Disturbed Characters Say the Darnedest Things – Part Two

In last week’s post:  Disturbed Characters Say the Darnedest Things, I gave some examples of how disturbed characters’ faulty thinking leads to behaviors and tactics that prompt them to behave in irresponsible ways and impair their ability to form mature pro-social attitudes.  And I pointed out that when it comes to intervening therapeutically with impaired characters, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is the treatment of choice.  That’s because changing the way someone thinks about things will necessarily affect the way they act.  I also tried to illustrate, through case examples, the kinds of thinking errors or “cognitive distortions” a therapist working with a disturbed character is likely to encounter and how those distortions need to be challenged and corrected.  Today, I’m going to share some more examples [Note:  some aspects of the examples given have been deliberately distorted to ensure anonymity].

I once counseled a couple who had been having problems fairly early on in their marriage.  We’ll call the wife “Mary,” and the husband “Fred.”  As is customary, I asked each person to describe as best they could what they would consider to be the primary problem needing attention.  After some reflection, Mary stated that she believed the issue was that Fred simply “didn’t care enough” about her or their family’s welfare to get a good job and stick with it.  Fred very quickly stated that the problem was his mother-in-law who “never liked” him from the day he and his wife first met and had been “running interference” ever since.  He added that he was doing his best find the right kind of work situation and that it was cruel and insensitive for folks in the family to hate him just because he was a bit down on his luck right now.  he insisted that he loved Mary and that if she really loved him as much as she said, she would do a better job of standing up for him whenever  her mother started tearing him down.  Surprisingly, Mary not only acknowledged her mother’s dislike for Fred, but also voiced her sympathy for Fred’s plight.  “I think mom might feel that no one is really good enough for her daughter,” she said, “so I understand the way that must make Fred feel.”

Fred eventually revealed a fairly lengthy roster of folks who simply didn’t like him.  There was his last boss, who tried to cheat him and was jealous of him.  Then there was his boss before that who found a way to get rid of him just so he could put one of his old buddies in the same position.  There were also his two ex-wives, who not only didn’t like him but also never really understood him.  And there were even his children from his former marriages who “had their minds poisoned” against him by their vindictive mothers.  But what really stuck out like a sore thumb in the whole saga of Fred’s “hard luck” history was not so much that there was always someone else to blame for his misfortunes but that Mary seemed to sympathize with the notion that no one had ever given Fred “a fair chance.”

As is typical for impaired characters, when I first got specific with Fred about why so many others might have negative feelings toward him, he replied with the all too familiar lie: “I don’t know.”  But as I’ve written about many times before (for example, see: Insight, Neurosis, and Character Disturbance, and What Were They Thinking? Pt. 2) most of the time, when a disturbed character says “I don’t know” they really mean:

  • “I never really give that much thought.”
  • “I don’t like or want to think about it.”
  • “I don’t want to talk about it now.”
  • “I know very well why, but I certainly don’t want you to know because that would put you in a position of equal advantage with me — having my number, so to speak — and I won’t be able to manipulate you as easily or manage your impression of my character.”

So, of course, I did not accept Fred’s “I don’t know” for an answer.  Instead I pressed him on about the kinds of behaviors he’s displayed and the aspects of his character about which others frequently find fault.  And, as was no surprise to me (but was, unfortunately a surprise to Mary), Fred was quite able to identify a fairly substantial list of problem behaviors and attitudes, ranging from being late to work, drinking too much, sowing discord among fellow workers, feeling like he was too good for the work he was forced to do, etc. that prompted ill feelings toward him by others.

Now, I could spend a lot of time addressing what might have let a person like Mary, whose intuition told Fred didn’t love her (or anyone else, for that matter) enough to get a grip on and work at changing the behaviors that had been a problem all his life , to hook up with a guy like him in the first place.  And we could also discuss why she might have been so neurotically so concerned about how the disapproval of others made Fred “feel” and nowhere nearly concerned enough about his long track record of irresponsible thinking and behavior.  But the point I really wanted to illustrate here is that how Fred feels is irrelevant to the work he needs to do in therapy to become a better person.  And while there are many therapists who bristle at the thought of directly addressing the flaws in someone’s character, there is really only one focus that’s appropriate for Fred’s therapy (Mary’s therapy needs are an entirely different matter): confronting and correcting his irresponsible thinking and behavior patterns and reinforcing his genuine efforts to change them.

