Misunderstood Psychology Terms-Pt 2: Personality & Character

Perhaps no two concepts in psychology are as confusing at times as personality and character.  That’s in part because the definitions of both terms have evolved over time. But it’s also because certain misconceptions about the terms have persisted over the years not just in the minds of the general public but also in among professionals.

I once gave an instructional seminar to some 3rd year medical students (wanting to enter psychiatry) on the different approach needed to deal with character disturbance as opposed to neurosis.  One young man in the front row was shaking his head in a negative direction the entire seminar, whereas most of the audience appeared not only receptive but affirming. This person later made some statements and asked some questions that revealed he harbored two all-too-common misconceptions:  that personality and character are one and the same thing and that every personality style is a manifestation of a particular type of neurosis.  

As I outlined in one of last year’s posts (See: Personality and Character Disorders: A Primer):

  • Personality is not the same thing as a trait or distinguishing personal attribute.  It’s also more complex than merely the sum of a person’s individual traits.
  • Personality is not the same as a person’s temperament.  Temperamental variables are an important aspect of one’s personality to be sure, but it’s inaccurate to define someone’s personality by their temperament alone.
  • Personality is neither comprised only of one’s biologically-based predispositions nor is it merely a reflection of their environmental influences or learned “habits.”
  • Personality and character are related but nonetheless different concepts.  Although both of these terms have been used quite loosely and often synonymously (even by professionals) they are very different constructs.  Character is an important aspect of one’s personality – the aspect that reflects one’s ethics and integrity, but it is not synonymous with personality.

So what exactly then is personality?  The term derives from the Latin word “persona,” meaning “mask.”  In the ancient theater, actors wore masks to depict various emotional states and also to denote character identity and gender.  The giants of classical psychological theories (Freud, Adler, Jung, etc.) and their followers conceptualized personality as the social “mask” people wore to conceal and protect their “true selves” from possible disfavor, ridicule, or rejection.  And this sort of conceptualization of personality dominated the fields of psychology and psychiatry for a long time, persisting in some circles even to this day. Adherents to traditional psychology perspectives generally believe that we’re all basically the same (and also, basically good) behind the “wall” of our unconsciously constructed “defenses.”  And this conceptualization actually appears to have relevance and to hold a good deal of truth for some of us (especially those of us I affectionately refer to in my writings as “neurotic”).  But traditional personality perspectives have always proved inadequate when it comes to understanding the makeup of the more unsavory characters among us, and we now live in an age where pathological neurosis is less common. That’s why for years, many in the behavioral science field (myself included) have advocated for a more comprehensive view of personality.

Over the past several decades, clinicians and researchers have increasingly preferred a multidimensional conceptualization of personality. They’ve also tended to view personality as the distinctive “style” a person has of engaging with the world.  While even traditional theorists (i.e. those who view personality as a social “mask” or facade, defined by one’s “unconscious defenses” against their fears and anxieties) have conceptualized personality as an individual interaction style, informed professionals today no longer view these styles as manifestations of a person’s neurosis or an unconsciously constructed facade. Rather, they view these styles as a genuine expression of who the person really is and how he or she prefers to relate. Moreover, within the multidimensional perspective, a variety of critical factors are thought to contribute to the development of each person’s unique style of relating, including:

  •  Constitutional factors  (all the factors that comprise a person’s biological “constitution”), such as:
    • Heredity (genetically-conferred or influenced traits and predispositions)
    • Temperament
    • Other biological variables (e.g., hormonal levels, biochemical balances or imbalances, etc.)
  • Environmental factors, including:
    • learned behaviors and learning failures
    • socio-cultural influences on and consequences for behavior
    • trauma
    • exposure to drugs and toxic agents
  • Developmental factors, and perhaps most importantly:
  • Dynamic interactions between all the contributing factors during various phases in a person’s development.

Over time, a dynamic interaction between all the aforementioned factors contribute to the development of a person’s unique “style” of perceiving and relating to others and the world at large.  And the degree to which any of the aforementioned factors plays a more dominant role in the shaping of personality style varies from individual to individual.  Generally speaking, once a certain “style” develops and solidifies, it remains intact and relatively unchanging across a wide variety of circumstances and throughout most of a person’s life. However, for many folks, certain aspects of their personality do change as they grow, acquire wisdom, and mature.   Few of us can say that we are exactly the same person we were 20 or 30 years ago.  Still, at our core, most of us retain a unique identity that most of our friends and acquaintances can easily recognize as distinctively “us.”  Some folks, however, either as a result of experiencing extreme trauma during their formative years or because they have an innate predisposition toward high cognitive and behavioral ambivalence, never seem to “solidify” a stable personality.  The result is often an erratic and unpredictable pattern of emotional expression and behavioral conduct so distinctive that it appears as a “style” of its own (This is the case with Borderline Personality, and for more on the topic see:  Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder).

