Character Is About How We Relate

Personality and Character

We all relate to others and the world at large in a distinctive way. And the manner in which we relate pretty much defines our personality. Now, what we call our character reflects the moral and ethical aspects of our personality. Unfortunately, in our times too many folks relate to others in unhealthy, even destructive ways. That’s what defines character disturbance.

The Nature of Character Disturbance

Both our innate tendencies and the things we experience shape our personalities. We form certain attitudes – beliefs about how the world operates and how to best cope. These ways of thinking heavily influence how we act. They especially effect how we conduct ourselves in relationships. Disturbed characters see the world and others in some pretty unhealthy ways. And their unhealthy perceptions and attitudes predispose them to relate in a destructive fashion.

It’s All About Relationships

Relationships become toxic when one or both parties to that relationship have problematic traits in their character. For example, if I have narcissistic traits in my personality, I’m likely to be self-centered and demanding. I’m also likely to view others in terms of how they reflect on me and the view I like to hold of my own importance. At the beginning of a relationship, I may go all out to impress and attract someone. I might make the object of my desire feel so special they simply can’t resist me. But in time, my egocentricity will simply have to surface. And it will inevitably impair the development of genuine intimacy.

Learning to Better Relate

In my teaching seminars I stress the radically different nature of therapy for disturbed characters. Such therapy is actually training in healthier relating. It’s not just talking and listening. And it’s much more than exploring feelings and inner conflicts. You confront directly but lovingly unhealthy ways of looking at and thinking about things. And you confront intimacy-impairing ways of interacting. Then you “invite” them to try a different approach. And when they show any willingness to do so, you reinforce their effort.

Helping character-impaired people change is difficult, specialized work. And when someone’s character disturbance rises to the level of a disorder, successfully promoting change can be impossible or next to impossible.


Next week we’ll focus the character traits that pose the biggest obstacles to intimacy in relationships. We’ll also talk about how to best deal with them.

Character Matters airs live this Sunday at 7 pm EDT (6 pm CDT). Call in at (718) 717-8296 to share or ask a question.

As always, thanks for recommending my books to those in need. And please avail yourself of the many useful articles and comments on this blog.  Also, note the updated information on my workshops.


39 thoughts on “Character Is About How We Relate

  1. It seems like the techniques one uses to help a character disordered person in therapy are the same that a good parent would use on a young child.

    It is like a form of re-parenting, I guess?

  2. It is for the narcissist all about feeling special (Dr Craig Malkin). Just that, It is just THEIR NEED to feel special. You do no have any needs. It is just all about their needs. They can be philanthropist, Doctors, teachers, parents etc How they fulfill their needs at every ones elses expence. My entire family other than me is like this. I made my own way in this world that makes me the scapegoat. Because if I achive something it make me look special. If you do all the work and give THEM full credit for the good results, they are quit happy. If how ever you work hard fail, work hard fail, work hard fail and again work hard and fail then try to take the entitlment for your honest toil. You will be attacked,psychologically,emotionally and physically stop you from achiving your goals in life. It is all JUST about their need to feel special not yours!

    1. It must be the worst burden of all to be born into a family of pathologicals, Patrick. It saddens me to read about it. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to experience it, first hand. Do you feel lonely? After sadness, I think the feeling of being isolated would be hard to deal with.

    2. patrick, I am very sorry to hear about your family. I am glad you are not that way and are capable of having good relationships, something they will never have and one of the most valuable things in life.

      1. Patrick,
        It sounds like you are telling my story. It is very draining to say the least. I know for ones own sanity it is best to detach from them. My heart goes out to you.

  3. Reparenting, even with the benefit of clinical detachment must be interesting and rewarding but also frustrating. I can understand taking it on consciously, as a career, though. Still, I doubt I would have the patience. Actually I KNOW I wouldn’t.

    I feel compassion for those who fall into a trap that’s often intentionally baited. At best, they end up confused but intact and ‘no contact.’ At worst, their victims are close to completely broken by it.

