Conscience and Conscientiousness


Conscience is that part of our mind that provides our moral compass. Now, morals have to do with societal norms and standards. And norms have a habit of changing over time. Still, some values and principles have long endured. That’s because they’ve proven their social merit. Forming a good conscience is largely about taking these timeless values and principles to heart. First, we bother to learn and understand them. Then, we freely make them a part of our overall belief system. It’s this belief system that guides our social behavior.

Conscience and Character

Character disturbance largely results from poor conscience formation. And there are many factors that can contribute to this. However, to fully understand these factors we first have to overcome some misconceptions.

For a long time, we thought everyone had a conscience. In fact, many thought a sense of right and wrong was innate – simply built into all of us. Accordingly, we believed that even the seriously character disturbed among us had some sense of right and wrong. So, what made them behave so badly? Well, we also thought them too quick to unconsciously employ various primitive defenses to escape pangs of guilt and shame. (The ego defenses of denial and rationalization being principal among them.) Today we know better. Sadly, some folks simply don’t have much of an internal ethical guide.

Why don’t some folks develop a good moral compass? Why do they so often do bad things to themselves and, especially, to others? The underlying reasons vary. In some cases, superego development wasn’t nurtured very well. In other cases, trauma arrested its development. Some folks are predisposed to actively resist (i.e. fight) the socialization process. (See: Aggressive Personalities.) Moreover, in extreme cases the very capacity to form a good conscience is lacking or even absent. This is hard to accept. But there’s solid research to back it up.

As I assert in all my books, workshops, and other writings, character disturbance exists along a continuum. Accordingly, the more lacking in conscience a person is, the more character-impaired they’re likely to be.


Conscientiousness is mindfulness guided by conscience. I’ve written about mindfulness before. (See, for example: Self-Mastery Requires Mindfulness.) It plays a key role in learning control over your impulses. (See also: Thinking First, Impulse Control, and Mindfulness and Mindfulness through Empathy.) Conscientious folks exercise diligence and self-discipline. They’re not just mindful about the things they do. Their values drive them to do the more noble thing.

You can be too conscientious. That’s the case with the folks I describe in Character Disturbance as neurotic. Overly conscientiousness folks are mindful individuals with overactive or even oppressive consciences. They put all sorts of undue pressure on themselves. Consequently, they end up quite anxious and miserable.

Character-impaired folks aren’t mindful and they lack conscience, too.  Consequently, they’re not very conscientious at all. They not only act on impulse but do so without reservation. Sometimes, they can experience some after-the-fact regret. That is, when their behavior has cost them enough. But that doesn’t keep them from acting irresponsibly again.

Disturbed characters know how to spot the conscientious. And they’re eager to exploit and abuse them. Sadly, sometimes overly conscientious folks delude themselves. They think they can “fix” the morally broken among us.

A Not Uncommon Scenario

A woman once told me she simply had to take charge of the bills because her husband “never learned” the importance of paying them. And she believed if she set a good model, in time, he’d learn. In fact, he always knew that if the electric bill weren’t paid, the power might go off. (He’d experienced that many times before.) But he also knew how conscientious his wife was. He knew she’d be sure the money was there and that the bill was paid on time. And he was happy to let her shoulder all the household responsibilities. That left him free to go about his daily business of self-gratification and indulgence. The problem was never that he was unaware. The problem was that he didn’t care. He didn’t have to. In her over-conscientiousness, she did all the caring for everyone.


Responsible characters have mastery over their appetites and aversions. And they’re mindful, value-driven folks who voluntarily exert control over their impulses. To do both of the aforementioned things requires that we properly exercise our will. And that’s next “commandment” of good character we’ll begin discussing next week.


Check out the two new additions to the 2019 workshop schedule on the seminars & workshops page.


35 thoughts on “Conscience and Conscientiousness

  1. Dr Simon,
    This is the hitting the nail on the head for me. I’ve know this about myself for a long time now, but it’s really sunk in in the last 5-6 yrs maybe longer with every family member and friend I’ve ever had.
    Funny thing is, I can’t stop wishing it weren’t this way and all I’m left with is feeling depressed. Wishing it were my time to go home is a multi daily thought.

