Neurotic or Character Disorder? – Criterion One: Anxiety


      Neurotics are very different from individuals with a character disorder on the dimension of anxiety.  Anxiety is that primal emotion (i.e. fear response) that we get when we feel threatened in some way.  When our fear is attached to a specific, identifiable circumstance, such as being in a room filled with a lot of people, having to take a test, or coming face to face with a snake, we call it a phobia.  When our apprehension does not appear connected to a specific thing or circumstance, is unidentifiable, unknown, or unconscious, we call it anxiety.  Experiencing too much anxiety, especially with regard to urges or issues that shouldn’t normally evoke high levels of anxiety is the number one way to know if someone is neurotic as opposed to character disordered.  Neurotics can suffer several a host of maladies that are either directly caused or exacerbated by their anxiety such as stress-related ulcers, tension headaches, fear-based avoidance of crowds or open places (i.e. agoraphobia), obsessive worry, fear of abandonment, etc.  


Character disordered individuals are notoriously nonchalant about the things that most others get upset about.  They don’t experience enough anxiety when it would be normal or even beneficial to do so.  The disturbed character doesn’t get apprehensive enough about his conduct.  He is too indifferent and unshaken when problems arise as the result of the way he does things, and he remains too unnerved and unperturbed in the face of conflict.  The disordered character doesn’t do the dysfunctional things he does because some past trauma has him too hung-up to do otherwise.  He does what he does because unlike the neurotic, he lacks the capacity to get hung-up enough to think twice about his behavior and inhibit himself and restrain his conduct.  A little of the neurotic’s typical apprehension would go a long way toward helping the disturbed character be more cautious or hesitant when it comes to doing the things he does that frequently cause problems. 


For several reasons that I have never fully understood, traditionally-oriented therapists and relatively neurotic individuals seem to insist upon ascribing fears and insecurities to disordered characters that simply don’t exist.  They will frequently misinterpret the behavior and motivations of character-disordered individuals and frame things inappropriately.  For example, some disordered characters have such a passion for novelty and such a craving for excitement that they constantly seek shallow, intense, and short-lived high-risk sexual involvements or other interpersonal entanglements.  But this thrill-seeking behavior is sometimes framed as a “fear” of intimacy or commitment.  I think this mistake is often made because it’s difficult for neurotic individuals to imagine why a person wouldn’t necessarily prefer a stable intimate relationship over multiple risky encounters unless they were in some way afraid of a deeper relationship.  This kind of thinking also reflects a long-held but unproven tenet of classical psychology theories that everyone will naturally gravitate toward the healthiest life choices unless they are hung-up by unconscious fears born of early trauma.  The disordered character is very different from the neurotic on this key criterion.  For the most part, neurotics experience too much anxiety.  Disturbed characters don’t experience enough anxiety, especially at times when some gut level apprehension would serve them and the rest of society well.   

15 thoughts on “Neurotic or Character Disorder? – Criterion One: Anxiety

  1. Why do professionals who have worked with hundreds of perpetrators of abuse, like Donald Dutton eg, say that such violent men have low self-esteem and batter out of a desire to make the other person lower to compensate for their feelings of inferiority? He says they are normally very anxious about their performance because they had abusive childhoods, in particular the combination of an abusive father and a non-validating mother.

    Is that a different type of abuser than the character-disordered person you are talking about?

    1. Such notions about abusive types have been widely-held for many, many years. Fortunately, in recent years, research, especially research on bullies, is poking very large holes in these assumptions (most especially with regard to the self-esteem issue) which can be disadvantaging at best and “enabling” at worst. And there is some research emerging about the legitimacy of the “abuse excuse” as well. In years of experience with perpetrators, the vast majority appear to fit best within the framework of character disturbed vs. neurotic, although there are exceptions. It’s also important to remember that we’re talking about a continuum, with few persons falling at the absolute extreme of that continuum.

      1. Perhaps we could also see the matter as misattribution of the root cause. Bullies can have undeserved high self-esteem or low-esteem, but deep down they are immature and are unwilling to earn what they want through effort of their own.
        Or we could see it as the matter of holding up a false self-image, not like neurotic compensation for feelings of inferiority, but like egotistic or aggressive manner for self-glorifying thinking. Any reminder of the reality not being like they wish it to be through magical thinking, any reminder that they are not that special is an insult to their ego.
        Or perhaps what’s usually mistaken for low-esteem is described in Character Disturbance as hard-luck thinking, self-pity.

