Folks with character disturbances tend to be impulsive. That is, they act first and, if we’re lucky, they think about things afterwards. But generally, they think too little and too late to do much good.
Disturbed characters are not just impulsive actors. They’re also impulsive thinkers. By that I mean that when they do think, they don’t spend enough time contemplating the possible ramifications of what they have in mind. Something might appeal to them at the moment, and without thinking things through, they set out to make it happen.
Ramifications of Impulsive Thinking
Impulsive thinking inevitably leads to impulsive acting. And actions driven by impulse are almost always a prescription for disaster. Not so seriously disturbed characters can experience some after-the-fact regret when they finally stop to think about things. But the more seriously disturbed characters among us hardly ever regret their impulsive acts. Experience might have taught them the negative fallout that can accompany a particular choice. But they don’t think about that at the time. They think only about what they want and how to get it (this is called “end-game thinking”).
Habitual impulsive thinking eventually promotes a “devil-may-care,” lackadaisical attitude. It also promotes attitudes of indifference, uncaring, and nonchalance. Never stopping to think about the consequences of behavior or its impact on others is a surefire way to become callous and indifferent. And a person develops attitudes of indifference by default. You have to habitually stop and think about your behavior and its potential impact to develop any empathy, care, and concern for others. It’s how you develop a decent conscience.
The Sixth Command
The sixth “commandment” of sound character is to acquire mastery over your impulses. And it’s not enough to simply learn to think before acting. What you think and how you’re thinking matters, too. You have to think with social awareness. And your thinking has to be guided by sound principles. Disturbed characters operate on the pleasure principle (i.e. hedonistic thinking) and the self-serving principle (i.e. egocentric thinking). Healthy characters operate on a different principle. They answer to a “higher power.” So they think about others and the greater good before acting. It’s the antidote to impulsive thinking and acting. And it’s the way to build a healthy conscience and a noble character.
More on this topic in the wrap-up next week.
Character Matters is live this Sunday at 7 pm EDT (6 pm CDT). So I can take your calls at (718) 717-8296.
Learn more about impulse control problems and character in my book Character Disturbance. And there’s even more helpful information in the many articles on this blog and in my other books:
I’m doing workshops in Pittsburgh, PA, and Canton and Cleveland OH next week. And the week after I’ll be in Ann Arbor, MI, Toledo, OH, and Ft. Wayne, IN.