    Thanks mightily for helping all of those who wander through a relationship wilderness, looking for shelter from confusion, for providing it. Add to that the wisdom you provide us with and there is no end to how far your influence will go. It’s like the movie, ‘Paying it Forward.’

    1. LisaO.

      I asked several of the doctors I know about taking on the N and the reparenting process. All of them find it a repugnant job and usually decline these kinds of patients. However, it is rare for one to come in for help, the help they usually want is validation that they are not at fault and it becomes a struggle and they sap all the energy from the therapist.

      At one point I must had said something to the N in my life and they wrote a note to me asking me to stop treating them like a child. What a waving red flag. I wasted 30 years of my life on a man child. And as I have repeatedly counseled as they age they regress into an earlier time in their childhood. The terrible two’s tantrums gives one an idea of where the developmental arrestment took place.

      1. Btov,

        Malignant narcissists are frozen at around 2 years old, like you say. I wonder about psychopaths — if they are the same?

        Trump is a malignant narcissist, for sure, and is often portrayed as a baby in cartoons. Now the invisible forces who support him, I feel, are the psychopaths. So so easy to pull this dude’s strings with flattery. They are also emotionally stunted but highly functional and incredibly Machiovellian — and that requires some restraint.

        Anyway…frustrating listening to people describe him as a noble force out to vanquish evil. He is so obviously disordered.

        1. Watching Trump is a real life portrayal of the malignant narcissist and we see how dangerous – and ridiculous – they can be.

    2. LisaO

      Please look up “Warwick Dyer” on You tube. He reparents parents, so they can reparent their own children. He is an amazing man. He take on those violent and troubled cases no one else will.

  4. Today I spoke to my N sister about her complaining and she told me she didn’t realize she was and to give her examples. This is what I expected. She told me she was sorry she made me feel bad when I told her how it affected me. I believe she knows she is complaining and just doesn’t want to admit because I may quit doing things with her. She said she would think about the ways she was doing it and I told her its going to take more than thinking about it and that she would need to be willing to put work into it to make changes but that it was her responsibility and that it is a problem if she doesn’t recognize she is doing it. I told her I can’t be around the complaining it bothers me too much. I asked her if anyone had ever talked to her before about her complaining and she said no, of course. She didn’t seem angry talking about it, or at least she didn’t want to show it. I know if I do anything with her she will be on her best behavior for a while but this is the best I can do to start the ball rolling to either her willingly making changes, or me restricting my time with her or just going NC. Its hard to nail the N down when they are using denial, I am not a therapist or even very educated to know what I am doing in these matters, but at least one subject has been brought out in the light and I can feel free to refer to it with her again. I also talked to her about her negativity so that’s out there too. At this point I would prefer to go NC because I have had enough, but I feel that if she shows me through some action she is taking that she is serious about changes then I will hang in there a while and see what happens.

    1. Kat,

      You walked that tight rope with skill and compassion. You have given her a chance, confronted her in a way that obviously didn’t throw her on the defensive. The ball is in her court now. You have stated very clearly your basic needs, relayed to her how she is compromising your peace of mind.

      If she cares, she will act on it. If she doesn’t, she won’t. She has been warned in a patient way. She is lucky. Not many people would give her that kind of latitude!

      1. Kat, LisaO,

        I did this with one N and they were good for 6 months, slowly sucking me in, a mistake here, one there and then back to full force but worse. I hope this is not the scenario with you.

        1. BTOV, I hear you. I’ve got more things to do than monitor someones behavior , and her inability to relate to me or be even willing to is what really bothers me. That would take a lot of work for her and I can’t even imagine her doing it.

    2. Kat
      You don’t owe her your time or friendship. It’s your life, your time. You’re not her keeper. Please don’t feel guilty about choosing NC. It seems she adds no value or pleasure to your life.
      I sound so cold sometimes, but toxic people can suck the energy and life right out of a person. Why let it co to ie to happen? What’s in it for you? We are taught to be kind, patient, giving , etc. but so many times its to our detriment.