Actually, the story of “Mary” and “Fred” had an unusually happy ending.  You see, no one had ever really called Fred on his character issues before.  And he never had much character guidance while he was growing up either.  Still, it’s not like he relished the task of taking a hard look at himself and his character flaws.  But firmly confronted with the abundant evidence, it was hard for him to continue to deny them and to blame everyone else for his misfortunes.  So fortunately, Mary’s first marriage did not end in disaster and after 2 prior failed marriages, Fred finally “got it right.”  From time to time, he would slip into old habits.  But he was ultimately as willing to hold himself to as much account as Mary had also learned to hold him.  She knew well the key words to listen for that would signal distorted thinking and was quick to confront them.  And as the result of her own therapy, Mary learned a lot about what made her so susceptible to buying into Fred’s old excuses in the first place.

I have some more examples to share in future posts.  But next week I think it’s important, especially in the light of two major homicide-suicide cases in as many weeks, to discuss the dynamics of such events, which, although addressed to some degree in my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, merits some additional attention.

20 thoughts on “Disturbed Characters Say the Darnedest Things – Part Two

  1. A timely topic. After yesterday’s tragedy, another murder-suicide in Vegas in the news today. I tend to think that it’s a sign of society in decline and unraveling, but then on the other hand, we don’t hear of mass shootings in Greece. So I am perplexed.

  2. Is there any way you can put a commentary in the mainstream media in light of the horrific events in Connecticut on Friday? There is outrage, confusion, a need to understand. Can you seize the moment? Can your readers help you? I think it is a time when people, while horrified and saddened, are compelled to empower themselves by learning about disturbances of character. Which had to, in some way, play into the tragedy.

    1. I have deliberately turned down some offers to speak publicly on this but have an article in development and will be making some appearances to speak on related issues soon.

  3. Dr.Simon, I have read both of your books. You are amazing! I hope I can meet you some day to personally thank you for all your help educating people about these abusers.

      1. I’m not sure if I may have missed this somewhere on the web site BUT……I’m absorbing the concept of how a CD manipulates a situation in many ways and how to spot it in the moment and the concept of
        ” change ” has to happen in the moment. What I’m not seeing here is tools that the victim can use in the moment…words, phrases, examples x 100,000!! I’ve never had THIS (Dr Simons info) in my tool box befor and need more specific tools to use in the future. I see how easily I’ve been run over and around and turned upside down by this guy. I liked Vera’s(?) X/Y example and wish I’d know that basic principle just one week ago, but I didn’t. I need to prep for the future though. Did I miss this info somewhere?

        1. 🙂 — The x/y thing has changed my life! No more nagging, no more getting yanked, no more self-sabotage with strategies that don’t work…

          1. Love it Vera! Like,……..”If you are going to speak to me like that in ( especially!!??) my home, I want you to leave”. Rinse, repeat! 😉
            How’s this one? ” I have asked you a legitimate direct question that you clearly do not wish to answer. Until you are willing to address this ongoing issue responsibly ( my new favorite word!!) I’m not going to spend my time with you”.
            One needs to have these words and phrases at the ready. It’s occurred to me how important it is for me to write them down and SAY THEM OUTLOUD! I think it’s a muscle memory thing!!

          2. Some really great thoughts being expressed here. One more tidbit I might offer: Even better than making clear what action you want taken by the other person is to take action yourself (because that’s where you have the most power). When bad behavior occurs, there always needs to be a response. And no need to red flag or announce what you’re doing in response to the behavior or why you’re doing it. And you don’t need to verbalize the “connection” between that behavior and the action you’re taking. The other person will “get it” without any problem, although they might feign confusion or ignorance as a tactic. Besides, the burden for recognizing the problem and correcting it always needs to lie with the person displaying the bad behavior.