Most personality styles are adaptive in the sense that they draw upon the person’s natural inclinations as well as their learned experience to form a distinctive and functional “strategy” on how to deal with life’s challenges, get one’s needs met, and prosper.   But sometimes one’s distinctive way of coping can, in and of itself, present problems.   When a person’s “style” of perceiving and engaging with the world is 1) inordinately intense (i.e. the behaviors associated with their preferred style of coping far exceed the bounds of expression considered normal for the culture), 2) Inflexible (i.e. the person doesn’t appear able to moderate their responses or implement alternative coping strategies), and 3) resistant to modification despite a clear lack of functionality, it’s considered a “disorder” of personality.  

As I suggest in my book Character Disturbance, character is better defined as the aspect of personality that reflects one’s moral integrity.  The word character derives from a Greek word describing the distinctive mark engraved on a printing plate. The nature of our character “marks” our personalities with respect to our social conscientiousness and personal ethics.  When the nature of a person’s character impairs their ability (willingness) to function in a pro-social manner, we say they have a character disturbance. And when that impairment is so intense, inflexible, and resistant to modification despite adverse consequences, we say they have a character disorder.

For much of the modern era, there’s been a bias in the professional community against recognizing personality and character disturbances and disorders and their role in psychological problems.  But because we live in an age in which so many socio-cultural factors both promote and reward character dysfunction, that bias has been steadily waning.  It’s really hard to find a case these days where personality is not a major player in a person’s difficulties, regardless of the clinical label they might be given. There are relatively few problems that come to the attention of mental health professionals that are strictly the result of disease processes, biochemical abnormalities, extreme and unusual circumstances, inevitable response to trauma, or strictly involuntary factors.  Personality factors, and sometimes character issues, often play significant roles in problems, even though they’re not always recognized, diagnosed correctly, or afforded the kind of attention they warrant in treatment. That’s why in my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome, and in my numerous online articles, I’ve focused so heavily on personality and character issues and the roles those issues play in people’s difficulties.  

This Sunday’s Character Matters program will include a further discussion of these topics but will also reserve ample time for an open forum on topics of the listeners’ choice.

64 thoughts on “Misunderstood Psychology Terms-Pt 2: Personality & Character

    There seems to be a continuum, where at one end is the CD (under responsible) and at the other, the Neurotic (over responsible) and in the middle the healthy person (reasonably responsible). The continuum is the trait of social consciousness or integrity/ethics or character.
    This continuum will vary over time and between cultures.

    “…we’re all basically the same (and also, basically good) behind the “wall” of our unconsciously constructed “defenses.””
    So, the Neurotic may put on a face/personality because it would be frightening to them to show the world their true selves. What of the CD? He puts on a façade to hide the fact that he doesn’t care what people think of him. He is compelled to do this to ensure his own needs are met by fooling the world into thinking he is just like anyone else. He feigns having ethics. He lacks “character”.

    BUT… is this deficiency something he had choice over? Did he have any say about being located at the ‘under responsible’ end of the character continuum?

    1. What do you think, RS? Do they have a choice about it?

      Corey, they can and do change. When they really want to change. Yes, they usually know. And yes, it is very difficult to understand, initially. Counter-intuitive, even. But understanding it is essential for a sane life, so don’t give up!

          1. Vera,

            Thanks for your interest. I think my view is based on the idea that in life there are things over which I do not have choice. Obviousy, the colour of my eyes is one, but also to whom I am born and raised by and the events that shape me. I guess I am just one of the fortunate ones who has been lucky enough to come out being considrate of others… I am thinking that if I exchanged myself, atom for atom, with Adolf Hitler, I will have tried to exterminate the Jews too. Thats is how I think at this stage, but am open to new ideas.

          2. RS, it reminds me of the debate of free will vs determinism. I lean on the side of semi-determinism. Clearly, there are many things we have a measure of free will over. If I hear that someone is an epileptic, I don’t assume they have much choice, if any, over their convulsions. If I hear someone is a chronic liar, I assume they do. You?