      1. Kat,

        I wholeheartedly, agree with Lucy, she is spot on. It’s not cold its survival and really common sense. Most people when they pick up on individuals that are always so negative and argumentative run the other way. Life is to short to let these CD people, or CD family members take up our lives and make us miserable. Life is difficult enough without constant emotional negativity.

        Look how we look and feel when we are around people that build us up. Sure we talk and mainly discuss the CD but we look for solutions on how to deal with and eliminate them from out lives so we can have happiness.

        It takes time and we grieve for the relationship we should of, could of had. When you get away from this CD person for a substantial period of time and surround yourself with positive people, when you come in contact with this CD negativity your gut will turn and tell you to get away.

        If you haven’t already read the Series Dr. Simon has written on the 10 Commandments of Character, please do. All Dr. Simon does is points how to make our life a positive and how to become better human beings, how to find and be our authentic self. This is positive talk that builds one up instead of tears on down.

        It seems your CD relative is constantly spewing her overflow of disgruntled life on others.
        Let your body and gut direct you, it won’t fail you. Take care.

    3. kat,
      Let me know if you can teach your 60 year old dog new tricks.
      Be nice. Be gentle. Have 1 meter thick steel wall, surrounded by moat full of crocodiles. :-)

    4. Kat – did you give her examples? It sounds like she was opening up a communication line – this isn’t something they’d usually do. A Narc would just evade the topic, cut you off, degrade you or what you had to say, minimalize or trivialize you having the audacity to take them to task about their behavior. They would not put themselves in what they would perceive as a one down position by actually allowing you to address their behavior. You never question a Narc’s behavior unless you know exactly what you are doing. They do all the questioning and if you do succeed you will find yourself in a very serious predicament. They don’t usually apologize either. What behaviors does she actually demonstrate aside from complaining that makes you think she might be one? Some people are just negative people, with victim mentalities and not necessarily narcissistic.

  5. Lucy and BTOV, I know in my gut you are right. Just the thought of spending time with her drags me down. When I was married to my X CD sociopath, in my defense I knew nothing about CD’s but I stayed for quite a while because I couldn’t “live with my conscience” if I didn’t try to get him off drugs. I’ve come a long way since then and realize the time I put in did nothing but put me and my kids lives on hold. He cared less about us. I think coming from a family of origin where I did not feel loved was the start of it. I was neglected and the parents had favorites they paid their attention to, but then I am from a very large family. But I’m over that, I worked it out to realize what was really happening with the parents and how they could have acted in that manner and still have loved all their children. Bigger perspectives! But something in me is still there that feels obligated somehow. I need to know more about myself to see where that is coming from. Of course she pushes, she is pushing to go on trips and concerts etc. together. I do feel obligated because she is a family member, like there is guilt there if I don’t spend time with her. I need to work on that, maybe this boundaries class I am taking will help. I know I am not responsible for her feelings or her mental outlook but the guilt feeling causes me to go against my gut. I see I make a good victim and I need to work very hard to overcome this. Thanks for the support and your perspectives, it helps very much.

  6. Kat and Lucy,

    I think alot of the things we do which sococieety labels enabling is really our mothering instinct and also we want to make things work and hope for the best.

    Ah, the family of origin is a biggie. I think some of that guilt or feeling we havent done enough comes from our wanting things to be better and work out. Yes, you will need to do inner work. Forgive yourself and learn to let others take responsibility for their actions and suffer the results no matter how painful.

    Its not an easy road, but once we can admit we have a problem, it is when things begin to change and it takes guts and courage to admit these faults. I struggle with this too, Kat. I feel guilty for things that don’t belong to me, we need to put this in perspective. Many times we beat ourselves up and take on the responsibility of others because we are able to take it out on ourselves. We become our own victims and the perpetrator goes free. It can become a vicious cycle. Only, you can break it.

    We are all glad we can help and hope you keep posting. We learn so much from each other. Thank you for your honesty and sharing, its not easy to look at our mistakes, know though, you are forgiven.

  7. BTOV

    Having read your last post made me think of this.

