except those who have dealt with it. I have been going to a 12 step group but when I say something about having dealt with narcissistic people in my life, I don’t think the majority of people have any idea. People naturally default to how the average person is, not the motives of the narcissist.

      1. Kat,

        You mention a 12 step group you are attending. I have been rather down as of late and think that might be a good thing for me to attend. If I may ask and if you are willing to share what is it in relation to?

        I have a special friend who I call Captain Fly Lady who has been instrumental in me decluttering and letting go of things. Wow, has she been a rock of support in guiding me to let go. This special friend is always kind and loving in her guidance and support and I am truly blessed that she happened into my life.

        I am on my second cleansing and from my understanding have 8 more to go and she is right about that. Its true of so many things in our life in letting go of and putting a house in order that makes sense without being ourselves CD emotionally, physically or otherwise.

        This is the Topic of Character Dr. SImon has been discussing, where the true point is is it really starts with us. I am trying very hard to make the changes I need to make in my life to be a better person. It is not easy to change at my age though I have been blessed with the personality of an empath and for that I am grateful and above all this blog and all who willingly share.

        Kat, I have also been blessed with wonderful health care providers who rank above docs who are indeed Healers. It is I who needs to look within and do the work to be worthy of those who have extended a helping hand which are few and far between in this world and in return pay forward.

        Above all, prayer and God has kept me going. I have been in my prayer closet for weeks and today I must put on the suit of armor and come out.
        Please say a prayer for me as the things I must take care of are not that of what a woman of my age should take on. I know that with the grace and strength of God I can do it.

        Kat and all, thank you for your prayers and strength. I miss you to Andy, you have such a level head that I wished I had.

        God Bless All..

  6. Just to say.
    I am not diabetic any more.

    Hardness of heart, I found a video of the mothers 74 birthday. In it she subjects me to verbal abuse. The brother shows up with it’s daughter. they both start a process of ridicule and humiliation.
    At the end of the video I laugh. The reason, I GOT THEM. I can show anyone who they are in reality and no more GASLIGHTING. AND THEY JUST DO’NT SEE IT.

    1. Joey,

      I am glad to hear the good news about the diabetes. Keep eating all the right things and stay healthy.

      Joey, most of all you are no ones whipping boy anymore. You are you, a kind and wonderful man who brings joy and tears of happiness to others. So many times when I have been down, Iv’e read a beautiful poem you choose and posted just for me.

      All the rejection from the mother was yesterday, you have today and the future and I know it will only get better for you. Joey, that very special part of you the very part the mother coveted and wanted to destroy was not accomplished. Here you are and you are exceeding all expectations and I know you will continue to climb the ladder to new heights.

      Hugs and God Bless You, and Know This, You are very Special to Me.

  7. kat,
    You’re right about how people who have not experienced relations with these disordered people do not understand. And they have bad advice.
    It’s frustrating when they try to tell you that “oh, he/she does this because he’s hurting.” BS. They do it because they derive pleasure in it. We don’t need to be more understanding and tolerant of this type. We need to think of ourselves and our mental and emotional well being, and what it usually finally comes down to is separating ourselves as much as we can from the one inflicting the damage.
    You’re doing a good job of it, cutting off conversation as soon as it gets ugly.
    I think I’d say something like, “On that abusive note, I’m hanging up now.” And hang up. Every time.

    1. Lucy,
      I agree, the feedback I got one time was that she just “has a hard time showing love”. I said no, you can’t give what you don’t have, she’s not capable of real love unfortunately and she purposely tries to run me down. What I don’t say is that she purposely waits for an opportunity to attack and put me on the defense – but I am learning not to go there – I rarely find myself “explaining” myself anymore – that’s a trap that I am aware of from reading this blog.
      Of course people will think different things about that statement and most the time its best not to even go into it unless the person knows me and her well- then they can see for themselves. I like your suggestion, it acknowledges what she is doing but doesn’t attack.

      1. kat
        When I reached that point of no longer explaining myself it was a real life changer. When I realized he kept being put on the defense for no good reason, that was a life changer. I’m so done with that!
        You are doing so well.
        I try to teach this to my daughter when dealing with her dad. It’s such unnecessary, toxic drama. It’s all part of their manipulation tactic.
        You’re right to not even try to educate people with their bad advice. It gets so frustrating and draining. They don’t get it.

  8. Joey,

    That’s great news, Joey. You must have really made some big dietary changes. That takes perseverance and will.
    That mother of yours, goodness sakes. What a mean one.
    I’m sorry you had to tolerate that for so long.

    1. I’m sorry too Joey that you had to tolerate that while growing up. I can’t imagine treating your son like that, these people are something else.

  9. Joey and all,

    Joey, you are such a influence of change and endurance. I cannot even compare to your accomplishments and determination. Your a giant in my eyes that you could walk away and turn your life around. I, waited to long, hoped to long and before I knew it my life was gone. In that I mean I an to old.

    What is wonderful to me is when I hear your story of success, when I hear how Lucy has risen above all. I have been in a low place and all your successes give me strength to go forward.

    Joey, Lucy, Kat, you all bring so much hope and positivity.

    God Bless you all……

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