            Hunting for root causes is a slippery thing, though no doubt an interesting theoretical issue, and I wish you luck with that. As Dr Simon says, there is a danger in that… of getting diverted from dealing effectively with such behaviors, in therapy or life.

            If the assumption is they do not have a choice, then how do you explain that some do change once they are motivated to do so?

          3. Vera, I look at it this way,,,,,,,,everyone is born with a sex drive, some more than others and generally men more than women. Generally speaking! But if a, lest say a man,,,,is born with a very high sex drive he might WANT to have sex all the time but does that mean he HAS to have sex all the time? Or can he learn to accept that he can’t have sex all the time and find other ways to exist in life and channel his sexual energies. So just because you have a predisposition to something does not make it right to act on it.
            Say a woman is very beautiful, sexy and has the ability to be seductive……..it does not mean that every time she gets the chance she uses those inherent abilities to her advantage or to just live her life seducing and destroying men for her amusement because she can, right? Choices choices choices…………all based on character development. Character is something you grow and develop and reflects the choices you make.

      1. Vera……to be specific regarding them changing……
        SOME can and do change but it really depends on so many factors. Personally I think it’s rare for the type that I’ve encountered to change. very very rare.

    2. The key difference about facade and CD vs. neurotic dimension is the “unconsciously constructed” part. Neurotic basically don’t fully understand why they’re so afraid to show their true selves and even though they don’t deliberately deceive, they’re not really happy with the face they unconsciously feel they have to put on. In contrast, CDs are pleased with who they are but might not want you to know who they are because then they’d lose advantage over you. For them, it’s all about the game of getting the better of you and keeping up the most favorable impressions while doing it.

      1. Dr. Simon,

        Thankyou for your reply. It appears it is the DECEPTION that differentiates the two groups you refer to. Additionally, the SELF-CENTREDNESS of the CD. I would like to know if these deficiencies in character are something the CD had choice over acquiring?

    3. It’s not that they don’t have *A* choice, it’s that they have had many many many choices and continue to dig the rut deeper and deeper staying just the way they are. There are so many varieties of this “disorder” so it’s really hard to make blanket statements.
      They do what they do because they can and because they want to and because it supports their warped, over inflated, grandiose self image as the gods they see themselves as. To me, it’s all about intention, intention to have what they want (money, sex, power, entertainment, revenge, victory) at any cost…..to someone other than themselves. The thing that perplexes me about Spathtard is that EVERYTHING about him and his pathetic parasitic life style flies in the face of any kind of image that just about anyone would deem admirable. I guess it’s enough for him to have mommy’s undying admiration.

  2. Thank you, this helped a lot to understand about personality and character. I have a question, when someone is disturbed, they can change their behavior but disordered persons cannot change their behavior? And do they know ? It is difficult for me to understand how some people can go so out of their way to cause trouble knowingly and not feel badly for their actions.

    1. How? I find it easy to understand. Perhaps that’s got something to do with some immature peers I knew when younger who lied just for fun and acted like a**eholes.

    2. The degree of amenability to change depends on a variety of factors: how deeply “ingrained” the pattern is (which can be influenced by the degree to which constitutional factors play a more dominant role and the degree to which the pattern has been heavily reinforced in the past), the motivation of the person to change (and not just the degree of motivation but also the source – e.g., internal vs. external), adaptive learning capacity, etc. There are many factors, actually, and of course it’s a rougher road for a person whose fully “disordered” as opposed to disturbed because, by definition there’s been a lack of flexibility in response patterns among other things that heightens the person’s resistance to change. Most of the time, the person knows, even if they aren’t very “mindful” of their style and its impact, and in the case of character disturbance, as I’ve pointed out in the books and in other articles, most of the time, they not only know but are also quite pleased with and not of a mind to alter the style. Some, in fact, wish the rest of the world would think and act more like they do.

      1. Dr. Simon,

        “…of course it’s a rougher road for a person whose fully “disordered” as opposed to disturbed because, by definition there’s been a lack of flexibility in response patterns among other things that heightens the person’s resistance to change.”

        I would like to know what other factors “heighten the person’s resistance to change”. I am thinking these factors are not something a person elected either. I agree that these people do not wish to change… they would see it as a loss to themselves. So, for me, their “resistance” makes sense.

