In recent years, we have come to realize that conditions like autism are not singular entities but rather part of a broader spectrum of conditions. As a result, we now have a much improved ability to detect the various manifestations of developmental delays such as Asperger’s Disorder and to provide the most appropriate early interventions for those conditions. But we have been much slower to recognize the broad spectrum of character dysfunction. And largely as a result, there has been a lot of confusion in people’s minds about how to correctly label and deal with those persons in their lives who behave so irresponsibly.
Several years back, books were coming out every day about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And for some time, many folks thought that the descriptions of narcissistic behavior adequately explained the problems they were having with the dysfunctional persons in their life. As a result, it suddenly appeared that there were narcissists everywhere. More recently have come all the books on psychopathy and sociopathy, and for some time following, the internet blogs were full of stories of psychopathic ex-spouses and the “sociopath next door” And when it was announced that the official diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association is probably going to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a definitive classification (for years it has not included psychopathy as an official condition, either), some people were up in arms while others were left scratching their heads. For a lot of reasons – mostly media hype and lots of misinformation – there’s now more confusion than ever about the nature of character disturbances.
I was among the first to propose that character disturbance exists along certain continua or spectra and that we needed to take a fresh look at our ways of conceptualizing character-impaired individuals. It went against all convention when I suggested that it’s a mistake to see all personality types as different “neurotic” styles (there’s still a popular and long-selling book with a title asserting that they are) and that and that there’s a continuum upon which everyone rests that runs from primarily neurotic to primarily impaired in character. I also suggested that there’s a continuum of character dysfunction – based on the nature and severity of symptoms – that ranges from having certain undesirable character traits to having a full-blown character “disorder” or marked impairment in a person’s social functioning. And in my book, Character Disturbance, I took great care to present a framework that can help almost anyone understand the entire spectrum of character dysfunction and where someone they know might lie along that spectrum.
Given the nature of our times, it’s a safe bet that the person causing you grief in your life has a character impairment of one type or another. And despite all the recent hype, the likelihood they’re a full-blown psychopath is fairly low (not saying here that you can’t be dealing with one). More recently, the authors of the book Almost a Psychopath have acknowledged that there are folks who are empathy deficient and tend to manipulate in relationships but who lack the level of cold-blooded callousness to warrant a formal clinical diagnosis or the label of psychopath. Such folks often fit much better under the covert-aggressive formulation that I first introduced in my book In Sheep’s Clothing. And you can read the confession of one such individual, who recognized himself when reading the book, in one of my prior posts (the link to Confessions of a Covert-Aggressive Personality is broken right now but will soon be fixed). And the very fact that he was distressed enough about what he knew to be true about himself and wanted to work at becoming different argues against the notion that he was a psychopath.
The main thing I’ve tried to do with both of my books is to present a framework that the average person can understand that explains the wide range of impaired characters they’re likely to encounter in their lives and to offer practical suggestions about how to deal with such folks. And over the years, In Sheep’s Clothing morphed from a small independent publication to an international bestseller (entering its 17th year in print). That’s mainly because of strong word-of-mouth recommendations of readers to family members and friends. Most gratefully, the very same thing is happening with Character Disturbance. As its readers gain better insight into the broad spectrum of character dysfunction, as they are empowered to improve their life circumstances as a result, and as they spread the word to others about the benefits of the perspective I offer, Character Disturbance will most likely eventually enjoy the same if not better success than In Sheep’s Clothing. No fancy promotion, outrageous claims, or hyperbolic commentary on the trendy labels of the day, just simple, practical ways to understand and deal with the character impaired individuals in your life. And because I know that such individuals exist along a continuum, if there’s a person in your life making you miserable, I know you’ll find them somewhere among the descriptions I provide in Character Disturbance.