          3. Yeah, Puddle, that is the logic of it, but like Dr Simon says, I am finding that it is usually better to make up your mind (without advertising it) what I will do (the y) when x happens again. Actions speak far louder than words. And if you tell them ahead of time, you give them a warning (so they can prepare to outfox you, yet again), or they will take it as another pointless threat, and dismiss it. —

            The other part of it is… if your y does not succeed, don’t be discouraged. Think of it as an ongoing experiment. Come up with another y for next time. —

            Also, if I may make another suggestion? You say: “If you are going to speak to me like that in my home, I want you to leave.” You are still focusing on what you want THEM to do. Focus on a y that YOU will do. That is where your true power lies. —

            When s/he speaks to you that way again in your home, you walk to the door, open it, and say, please leave. Or if the person is on more familiar grounds with you, and might refuse, you could step outside and wait until they do too… following you to argue more. Then you go back in and lock the door. Again, it takes creativity to find the right y. It also takes enough self-discipline to refuse the bait (of further arguing, defending yourself, etc). Best of luck! 🙂

          4. I agree with the ‘implicit x/y’ rather than just making the announcement… anyone else familiar with the great maxim, ‘Don’t threaten, just act!’ ?
            Point being: not only do you give them useful advance warning them when you threaten (they’re so good at tactics, don’t give them the chance to outsmart you; it also sounds weak – a threat being that thing that you don’t want to actually do. If you were willing to do it – you would. So paradoxically a threat is what you hope will scare (manipulate?!) them but actually tells a wily CD that you are reluctant to act.
            If you’re willing to do it, do it without warning first. It’s logical and right. If you’re not really willing to do it, don’t threaten to as you lose all credibility and your power sinks rapidly.

  4. Dr Simon, would you be so kind and correct my response to Puddle? The second para should read… “Focus on a y that YOU will do.” Thank you!

  5. What Vera said. In a few instances I’ve had it difficult teaching a difficult person(not even a covert-aggressive) how to treat me without sliding into a pointless fight, although in my case I only learnt some social skills later the tougher way. I’ve thought of it as other people just finding ways to be difficult out of spite. Even though that can be true, fuming on that just makes things more difficult. It really takes situational awareness and fluidity.

  6. Sir, you are an IDIOT of massive proportions.

    I am too unnerved now to explain you why, and your many thinking mistakes and absolutely questionable (like ALL) core beliefs. ALL core beliefs are QUESTIONABLE, and so are yours. As all psychologists your entitlement and certainty to know how life works is indisputably NARCISSISTIC.

    There is absolutely no reason to think that you aren’t a disturbed character yourself – you obviously are, else you wouldn’t be a psychologist, we all know psychologists become so to fix their own problems – and you gavce no proof that Fred was “disturbed” at all. NOT BEING LIKED BY OTHERS DOESN’T MEAN ONE OBVIOUSLY HAS A PROBLEM.

    A narcissist won’t like you, and so will GROUPS of narcissists – and it will be THEIR problem, not yours. You sopeak like MANY PEOPLE CAN NEVER BE WRONG. Now that’s your first wrong core belief. EVERYBODY CAN WELL BE WRONG. It’s logical. It’s mathematics. People can be right or wrong, and that “the majority can never be wrong” is a myth that history has proved wrong. Only an idiot still trusts OTHERS.

    I won’t continue for now, I said nothing yet. And I don’t know if it’s worth saying anything. I have read many articles and they’re compromised and dull like those of any psychologist/psychiatrists. You are a seriously disturbed category who live in the dogma that you understand the human condition better than others because of your profession. This is known. Plenty of people don’t trust psychologists, and they do well.

    I do not think you NECESSARELY UNDERSTAND LIFE BETTER THAN I, or Fred or anyone else does. I am interested in hearing your point of view, but as I read your articles I am saddened to learn that you can’t be a guru I can believe in, since you’re just another mediocre, self serving fool like MOST PEOPLE are.

    “most people are good enough” – MYTH. “You are a narcissist because you think others aren’t right” – narcissistic manipulation.

    Please reply, I’ll be checking the page. Perhaps you’ll surprise me but see, you cannot impose your views on anyone. A NORMAL PERSON HAS DOUBTS ON HIS VIEWS. DO YOU DOUBT YOUR VIEWS? ARE YOU AREADY TO QUESTION THEM? if you don’t, if you are SURE what you think you know is right, THEN YOU ARE WRONG, period. That’s how it works, if you’re too stupid to understand it it’s your problem.