        1. I agree, J. They are a vicious bunch…whether they can help it or not is a mute point for anyone who gets caught in their orbit.

          In my experience, people who are quite happy with themselves never have internal motivation to change. External influences don’t work because they are quite disinterested in other people or what they think or feel.

    3. Hello Corey — narcissists are well known for the “let’s you and him fight” approach so they can watch the fireworks. And they don’t feel a bit guilty about it. Also, you might read Martha Stout’s book “The sociopath next door” — she covers this very topic. And of course Dr. Simon’s books and his archives on this site should be of great help to you in understanding how to deal with these sick people. Peace and hope from Elva

  3. These are pretty familiar terms that have already been gone through for many, many times.

    What about some related terms that have had less attention?

    *anxiety(even though some psychopaths can have it) vs irasciblity over being denied

    *fear of losing control vs fury over losing power

    *dissociation(can confusingly almost appear in an aggressor personality, apparently) vs compartmentalization

    **Also, if a person can be more neurotic than CD and still be a covert aggressor(have nothing defensive about their style, I suppose) and a paranoid personality can think he’s being pre-emptively defensive while actually being aggressive, can an aggressor get mentally overwhelmed and dissociate(it wouldn’t change modus operandi, but could get them become more dysfunctional, I take it)?

    **How different is a ‘normal’ person suffering from dissociation from an aggressor having actual dissociation or lashing out in states that appear dissociative?

    **If someone, who’s already grown up to be an aggressor, happens to face trauma(let’s say he gets an inhumanly brutal beatdown from another aggressor personality), how does the trauma worsen the dysfunction? In what many ways can it appear?

    *low self-esteem vs unwillingness to bear discomfort

    *Here’s a big one! Two-faced vs ACTUAL dual personality(what it even is, I’m not sure)

    *mistrust, paranoia and combative hypervigilance all told apart

  4. “RS, it reminds me of the debate of free will vs determinism. I lean on the side of semi-determinism. Clearly, there are many things we have a measure of free will over. If I hear that someone is an epileptic, I don’t assume they have much choice, if any, over their convulsions. If I hear someone is a chronic liar, I assume they do. You?

    Hunting for root causes is a slippery thing, though no doubt an interesting theoretical issue, and I wish you luck with that. As Dr Simon says, there is a danger in that… of getting diverted from dealing effectively with such behaviors, in therapy or life.

    If the assumption is they do not have a choice, then how do you explain that some do change once they are motivated to do so?”

    I think “motivation” too is determined… it is not that I do not think change is impossible. I agree that it is the freewill vs determinism debate.
    Thank you.


        1. They are not retarded and many of them are quite intelligent so I believe they do have a choice always. Also, they can be very selective about what they do, to whom they do it or not do it and when they do it. All signs of the ability to chose their behavior.

      1. They certainly seem way too comfortable, that’s for sure.

        You’d think that some consequences like getting taken in by police would get someone to think twice about doing it again. Some people keep doing it again, just trying more to circumvent rules and limitations. They like it too much or at least don’t find it distasteful enough.

        They sure like to come up with excuses, too. It’s that circumstancial thinking, “one thing simply led to another”.

    1. RS: So that makes you the Calvinist here. 🙂

      Btw, the forum is clumsy. It only lets you answer certain comments so the comments then stack under it. Annoying, but doable.

      Well, the Calvinist position is vulnerable, pragmatically speaking, to “argument from doing.” If a merchant cheats you, do you go, oh poor soul, they have no choice about the matter, nothing to be done, and give up, or do you put into play certain consequences that may result in a refund, etc? In other words, do you behave as though people do have choices?

      The other problem, of course, is the problem of responsibility. In a deterministic world, nobody is responsible for anything. Polluters are not responsible for polluting, liars are not responsible for lying, etc. Is that how you view your own actions?

      1. Vera,
        Thanks for your question. I see myself as someone who tries to take responsibility when she can, but I figure my past has enabled me to be that person. Had I been another person, I may wee not even try.
        I do not adhere to any religion/christian belefs etc.

          1. RS, I used the term Calvinist in a non-religious sense.

            My question to you was, not whether you “try to take responsibility” but whether all people are, to some extent, responsible for the harm they do. In your view. Is the polluter responsible for the pollution? Is the liar responsible for lying?

            Forgive me for saying this, but it all sounds like puppet world, this determinism you espouse. Is there is any room in that world that would enable these people to be real actors in the world they inhabit?