  2. Dr. Simon, when an uninformed person is in an unfortunate relationship, that they are trying to overcome, w/ one that exhibits a Covert Aggression Personality is it best to first become informed about the disorder that person is exhibiting or should that person first become informed about why they are so vulnerable?

    1. I think the answer’s not simple.

      If they only know what kind of a disorder another person had, they might still be clouded by faulty notions and justify another person based on those. They might easily divert themselves (or be diverted by a covert manipulator) to past hurts/”hurts”, pent-up emotional pain or other factors like that. Looking inside they might get: “Wait! I’m prone to explaining away bad behavior and I have this belief about people that I’ve never questioned. That’s contributing to my troubles and allowing this bastard to manipulate me even more.”

      However, if an unfortunate soul, who’s given himself to an untrustworthy person, has suffered verbal abuse and started to believe there’s actually something wrong with them, then I doubt the benefit of looking inside, because someone caught up in an abusive relationship can distrust their intuition and perceptions. Then it’s more pressing to know what kind of a person another one truly is.

    2. Both are important, of course. And part of becoming a better judge of character is not just being able to “size up” the personality characteristics of others but also to gain a better sense of one’s own wants, needs, unfulfilled desires, weaknesses, etc. And it’s much easier to make a sound judgment about someone else once we know we’ve got our own act together.

    1. Not most, Alsyah. It’s almost by definition what defines neurosis. Besides, as the theory goes, if they were really aware, there’d be no neurosis. Still, some neurotics have some level of awareness yet are still so “hung up” when it comes to what they know would be the appropriate remedial action to put their inner conflicts to rest that they simply can’t move forward. Great question, and perhaps one that deserves fuller treatment in an article or two.

  3. It’s because abusive manipulators are JEALOUS of your decency and they want what you have, but they want to STEAL IT, NOT EARN IT; and if they can’t TAKE it from you, they will destroy their perceived “competition.”

    These losers (even the pretentious. privileged rich, as well as the entitled poor) want to be on the pedestal that EVERYONE ELSE puts them on, because unbeknownst to them, the intimate witness KNOWS what the abusive manipulator is REALLY LIKE!

    Manipulative people DESPISE normal, kind and intelligent people who sideline abusers/manipulators/cons as quickly as they are discovered to be abusive and manipulative, etc.

    Only after you have PROVEN to them that they are worthless losers for ALWAYS CHOOSING ABUSIVE OPTIONS (unless it otherwise fits their manipulative strategy) will they apologize, and only long enough until they abuse you the next time they fel you “deserve to be punished” for NOT putting them on a pedestal by kissing their every loser whim of getting attention, inclduing luring and fooling you to get to you (again).

    Once you KNOW they are liars, cheaters and cons, NEVER LOOK BACK. Players will never SEE FOR THEMSELVES the terrible, degenerate people they are … it would be best they keep company with their own kind, but as nature would have it, they are always looking for prey to inflate their false ego, based on lies and cons to themselves about “how great they are” — NO fellow abusive cons would want them around either, nor do decent people.

    ABUSIVE MANIPULATORS, HAD THEIR CHANCE(S) to be with a good, honest, decent person (and even the chance to allow themselves to have the same moral character), so now they get to live in the hell they created for themselves (and others), so unless you want to LIVE IN HELL, DO NOT LOOK BACK!

    They will say ANYTHING to drag you back to the hell they created for themselves … don’t listen or believe ONE WORD!

    The best thing you can do is LIVE by example, and keep low-life losers (including overly spoiled, “privileged” abusive rich people/cons) out of your life!

    NEVER let someone “BUY” YOUR MORALITY from you! And DON’T let YOURSELF CON YOUR own SOUL by believing their lies — this is the time to remember all of the abusive and manipulative lies they told you in the first place, as well as the lies they continue to tell you that you fell for in the first place, because by this time, they are DESPERATE to find a gullible DECENT PERSON!

    Believe in doing the right thing or you will fall for and HOLD ON TO all the WRONG THINGS and people in your life! Family and REAL FRIENDS come first … if they are not moral actors, then find “Family” who are, and retain those friendships as priority in your life.