    So I’m asking you – DO YOU DOUBT YOUR VIEWS, or do you claim there is no chance that YOU are disturbed and Fred in the example isn’t?

    I will never trust anyone who has NO DOUBTS on his ideas. Let’s see if you’re another prideful “italian” (non racists are fools; races have definite psychological characteristics) I will dismiss as such, or will you surprise me with some never-seen-before humility?

    I doubt your views. Do you? if you don’t I’ll reinforce my belief that there is much foolishness in your work, as much as I wish you could be a teacher of life for me – for obviously I do not know everything.

    Do you think “most people” can never be wrong? do you think people in general aren’t narcissistic, manipulative, self serving and ignorant? Why the hell would you write as if it couldn’t be true that Fred’s collegues and mother in law weren’t all assholes, especially when the person closest to him was on his side? She said her mother would think noone would be good enough for her daughter. That isn’t narcisissm, right? Fred was disturbed. Not the mother in law thinking her daughter is the goddess she is not in reality, because nobody is a goddess, we’re all worthless humans and yes we’re worthless in REALITY.

    Who makes the STANDARDS of what is better and worse, of how one should behave? You? WHY?

    WHY you?


    Why women. why not men. You have much feminist bias as well. Men are most narcissistic than women? You can study as much as you like, you will never have the EYE OF SOMEBODY WHO CAN DRAW in understanding people and the human condition. Can you draw? I can. Can you prove me you understand life and observe the human condition better than I do? People who can draw observe things better. It’s a given. A given pseudo professionals like you completely dismiss in an obvious self serving ego trip. Your category is shit, and I’ìm disappointed because this world needs actual therapists. But your work is simply that of making people “fit in with society”, because, how can society ever be wrong!? reality = what the majority thinks, that is your COMPLETELY WRONG core belief. Is it?

    What is reality, how do you define reality? Said the guy in The Matrix. Look sir, the problem of life, YOU CANNOT SOLVE IT. Your profession is mostly a waste of time. That’s the way I see it. That’s my legitimate opinion.

    Psychologists don’t really help. I wish they would. And hey, I have been helped by a psychologist in the past, to survive some seriously disturbed characters in my life. That was an exception. I was lucky. She helped me, doesn’t mean psychologists are generally good. Your job is to make people slaves of society, and being a slave of society isn’t not a sign of health. You know who helps people? philosophers, artists, Krishnamurti who said fitting to a sick society isn’t a sign of health. You don’t seem to espouse this fucking BASIC concept. “people are right”. Who is right, and who is wrong? You cannot prove it.


    I am not religious, but I think the Bible does a much better job in explaining the human condition. Behind the facade of professionalism, you psychologists are which doctors who claim a profound truth, that people can be abnormal, possessed by evil. That’s what narcissists are. You simply say it in another way. But my criticism is that your way opens up for more misunderstandings and manipulation – according to your field, any fucking genious that history books exalt is simply CRAZY, because he dares thinking – how dare he! – that maybe others are wrong and he is right. Thatr’s disturbed of course, to you. And that’s wrong. It’s not as simple as that.

    Now, I don’t know if you are aware of these problems in your articles but feel forced to speak in a certain way because of what you think is your audience. But here, I was forced to comment because you claimed that Fred must know he’s disturbed because people wouln’t agree with him.

    People do not get along with people BETTER THAN THEM. That’s a fact. Law of Jante. Do you know the Law of Jante? Do you think it’s a sane law?

    Now please tell me, please tell me its wrong and disturbed to think YOU ARE BETTER WHEN YOU ARE. Or please tell me that NOONE IS BETTER THAN ANYONE (which is the law of jante). Please give me further proof you’re a fool.

    A few peope are geniuses, and they ARE better, and they are not disturbed to think so, and the narcissists and disturbed are those who don’t recognize their genius. Mankind doesn’t seem to learn ever.

    It is crucial to underdtand that some people ARE better and they are automatically considered crazy by most. Still psychologists like you point the fingers to them. TRhey are the victims. The problem of the world is THE OTHERS. people like you who think NOONE IS BETTER THAN ANYONE. Really? You think that? If so, you are wrong.