  2. I think the overly conscientious could also have a problem with codependency, if one is raised in a dysfunctional family we can tend to try and control things through taking on another persons responsibility. Or we try to rescue and fix people, there are many ways codependency effects people. I know I am working on this. There are groups out there for support, codependency support groups, and even al-anon where people are working on this type of thing. I plan on attending some groups to get help and support.
    Priscilla, yes wishing for something that is not happening, and you don’t know if it will ever happen – such as loving relations with your son, would lead to depression. I think the same of my daughter, I pray about it all the time but I can’t think about it too much because I don’t want to make myself depressed. I think it would help to focus on those who are capable of a loving relationship, I don’t know what other choice there is.

    1. Kat,

      In this day an age we are defined by so many labels rather than just people with problems. We allow others to attach all sorts of hogwash to us that hasn’t any meaning except to those who profiteer off of us.

      If you realize it or not we are all co-dendant. You need the grocery store, you need the doctor, the dentist, a strong man, a husband or wife to help and to perform all such sources since we can’t soley rely on ourselvesf for everything so we rely on others, maybe we get frustrated and then do many of these things ourselves.

      The defining line is the issue of Control, then we must really be honest with ourselves if we were in fact do things and being responsible our of us having a Control issue or just trying to make things work. I think there is a big difference here and there are fine lines rather than the broad road many want to define us with.

      I do agree we do have boundery issues, moreso the issues are we are to empathetic to the harm and pain of others. Also, in a relationship we are trying our utmost to keep a family unit together. I in no way consider this a co-dependancy issue many make it out to be.

      I think all these topics Dr. Simon is presenting are very important and I think instead of being hard on ourselves we need to really think about our real intentions. Bounderies are so important and and go hand and hand Conscience and Conscienciouness.

      Kat, I think in wanting to make things work we take up the slack, that dosn’t mean we are trying to take control. Sometimes it is a worthy and caring partner who has others such as their childrens best interest at heart.

      As far as I am concerned the problems of society were best addressed when we were truly a Christian nation, rather than a nation who turns their trust over to mostly Godless individuals who psychoanalyze in their own Godhood. Just look where we are today due to that thinking,

      I think we need to keep our focus on what is right and not dictated by the norm of the day in society and stick to that what was originally ordained by God, that being the Ten Commandments and The Sermon on the Mount.

      In my humble opinion.

    2. Kat,

      I wholeheartedly, agree with you on this, great points. I think if we do it once and the behaviors continue, then we are enabling. I also think, if we had been shown the error of our way it may have been life changing. Once I understood the mechancis of it all, I stopped.

      Otherwise, if we don’t know any different, how are we to know it is wrong. In many ways we are trying to save the innocent or even bring more problems into our lives. Truly, it is an ugly mess when dealing with the DC and having to care for the well being of oursevelves and children.

      Be kind to yourself, we didn’t know any better and did the best we could at the time. Most importantly we must not continue to make the same mistakes. We all make mistakes and it stated we akk fall short of the Glory of God. I know it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves. This is a lesson I am learning comes with rejection and it is also show me who the are users. People who care and love us will embrace us.

  3. Kat, JC,

    Kat, eccellent post, most certainly explains the unhealthy dyad. Yes, there are what is called CODA, groups. I think there is healthy codependency and unhealthy. I think in a healthy relationship there is an evenly distributed amount of responsibility and trust, therefore one dosn’t get into the unhealthy controls of trying to make things work and picking up the responsibilty of the irresponsible counterparts.

    JC, Nice to hear from you. How are things going with you?

    1. BTOV,

      I moved to Texas for work which is going great!!! I’ve only got a year left on my Master’s Degree and I also got my nursing license active again after years of being inactive.

      And no contact with my mom-not a peep. I am learning to have better boundaries with myself and others. And that I deserve to be happy-most of all.

      The tapes of my mom saying otherwise-they dont stop overnight. But it does get better. Hope is a good thing.

      I used to be afraid to have children of my own for fear of being the same type of parent, but I realized it’s not how I’m like her. It’s how I am different.

      Work, school and my church family-life is good.

      I am grateful for my recovery (which is about healthy boundaries).

      1. JC,
        I wished I were young enough to do the same thing. I am so happy for you. Most of all I am glad you posted and let us know how well you are doing. Joey, pops in now and then and he is doing great too. Lucy is fine to and hope she sends a post.