    Dorothy: Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?
    Tin Man: Mmm, we might.
    Scarecrow: Animals that eat straw?
    Tin Man: Some, but mostly lions, and tigers, and bears.
    Dorothy: Lions?
    Scarecrow: And tigers?
    Tin Man: And bears.
    Dorothy: Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! — The Wizard of Oz (1939)

    Taken from the wizard of OZ. Always remember Knowledge is POWER.

  8. Kat, you have a family bond with your sister, family loyalty, etc… Your feelings are all understandable and normal. It SHOULD be difficult to cut a family member adrift, regardless of cause. If we could do it easily, THAT would constitute a disorder.

    You will eventually reach your own decision, in your own time, one that jives with your values of loyalty and concern. And if that decision is going ‘no contact,’ so be it. It could easily be the only thing you can do.

    Not calling into question anybody else’s advice here, just acknowledging how difficult it is to cut family out of your life.

    I have been on forums where going, ‘no contact,’ with a romantic partner is encouraged when the poster hasn’t yet determined if their partner is disordered or not. And then it’s handled as if it’s like quitting smoking — just a pure addiction.

    When it’s family, there is even more involved. There is habit, how we define ourselves and what our values our.

    Sometimes the decision is made for us because these people are so draining and we don’t have the energy to give. That is almost merciful!

    1. LisaO,
      Great post, we all have ideas and experiences of how to deal with a family member and you are right in the light you have presented your take. Many times the time we spend apart from the NC can be a determining factor in our life. On the other hand, depending on how CD the individual is, it may be the determining factor for the CD to rethink if the relationship means more to them then their dysfunctional behavior.

      Yes, we all have thoughts and I think the more we discuss these things we realize and take into account the considerable facets involved in these relationships. LisaO, for your sake I am glad things came together for you and your brother, I know how much this weighed on you in past posts.

      There is wisdom in the counsel of many.

      1. Hi Btov,

        Compliance from a CD usually involves weighing all options. With regards what works for them. It’s never about the other person and their needs. So as you wrote in another post, it lasts about 6 months at most.

        It’s hard to fathom anybody being so little concerned about those closest to them. Normal people are filled with dread at the thought they may have done something damaging to somebody.

        Never ceases to amaze me!

        1. LisaO,
          When I wrote in the post it lasts about 6 months, it could last longer, it all depends whats at state and if the have successfully sucked their prey into a place of manipulation again. Then the real games begin and the CDMNSP now understands they must gain ultimate control and even more seductive mind games are played.

          In the end with the deadly ones incorporate sadistic and humiliating control methods. Yes, it is hard to fathom that ones mind can be so corrupt but it can be, never forget it and always, always look for the tells.

          To me there are the introverted, the flying monkeys, the lesser, the mediocre, the average, the more advanced, the greater, the ultimate and the killer. Nevertheless, they all enjoy the games and torment, the destruction and ultimately the kill, and many times the literal death of one.

          Never underestimate a CDMNSP any or all of them wherever, they may be on the spectrum of CD. They are all dangerous and harmful to our well being. They have no pity and in their twisted sick minds love to see you sweat and squirm.

          Many time my heart cries out for how lost and sick they are, but beware our own empathy traits can be the cause of our own destruction by these kind. Sometimes we must be slapped down many times in order to absorb this sick thinking into our heads and see the truth which is painful, however, if we can handle it, accept it, the truth will set us free.

          1. Hi Btov,

            Many many years ago I had a relationship with a passive aggressive skulker. He was too passive to be a full on stalker, after we broke up!

            It was the strangest relationship termination I have ever been through. We parted because he told me he was going back to live in Europe and I wasn’t invited! That was a wise choice, on his part. He was obsessive and lazy, refused to look for work, etc…etc…

            After a long and civil conversation it was over…I thought. He started shadowing me, following me, snooping on me. He told me he didn’t want me, but he didn’t want to let me go.

            It went on from there …. The truly disordered are awful to live with and bizarre when it comes to splitting up. If they are N’s you get vindictive rage and all the cruelty that goes with it. P’s can become dangerous. Passive aggressives become desperate and more obviously and overtly irrational.

