Understanding Character Disorder
Just what is a Character Disorder? In short, it’s a personality disorder of a certain, troubling kind. And to understand it fully one must first appreciate the difference between personality and character. Then one must understand what makes someone’s personality or character a “disorder.”
Professionals have defined personality in different ways over the decades. And currently, it’s commonly defined as the characteristic way a person prefers to relate. In short, it’s a person’s distinctive “style” of relating to others and the world at large.
Several things contribute to someone’s personality makeup. Biological factors like temperament and other innate predispositions play a role. A person’s early experiences also play a role. But it’s not just nature; and it’s not just nurture. In fact, it’s more complicated than a mere combination of the two! Biology and shaping influences dynamically interact over time as a peson grows and develops. And eventually a person develops a particular way of seeing and doing things. Moreover, some ways of navigating the world are more “compatible” with the self-image a person wants to have and project. And as folks perceive their ways working for them, they’re hesitant to change them.
Sometimes, the image a person puts forward is more of a “front” that masks a much different inner reality. And in these cases, the front is often put forth unconsciously. Such is the case with many of the personalities I describe in all my books as “neurotic.” Other times, however, the image folks project is done consciously, deliberately, as part of a “con” to manipulate and deceive. Bernie Madoff and other sociopaths would be prime examples. The lesser malignant but still toxic deceivers are the subject of my book In Sheep’s Clothing. And I was the first to describe them and the tactics they use to manipulate and control.
Some folks use the terms “character” and personality interchangeably. But in Character Disturbance and my other books, I, like others, regard character as the moral/ethical side of personality. To be of good character is to have formed an admirable way of seeing and doing things and operating in the world.
Disorders of Personality and Character
Over the years, researchers and clinicians have offered many different definitions of personality and character. And the official classification manuals have offered different categories and definitions of what constitutes a personality or character disorder. One thing we know for sure is that existing definitions are proving increasingly inadequate in an age of more widespread character dysfunction. So, the likelihood is that both our categories and criteria will soon change again, and considerably. There’s talk of a single category for a personality disorder, leaving room for a clinician to specify what traits comprise the disorder.
Folks whose ways of seeing and doing things are so toxic that they’re rightfully considered “character-disordered” always cause big problems in relationships. Some are even heartlessly predatory. Folks impaired in character to a degree but not quite disordered cause problems, too. But the types and seriousness of the problems they cause vary.
Is There Any Help, Hope?
Despite all you read these days, here’s the short, most accurate answer: It depends. With present knowledge and methods, when it comes to true disorders, especially the severe ones, there’s little hope for significant change and only modest hope for mild modification. We just don’t have the science yet. But there’s more hope for folks with mild character disturbances. Even then, however, a lot of variables enter in to play, such as:
- The degree to which preferred ways of coping have stopped working, producing some motivation to change
- How much motivation to change is internal vs. external
- How ingrained a person’s ways are
- The kinds of intervention employed
Sadly, even after all these years and all we’ve learned, folks who could possibly grow in character rarely get the kind of help that could truly help them do so.
Other Relevant Articles
You can find several articles on these issues, including the following posts:
The last edition of Character Matters was a live 1 hour broadcast and can be found on the YouTube channel. There will be no podcast this week. But next week’s podcast continue the discussion on the Commandments of healthy character formation.