        Hugs and may God keep his angels guard over you.


        1. BTOV,

          For so long I accepted my mother’s lines because she is my mother. And much of it-being a confidant to her about her (very) personal life, being told my father didn’t want me nor did he want to take care of me (at 12-13) were never appropriate. Or acceptable behavior on her part as a mother. She taught me to hate myself be suspicious of everyone, and basically wretched boundaries. In all of it she puts herself first in many different (every) ways and taught me to behave as she does.

          She regrets none of it. The hurtful things she’s said and done-she sees nothing wrong with any of it. Including what she told my doctors when I was in a coma.

          Anything I did as a result of what I learned from her or my addictions-wasnt a conscious decision. And I regret all of it.

          My mother-a polar opposite. Sad to me. She will die alone. I can’t think of anything worse. That’s someone to pity.

          1. JC,
            Do you have any siblings? I am wondering what direction they went as adults, if you don’t mind sharing that is. You said boundaries were key in healing and recovery, did you must have also learned to detach – something they stress in codependent groups. It sounds like things are going very good, that’s great. My ex did not see anything wrong with the things he did either, in fact he was pretty proud of himself, the fault lie with everyone else.

          2. Kat,

            Sure, I have an older brother, who is the overachiever though is a really good guy, I shudder to see what will happen when he fails at something (we all do) and my sister, she has some issues but doesn’t (thankfully) share the same ones as my mother. She bore the brunt of the physical abuse, though. I don’t really want to share her private life but that is where you see her struggle.

          3. Thanks JC, I hope your brother and sister can work these things out like you have. I am reading a book that I think is really good on codependency, but it is a Christian based book and is a book used in a CODA meeting at a church near me, its called “conquering codependency” by Pat Springle. Maybe your brother or sister may be interested. I know its given me some insight.

          4. JC,

            I am so glad you are posting again annd letting us know how you have changed your life and are healing. I have to say from the first time you posted the immense change in you and the positivity. It sure is an inidcator or where we came from and what we were dealing with.

            I agree more with you on the wretched boundaries we were taught which in fact were No boundaries at all. Yes, so many children relive and play out what they have learned.

            To me regrets are released with forgiveness which sets us free to leed a completely differnet life. You sure are living proof of this. Your doing amazing things with your life and are proving everyone one wrong.

            JC, just give your mother over to Jesus, put all at the foot of the cross, this is what I do and it sets me free to go forward. Thers is a peace in doing this and at the same time cathartic.

            Just more power to you and keep going forward, I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am for you, the obstacles you have overcome and what you are accomplishing in your life are wonderful.

            Hugs and may God continue to bless you.

  4. I know I was in a rescue and fix frame of mind when I met the ex narc husband, I had no idea at 19 why I was getting into this relationship other than I felt “sorry” for the ex. Its a red flag when your relationships follow a pattern like this of fixing and or rescuing . If only I had known that then, it sure would have saved a lot of heartache. Maybe this will save someone else. What I needed to do was fix myself, my hurts, my mixed up thinking.

    1. Kat, JC,

      Kat, you sure are right about the mixed feeling and the fix frame of mind and us empaths are wanting or fixing everyone else but ourselves.

      It is eye opening when we come to knowledge of the truth the false narratives we were led to believe. I think it a blessing our eyes finally opened to understand all the lies we were fed and believed and how they affected us emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

      The key is as you say needing to fix ourselves, our hurts, our wounds and mixed up feelings. I think following the scriptures gives us “gives us the peace that surpasses all understanding.” The scriptures give us worth and build us up instead of tearing us down.

      I think it also imperative to our growth to remove all toxic people from our lives. I do think this blog a blessing as we continue to get new tools in which to improve our character and at the same times recieve positive support and input from others on the same path.

      Hugs and Blessings to you on your journey.

      1. BTOV,

        Yes, my mother is in God’s hands now. I can’t do anything for her.

        And forgiving ourselves is harder but it does happen-you ask His help and you also view yourself as a sick person (mentally or spiritually) and it does happen.

        Take care! Good to see you again!

        1. BTOV,

          I didn’t comment on it but about the no boundaries-you hit the nail on the head!!!!!