            The skulker didn’t want me to stay but he didn’t want me to go….So crazy..he wanted me to exist in an undetermined state like Schroedinger’s cat. And that is the essence of the CD. They do what they want in the mundane and are angry if they are obstructed in any way. They expect us to do the impossible though.

            My personal litmus test for dealing with passive aggressives, particularly is this. They are so freaking slippery you want to bang your head against a wall trying to get a handle on them. If anybody makes me want to bang my head against a wall, out of sheer confusion, it is NOT my problem. It’s theirs!

            Thanks for your wise words, forged out of so many terrible trials!


          2. LisaO,

            Apologize for all the typo’s and should really edit. Need to keep glasses on. Thanks for the compliment on a poorly written piece. I just get to the point of not wanting to reread and then think of something else and rewrite.

  9. To everyone who responded regarding my N sister, thank you. You all have given me a lot of food for thought. I am done with the In sheeps clothing book, very helpful. Dr. Simon really hits the nail on the head. Now on to the Character Disturbed book. I can see where In Sheeps clothing will be a reference book. Will have to reread and reread that one. I am so glad for Dr. Simon’s understanding also, behaviors I would have been confused by are now fitting into place. Its so helpful to see things more clearly.

    1. He he… first time I read, I reread several times in subsequent weeks, once a full reread on single Sunday. My objective was to familiarize myself with the keywords so much, so that the tactic flashes in my mind right at the moment it is getting used.

    1. AndyD,

      Smart move, I think I need to read and reread, lest we forget. I am glad you posted this. I am going to reread the book again. Hope I didn’t lend it out, I give them out as gifts to people who are dealing with a CDN.
      Thank you

    2. LisaO,
      I am better. I had filed for divorce sometime back. It is something unfortunate, especially for daughter, but necessary. Life is not worth wasting on an hopeless project. If my wife really wanted a better life together, she really should have done something different in last year or so when she had chance.

      1. Andy D,

        I am relieved for you. If I remember correctly you had given it your very best shot and had come to the realization you might have to end it.

        I hope you get sole or joint custody of your daughter!

  10. I have had a slightly weird experience in the last month. A woman I met many years ago, contacted me and wanted to get together for coffee. She is newly married, has a new baby, so she wanted to share all of her news with me. She was a very casual acquaintance. I didn’t really know her.

    She seemed really REALLY happy to see me and we had some pretty animated conversations — where she did 90% of the talking. That was fine. The third time we met for lunch, she again was super delighted to see me and really gushing over me. Over-the-top. I was her best best friend in the world, her only friend, so special etc…etc.. Huh? I really just met her!

    It’s nice to be appreciated but this was a whole other thing. She told me things about her personal life, her sexuality etc..etc…that were jaw dropping. I was embarrassed. So much over-sharing. A little over-sharing is endearing. Too much, in that department leaves me gasping for air.

    When we first met for coffee and I got a weird twinge, I thought immediately back to another former acquaintance who tried unsuccessfully to become my ‘best friend ever,’ as she had some similar characteristics. She turned out to be a borderline personality.

    I just remembered this today and I wonder if my new ‘pal’ is on this spectrum. It’s just drama, drama, drama. Maybe she is just very open. I don’t know. But I am so wary now I back right away when my gut tells me to.

  11. Lisa – remember our gut feeling was always been right in the past. Once bitten twice shy. When my gut feeling kicks in now I Iisten. I’m not going against it ever again and this applies to people I know relatively well. They are just too scary to ever get caught up with them again.

    1. Hi Eudoxia,

      Yes, I do listen to my gut now and will maintain some distance from those who give me a twinge. The challenge is to delineate real gut feelings from a barrage of sensations that hyper arousal and or hyper vigilance can cause.

      Also, gut feelings should be heeded and acted upon, without condemnation for those who trigger them, (unless we have clear proof they are CD) because our gut feelings can be wrong.

      I will continue to be a casual friend to the BFF woman, as she strikes me as completely harmless, if disordered — provided I keep some essential distance. I will never know what her potential for harm is, because I will never get that close.

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