          2. “In your view. Is the polluter responsible for the pollution? Is the liar responsible for lying?”

            I am sure I posted this, but ah well, here goes again..

            Thank you for rephrasing your question.
            The polluter CONTRIBUTED to polluting. What made the polluter a polluter?

      1. J, a good article, thanks! I thought this was apropos: “Psychologist Roy Baumeister performed experiments where he attempted to increase or decrease subjects’ belief in free will. Disturbingly, subjects who were primed to disbelieve free will were more likely to lie and cheat, were more aggressive and less helpful, as well as more conformist than those who were not similarly primed.”

        Sounds to me like people will be apt to take determinism as a handy excuse. As though another excuse for harmful behavior is what the world needs…!

      2. Vera, RS and others, of course:

        If it WAS like irresponsible, unscrupulous, vile and predatory people having no choice being what they are, I’d have to wonder something, beside “Can’t they be held accountable then?”.

        Would we be supposed to be their food? Someone could just reduce our existence to a cosmic joke by a circular logic like that.

  5. As Puddle says, they are easily able to choose when they perceive a benefit.

    I see this constantly with my brother, who uses every tactic Dr. Simon mentions in Sheep’s Clothing – from shaming to guilt to anger to pretending to the victim himself.

    He’ll launch into the blame game about the silliest things (not seeing a movie because his partner didn’t want to go), and in the next breath demonstrate that he’ll do whatever he d&mn well feels like doing regardless of whether or not someone else wants to go along with it: going to Europe for 4 months by himself while on sabbatical. (It turns out he just didn’t want to see said movie in question, but stupid me – at the time – I felt sorry for him so bought him the movie on DVD). It’s second nature to him if he thinks it gets him out of taking responsibility for things, then he’ll choose to do the very thing he said he couldn’t do because his inaction was somehow someone else’s fault.

    Not sure if I’m making sense!

    1. GG, my brother………he could be ready to do something, say go see my father. He could be dressed, in the car, on his way, almost there or even in the driveway and if something……ANYthing comes along and presents it’s self as an excuse to bail out, he will jump on it and that’s that. It doesn’t mater one bit how it affects anyone else,,,,,,he has crushed my mothers feelings and dashed her hopes so many times I couldn’t put a number on it. He has inconvenienced me and others countless times, used me and who ever else is handy as his excuse……it’s endless. There are times when I think he is better than he was when he was younger but then he pulls another stunt. In some ways he is better but when you factor in his age? It really cancels out any improvement he may or may not have made. Just this spring I drove over 1000 miles to visit my father and be there on his 89th birthday. Plans had been set for my brother and cousin to have Easter dinner with dad and when they showed up he found out I was there and threw a hissy fit, saying that everyone had kept it a secret and that he wanted to go home, refused to come in, etc. My cousin had come in the house without him to explain what the issue was and I told her that I would load up my dogs and go to some friends so that THEY could have Easter dinner with Dad as panned. I said Dad is the one this is all geared for so lets not worry about me. I was prepared to leave with out a word to my brother, no drama, etc…… he refused and demanded to be taken home (after my cousin had picked him up, driven him out to dad’s and planned HER Easter around all of this. Unreal………….I would have told him that if he was not going to stay he would have to find his own way home.
      He pulled a stunt like this at my Father’s 80th birthday party that my mother had planned for months. I flew 2000 miles to go to that, bought clothes for it etc……and in the middle of dinner he made demands to be taken home and said that he didn’t feel well. My mother asked me to take him and i did. SO, I missed most of the party. There are countless stories like this. My mother was 80 when she passed away and probably would have lived to be 100 if it wasn’t for all the crazy turmoil he put her through, mostly in order to get money from her. Sadly I still care about him which is something I will NEVER understand.

  6. Looks like its working now… I tried posting but it was not working. I apologise if this same post appears many times.

    “In your view. Is the polluter responsible for the pollution? Is the liar responsible for lying?”
    Thank you for rephrasing your question.
    The polluter CONTRIBUTES to the pollution. What made the polluter a polluter?

    1. RS, clearly, the polluter contributes to pollution in the world, and the liar to the lies of the world. But that is a tautology (I think), and I am wondering now if you are ducking the real issue. Since I wasn’t asking about that. I was asking whether, in your view, they (or you) are responsible for the harm they (you) do. As I said: “it all sounds like puppet world… Is there is any room in that world that would enable these people to be real actors in the world they inhabit?” Well, is there?