    1. of course my wish is that I am WRONG on all of this. We’ll see. And I don’t have time or will to make sure you understand my point. I am not writing a book or article. I chave nothing to lose or win. If you think I’m crazy it’s irrleevant. YOU AREN’T GOD. You don’t decide how things are in absolute. You are a human being prone to mistake and misjudgement. I cannot lose; my point is that you either get my point or not, I do not have to make sure I communicate it clearly. I am an artist, and an artist isn’t a COMMUNICATOR. Designers are. Not everyone has to be a good communicator. And what’s the point in communicating things that are misunderstandable anyway? It’s impossible to prevent misunderstanding. So, you either understand the point I’m making or not. I’m curious to see your reaction. You write in such a plan, safe way. You probably think you can diagnose me just because of how I write. Go ahead. In the end, reality to me is what *I* think it is, because you cannot prove you understand stuff bettern than I do. Oh yes, please, tell me…if you’re a psychologist with degrees you MUST understand better than I do. Please tell me you’re that kind of fool…the mediocre, banal, all too common one.

      Most people are ignorant and foolish. A person who thinks of others as lesser people simply because he is intelligent and others ARE stupid, because people ARE stupid – this view is very common, and reality to me is that mysantropist are the only actual humble, devote to reality ones, while people who think people are generally “alright” and sick people are a minority – those hold a self serving, delusional, narcissistic view.

      So…you cannot claim one is disturbed simply because he thinks he’s better. IT DEPENDS WHETHER HE’S BETTER FOR REAL OR NOT. And nobody can assess it with certainly. Our value isn’t written on our foreheads.

      I’ll stop now. we’ll see what you have to say. I’m curious. Of course, I am making assumptions. I am not sure I am right. But I communicated the idea that I don’t believe in everything you say by default. I am not a fucking idiot who respects others just because he’s fearful to offend them. I do have fear, I am prone to neurosis, but in the end, through courage and will I DO WHAT I THINK IS RIGHT. And insulting? essential tool a lot of times. People today are insulted by ANYTHING anyway.

      Let’s see how smart you are. Because I decide what you are to me.

      1. why the FUCK would one be polite when he’s anonymous on the internet? Why do you have such self restraint? It’s innatural. The way I write is much more natural and human. But by that very writing, you communicate the idea that your restrained and controlled writing is better than mine.

        Delusional and narcissistic belief to me.

        Everything is opinion, everything is questionable. And I am no relativist. THERE EXISTS OBJECTIVE TRUTH. You will think it’s that, and maybe I’ll think it’s another. There exists truth, but nobody can prove he owns it. Even if you’re right on everything, you cannot expect others to agree with you. People have the right to be wrong to you.

        1. English isn’t my first language. Rest assured that statiostically, if you were born where I was born, you wouldn’t have my english remotely. From where I’m from, very few people hve my english. Not boasting: just pointing out that if I made a few mistakes it’s not because I’m illiterate or crazy, but because I come from that land of fools that Italy is. Yes, italians are fools. Oh, I must be a fool then. The fact that I have this english already sets me apart from those incredibly stupid people. Oh, I’m a narcissist! I dare thinking I can be better than others in some ways! My english IS better than that of the VAST majority of italians. I am better than this at that, and it doesn’t stop there. People can be better than the mediocrity around them. According to the definition of NPD, they’re disturbed. That’s why you should seriously review that definition and underdstand that people aren’t equal, that everyone is either better or worse in all different aspects and in total, and thus when one is aware that he is superior WHEN HE IS, which certainly is a possibility, he is not disturbed, he is perfectly balanced. I am sure you disagree with this but there is no logical argument you can do against it. You’ll prove your disturbance by holding the delusion that noone is better than you.

          So many people are/were better than you and have a much deeper understanding of the human mind, Krishnamurti for example.

          Do you confess he understands better than you do? Do you have some humility or are you disturbed, whether you confess it or not?

  7. I consider “southerners” inferior to northerners thus I’m afraid your degree at the TEXAS university wikll hold little value to me: education in southern states of the US is much inferior to that in other states. Each country has its good area and bad area. Texas is among the bad states of the US, with a much higher concentration of ignorance. Please tell me you disagree so I can label you a fool once and for all…but, actually I hope you’ll prove me wrong.

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