          To comment more on Dr. Simon’s post:

          Conscience-its hard to imagine being related closely to someone who gives tips on things like how to get out of paying my student loans. Speaks to contentiousness as well. On the Department of Education anyway? They’ll hunt you like your an animal.

          That I learned all my bad habits from my mom-thank God I am my father’s daughter. Genetically and in good and contentious life habits.

          1. JC,

            When your finished with school and get your degree, you can be proud of yourself and we on the blog are cheering you on and will rejoice in your achievements.

            I know my father was a real jerk, my mother had her faults mainly due to her passive nature. I learned bad habits from my father and had to do a lot of soul searching to change. It’s a great feeling to change for the better and be caring and kind then selfish. I agree, to do good and have contentious life habits.

            How do you like Texas? I always think of moving to a warmer climate, I am tired of the snow and the cold. I give you credit for taking charge of your life and making all these gutsy moves to unknown territories.

    2. Kat,

      I always thought I’d be able to do something for my mom-to do SOMEthing to make her happy.


      She will never be truly happy.
      Her happiness is not my responsibility.
      I can’t save everyone-just myself.
      I don’t have to punish myself for someone else’s shortcomings. Hers or anyone else’s.
      I am the author of my own destiny.

      Without question I do love my mom-from a distance. Toxic is toxic and you don’t have to tolerate it from anyone-regardless of what brought you to the relationship.

      1. JC, The things you listed are the things I struggle with concerning my two kids, raised by a narcisstic Dad until they were 8 and 10 when I finally got the guts to leave, with a depilated honda civic, a few things thrown in the back, $200.00 for gas in my pocket and the kids, driving across country having to stop periodically because the car kept overheating. I blame myself for them having the influence of their Dad, even though I was pretty much in the dark with what was going on. Its hard when you as the Mom is supposed to protect them from harm but yet its happening under your own nose – a lot of it covert but I think I was in denial as well. And the guilt of that is something I am continuing to deal with. Sentences 2 thru 4 you listed, I really am struggling with in regards to them. Its hard to let go of it when you subjected your kids to it knowingly or not. I can see in your case with your mom how you had no guilt in it, you were just born in that family, but for me, I am the mom.

        1. Kat,

          Forgiving yourself is probably the hardest part. I had to ask for God’s help and also to view myself as a sick person-mentally and spiritually.

          That you struggle with it maybe it’s a good sign-that you care for one. But the hardest lesson I faced as a nurse was that I really can’t save everyone. That isn’t limited to my family. Our own powerlessness may also be a factor that influences us-it is, for some to be feared.

          1. Thanks JC, that helps. When I see how miserable my daughter is it grieves me so much I wish I had a magic wand, but I always pray for her and my son. That’s all I can do at this point. The best thing I can do for them is to be a healthy example and that’s what I am working for. I know they are grown but we are still examples to them and to others outside of the family. Its a process though, no magic wands unfortunately! Powerlessness can be scary, but knowing God, its also comforting because I trust His way is the best way.

          2. Kat,

            Grown up but everyone still needs a mother. Even if there is love at a distance like with mine, you setting the example for change is a good thing-it is a blessing that they have your influence and your genetics-otherwise they are stuck with the narc’s genetics-a bad deal. Though frequently a narcissist results from abuse. Know that you didn’t commit the abuse and were largely in the dark until the Good Lord found a way to open your eyes-and look at this with the same clarity.

            To not forgive is to swallow poison and expecting the other person (or yourself) to die. (Unknown).

            Give yourself some time on the forgiveness.

  5. Its helped my chronic pain.

    It’s the work I came here for. I’m working on some experience towards a certification as a nurse educator.

    1. JC,

      I suffer with chronic pain, for you, what help it?
      I love aswaganda, I also am heavy in herbal remedies, always making tinctures and love making my on Kombutcha. ]

      Any other suggestions since you are knowledgeable in this this area too?

      Love Mountain Rose and grew my own Arnica last year, will be planting seed too and will be harvesting the root of dandolions soon.

      1. BTOV,

        Ashwaghanda does help. A probiotic, a large dose of Vitamin D, heat, and getting enough exercise-the last one is a difficult one but once you get over the getting in better shape part, for me, it makes a difference (I swim). Some is homeopathy and CBD oil as well (the OTC kind).