    Don’t mistake their “new found apologies” as their own newly found “self-discovery” about “how much they really love you”, “are sorry”, “missed the best opportunity of a lifetime”, etc., as they are merely trying to check YOUR boundaries … No wonder they always say “they are so lonely” …

    Abusive, manipulative cheaters and liars DID THAT TO THEMSELVES BY BEING SLEAZY, IMMORAL LOSERS, but they will NEVER learn, nor will they EVER CARE to learn how to be decent humans!

  4. Many could wrongly diagnose Jesus Christ as being a neurotic for his paranoia of morally condemning the religious and governing ways of this world. However Jesus was motivated by a self-sacrificial love of esteeming others above himself as a governing law of servitude leadership. However neurotic and character disorder traits are both, in most cases, inspired by virtuous morality desires to exalt one’s self over others. Neurotics do this by a self-righteous means of viewing victimhood as a virtuous, Christ-like trait of nobility. Character disordered types, on the other hand, tend to suffer from a narcissistic messiah complex of bold self-righteous beliefs in socialist, religio-political philosophies by which they see themselves as more morally evolved than the morally deplorable masses. This leads to an attitude of viewing the ideology of Socialism’s empowerment of Governments to create two-classed societies as a sacred call to empower one’s self, through Governmental empowerments to confiscate and redistribute wealth. This as being a collectivist salvation means of coercing the masses to give up on God’s Biblical absolute moral laws of self-governance through God’s Biblically established, institutions of one’s family ministries and church ministries by which each individual is inspired to nurture within themselves, a self-sacrificial character of charitable love, social accountability and a meritorious law and order virtue of the joy which comes from individually choosing to serve and love others through God’s, self-governing ministries of God’s institutions of the family and the church. Character disordered types often try to appeal to the victimhood intersectionalities of identifying themselves with neurotics as an identity-politics means of demonizing the Biblical patriarchal evils of God’s Heritage Privilege self-governing institutions of the nuclear family being tied to the extended community family of the individual free-will ministries of Social Welfare, Healthcare and Education, belonging to God’s institution of the church’s mission of individual salvation conversions of hearts, as a means to promote a heartless, collectivist salvation, Socialist idealism of covetous, class warfare empowerments of Governments to erode and take over the individual morality and social accountability institutions of self-governance through the family and church ministries belonging to God, by creating enablements of immoral entitlements to Government dependency ways to avoid being held to moral and ideological standards of meritorious economic social accountability penalties being accrued and suffered under a result of one’s adoption of cultural and lifestyle choices of ideo-political belief systems of collectivist salvation, mental enslavery to Socialist ideals of empowering Governments to take over the individual salvation institutions and ministries of the family and the church, being replaced by a counterfeit, collectivist salvation form of charitable love which heartlessly and coercively empowers the sword the State to practice a Socialist Authoritarianism right to confiscate and redistribute wealth, upon an ideological collectivist Fascism term of making Governments the sole moral arbiters and endowers of our rights and liberties of freedom of expression and equal opportunities to individual conscience liberties of property ownership abilities to market access rights and liberties to run one’s business in accordance to one’s individual conscience beliefs, being overturned by a Civil rights empowerment to establish the will of the moral majority as being above the moral liberties of one’s individual conscience rights to morally discriminate in the exercising one’s moral beliefs within the realms of one’s privately owned business ventures of public commerce.
    Character disordered narcissism lacks the Christian perspective of introspection which results in a sort of self-deception of projecting its faults unto neurotics in a political attempt to gain the mental enslavery support of neurotics by building coalitions of intersectional victimhood morality rights to racially discriminate against ideological morality arguments of Biblical reasons for limited governance, by adopting the Biblical forms of self-governance through God’s individual ministerial institutions of the family and the church, by offering a loveless, Government empowerment of a counterfeit form of collectivist salvation which empowers the Socialist Institution to take over the individual salvation ministries the God’s institutions of the family and the church, being replaced by a Socialist empowerment of the sword of the state to confiscate and redistribute wealth in accordance to demanding collectivist conformity demands to have the Government be the sole arbiters of being the only moral and economic endowers of our rights and liberties of individual conscience.

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