      If you lie to me, I have no way of knowing what made you the person you are. But I do have a choice whether to trust you or not, whether to have further dealings with you or not. And whether I trust you or not does not depend on my knowing the complexities of your past. Only your present behavior.

      1. “I was asking whether, in your view, they (or you) are responsible for the harm they (you) do.”
        I will try to clarify for us.
        At the risk of sounding as though I am “ducking the real issue”…
        I think the polluter is “responsible” for creating pollution in ar far as he is ‘contributing’ to the problem of pollution. So, “responsible” in the sense that he HAS done the act of polluting.
        I do not necessarily think he is “responsible” in the sense that he has deliberately become someone who creates havoc with his polluting. I am asking if the polluter had any choice in becoming oblivious to the ramifications of his polluting behaviour, or in whether he sees pollution as a problem at all.

        1. Now, we move from polluting to being oblivious. As though moving things over one step over made any difference to the argument itself. Responsibily, a really simple but powerful concept (linked necessarily to admitting one’s wrongdoing and making amends), becomes mere attribution. And since everything in my past pushed me this way, why should I care in the first place, that I am polluting, or that I am, oh so conveniently, oblivious to it? RS has sidestepped a number questions she presumably does not care to deal with, that impact directly on what we have been discussing. This way, we could keep going in circles until the ducks come home.

          RS said, “I agree with this. But I am not sure whether you or I have had a choice in whether we became people who have that choice.”

          Classic slipperiness. The kind that makes you do a double take and go, huh? Is someone messing with me noggin? If you assume determinism from the get go, then of course you don’t have a choice. You don’t have a choice in becoming the people who have that (merely seeming) choice, either now or at any time in the past. If choice is an illusion, why bother with it? Why even use the word as though it referred to something substantial? On and on it goes. Enjoy the merry-go-round.

          RS, I do believe you have had the choice, a real one, to come here, and test your approach on us. And I have a choice, a real one, to say, no thanks. I do not wish to validate this way of looking at the world. And I do not wish to add ammunition to those who would rather duck responsibility. They already have plenty of other excuses to reach for, why add another one? So. Since, like, I have a choice about it, a choice which is in part of my own making, well, I invoke it now. 😉 Have a nice day.

          1. Hi Vera — I like your style. I thought you might be interested in the short article at http://greatday.com/motivate/990416.html — occasionally I get a “whiner” in my shop. So I give the person a copy of this article, suggest they read it and think about it. Usually they calm down. They are usually the passive – aggressive type, if you give them an answer that should motivate them to try to fix the problem, they will come up with some tangential reason why they can’t and will keep complaining. Everyone has choices. Not doing anything is a choice. Peace and Hope from Elva

        2. RS, please give some examples of the kind of person you are talking about who may be oblivious. I can see that may be the case in a few, unique situations. But we’re talking about people who pollute either with intention, with malice, or with understanding but lack of concern for anyone else other than his own gain/happiness/convenience at the time.

          That said, the polluter sees the pollution for what it is and can understand why others don’t like it. But he doesn’t take responsibility for polluting and he doesn’t care that it bothers others or creates problems down the line for everyone.

          RS to your other question of why a polluter becomes one: It doesn’t matter so much why. It is partly innate, partly external influences that made him that way. What matters more is that the polluter hears, repeatedly, that his behavior is not pro-social, is unacceptable, and needs to change.

          Like J, using “he” although this of course applies to both genders:)

          1. “… people who pollute either with intention, with malice, or with understanding but lack of concern for anyone else other than his own gain/happiness/convenience at the time…”.
            Thank you for your comment. These people, I can see taht they are self centred and ignore the feelings of others. I am saying that maybe there is a reason they are this way.
            I don’t know that repeatedly telling him he is “wrong” will help him change. He has different core values and being condemned won’t convince him he lacks empathy – if anything, it may help him justify it.

          2. It looks like you’re conveniently ignoring my comments in favor of validating how you’d like things to be, RS.

          3. I can’t know your intent, RS. You could claim not to understand my comments, just because they aren’t what you like to discuss. It’s easy to sidestep them, then.

      2. “… I do have a choice whether to trust you or not, whether to have further dealings with you or not.”
        I agree with this. But I am not sure whether you or I have had a choice in whether we became people who have that choice.