        1. JC,

          You are so right about the exercise, something I need to work on. I do do the D, heating pad, sea salt, epsom baths, extra magnesium, and other supplements. I do use probiotics and try to eat a health diet, I don’t eat fast foods at all. How long do you stay in the pool?

          Yes and yes, swimming, it just tough to make time but I plan too. I cut my acre lawn 3 times so far and then it had grown so long I raked, it can get to be a real pain.

          I tried the CBD with No results, there is a lot of hype of some are less potent and am wondering if that is the problem.

          1. BTOV,

            Arnica is also a good one, I definitely agree with you there. Self care is really important with chronic pain-like recovery it’s about healthy boundaries and stress management. Stress management and pain management go hand in hand-I no longer take a lot of meds for the TGN. I take only Lamictal and the natural stuff-and diet can also really help chronic pain by reducing inflammation-try the Mediterranean diet, there is also keto diet and the anti-inflammatory diet all work to reduce inflammation.

          2. JC,

            From my experience the majority of pain issues come from misalignment, trigger points, diet and the main culprit like you pointed out ( inflamation)….. Inflammation is key to so many medical issues.

            For me, I metabolize any supplements quicker than most, so I have to stay vigilant in my intake. TGN are you talking trigeminal?

  6. BTOV,
    I am considering moving to a warmer climate too. Its cold about 5-6 months of the year here. I do have a sister I am really close to, and a good church here, but I just don’t want to deal with the long cold winters and the ice and snow anymore. I am actually thinking of moving to the state my kids are moving to – Alabama. Then again they could move off and I would be there by myself. Its a hard call. Where would you think of relocating?

    1. Kat, JC

      I was thinking of the same state as the taxes are low. It is considered one of the highest crime states but there are good areas to reside in. I know a few people who have moved there and are happy the did and love it.

      It is hard all this inner work to change those negative tapes we play over about ourselves from the past. I just know prayer is what has sustained me and my trust in Jesus as my guide.

      Never lose sight of who you really are nor let anyone ever define you. When you feel good and you find others who accept you for who you are and love you those are the people you need to stay close too. It’s sad that are family of origin and our own children choose to be in this world and not of it. We can only pray for them.

      It is very hard for me to Kat,JC, to accept the way my family is, to be with them would be willingly allowing my own destruction. Your not alone in the as JC, is telling you she faces the same problems too and has risen above it.

      Kat, just to let you know, JC started to post prior to you, that is why many of us know her already. Just thought I would let you know.

      JC, so glad you came back to post, you have grown and I am so happy for you. Your input on this blog having been where you came from and where you are now is an inspiration for others.

      Hugs to both of you ubxkusing our dear Lucy , Joey, Andy and E, who have weathered the storm.

      1. Anyone who moves to a state without knowing anyone is amazing to me. But then with the social anxiety I deal with its hard to meet people. My daughter is moving to a suburb outside of Birmingham, my son is already there and he says he likes it much better than here.
        I agree that Jesus is the key for my growth, I can turn those negative thoughts and beliefs around by knowing what God has to say about me, but its still a battle every day. I have started self-soothing talk to myself when anxiety starts to take over.
        I am happy for all those who are recovering or in the process. Its a battle that is worth every bit of effort to overcome.

    2. Kat,

      One of the things that haunt me at this stage of the game is “Why I stayed so long” s and at time wished I had stayed considering where our world is at. Well that is yesterday and it is today, so in all good conscience how does one go forward to a better life? Not east when we have a conscience to do the right thing and know better.

  7. Kat,

    I don’t I would be anywhere where I know these people. One couple is more my neighbors friend and we talk when he comes up to visit family. Its ends up being a process of starting over. I am like you in a climate where it can get abominably cold and I got sick of snow blowing this year.

    People will be in this world and you know when he comes back it isn’ to put families together but to devided and end all sin. So, in a sense we do it alone for find like minded people. In my church their are no single sisters so in this I have to go it alone,
    not easy and I feel your pain.

    As I see it we have to be strong and reach out to those who are single and battling the same struggles we are. I can tell you though, I would rather be alone than with the CD, family, children or otherwise, its not worth it. I will keep you in my prayers and hope you will be able to reach out to those that will support, build you up and care.

    Hugs Kindred Spirit

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