      3. “I am asking if the polluter had any choice in becoming oblivious to the ramifications of his polluting behaviour, or in whether he sees pollution as a problem at all.”

        The polluter example sounds like a bit different a case.

        Some people are not truly oblivious. Perhaps they could have ended up as different kinds of people by not learning to be wantonly aggressive. Sometimes an aggressor character can even have tried other ways of relating to the world and, because he/she hasn’t succeeded, that reinforces effectiveness of being aggressive in a said aggressor character’s mind.

        Perhaps someone, who becomes a vile human being, didn’t plan to do so or actively plan to do so.* Maybe he never gave it any real thought.

        However, he knows what he is like. He knows what he seems like to others(or would seem like to others, if they truly realized what he was like, hence impression management). He knows what he’s really doing, what he’s aiming at with it and why. He knows others wish him to change his ways. He knows what kinds of beliefs he holds.

        This being, why wouldn’t he know he could change and become a different person? It makes sense.

        *Writing he/she all the time feels tacky, so male’s the default. Can obviously refer to a woman, too.

  7. If you know what you are doing and how it afftects others than you have a choice to do it or not. You have a choice to say oh well not my problem or buck up and take responsibility for your hurtful words or actions. These people KNOW every step of the way which is why they are different with a victim than they are with someone who is still useful to them.

  8. To RS,
    Thanks for your comment above
    I completely agree that telling such a person he is wrong is not the way to go, and is likely to backfire. The goal is not to condemn. I’ve worked on my language quite a bit and what now comes out is along the lines of “hey, there are better ways to do this and I want you to try those instead.” or “The way you’re behaving right now is causing discomfort and confusion (or whatever)- let’s see you do something else.” I have seen very good results with this. And improved interactions for all of us involved.

    Let me also say that I’ve had this language/message used on me once or twice in my life- while doing things I should definitely have been doing differently. I was and am grateful for the gentle “correction” I received at the time. Much of that was when I was younger, but I am still occasionally on the receiving end of these corrections. I don’t feel condemned- I feel a bit ashamed and then work hard to do better. While I tend to be a neurotic, and this is very effective with me, it is also an approach that can improve the behavior at times with people who are less susceptible to shame or guilt.
    Thx again and I hope you get some of the answers you are looking for!

    1. Linda,

      I wonder if there is a part of neurotics which is a bit ENVIOUS of those who do not buy into feeling shame or guilt easily. Just a thought.

      1. RS, there are those who believe in this psychopath envy notion. I can understand why and admit that there is part of me that could lean in that direction. There is also a part of me that still wants to drink, party with reckless abandon, sleep till 10:00 in the morning and eat whatever I want. But to live as closely as I can to being a responsible adult, responsible to my self and others has given me self respect I never had as party girl Puddle. So yeah, I could jump back in the play pen with Spathtard and all his little playmates and probably have a lot more “fun” than I am having now as a responsible adult but when I think of the potential of all the horrible things that go along with that life…..forget it. I do not envy anyone who is comfortable living in their mommys basement and hanging out at a bar in his spare time at the age of 50.
        There really is a satisfaction in being an adult and not needing the things of youth. It’s pathetic to see him sitting in the bar with his little friend… They look like 12th graders sitting in preschool desks. Sad sight.

        1. I’m with you Puddle! 😉 When I think of my middle aged x trying to still make it as a teenager Oh who would bother…lived too much of that! Who wants to go back and face all that trauma, fear and manipulation…Not I!! Lurve my boring, little peaceful life…and I don’t envy their guiltless and shameless shells, as I’d rather feel, be human and live!

  9. Puddle, I’ve only just now read the comment you posted about your brother. I am so sorry for what you and your parents had to go through. We, as neurotics, really are swimming against an increasing tide of covert-aggressives and their manipulation and self-centredness, as Dr. Simon has shown in his books. I can only be grateful that I found this place (I don’t always have time to post but usually try to get on the forum about once a week to read the new posts and some comments). Unfortunately there are many of us struggling to straighten back up after being knocked around and down by these character disturbed people.

    1. Well GG , I feel your pain. I just feel horrible for my parents and my mother in particular. She went through Hell and I didn’t realize how hellish it was when I was younger. I certainly contributed to it. Sadly, neither one of my parents were properly equipped to be good parents. Really…… It was an accident waiting to happen, the perfect storm of disfunction. It is so so sad to me now, heart breaking really…….for everyone.

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