Over the past couple of decades, we’ve come to realize that many conditions we tried to place into tidy little categories actually exist along a spectrum of quality and intensity. Such has proven to be the case, for example, with the Autistic Spectrum Disorders. It’s also conjectured to be the case with respect to narcissism, which is one of the reasons why the category of Narcissistic Personality Disorder was relegated to a different status in the latest edition of the official diagnositic and statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association. As those familiar with my work already know, I’ve long asserted that personality and character disturbances exist along a continuum. And in addition to the chapters in my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing that delve into this topic, you can also find several relevant articles here on the blog (e.g., Character Disturbance Exists along a Continuum, The Continuum of Character Disturbance – Part 2, The Character Disturbance Continuum – Part 3, and The CD Continuum Wrap-Up: The Preeminent Role of Character). We’re revisiting the topic to emphasize that the continuum of character disturbance is one of both quantity and quality. Let me explain:
One continuum I’ve long talked about is the continuum that encompasses pathological “neurosis” at one extreme and pure character impairment at the other. This is the qualitative dimension of the continuum. Folks at the neurotic end of the spectrum tend to be overly anxious, insecure, self-doubting, conscientious to a fault (i.e. laboring under an “opressive,” conscience) and sometimes out of touch with their emotions and motivations. Folks at the other end of the spectrum, by contrast, tend to be lacking in adaptive fearfulness, overly self-esteeming and confident, unscrupulous, and while aware of their sentiments and motivations, uncaring about the impact they have on others. There are actually many dimensions on which individuals at the extremes of this continuum differ. Suffice it to say that on just about any dimension of human functioning you can think of disordered characters are radically different from their neurotic counterparts.
Character disturbance itself, however, is also a matter of degree. There’s a continuum of severity to character impairments, ranging from mild character immaturity to severe character dysfunction. Not all the difficult people in your life will meet the criteria established for a true character “disorder.” But that doesn’t mean that some of these folks aren’t significantly disturbed characters capable of making your life miserable. The degree of character impairment a person has, however, does have a lot to do with how likely it is they might change (with the right type of intervention).
For some time now we’ve been in a sociocultural climate that has helped make character disturbance of one level or another much more commonplace than it once was (it’s also the reason there’s far fewer cases of highly pathological neurosis). That mere fact would be problem enough, but it’s compounded by the reality that few professionals recognize the problem for what it is and even fewer are adequately prepared to address it. These – in a nutshell – are the reasons for my books, this blog, my workshops, weekly broadcast, and all the other things I do to promote higher awareness of character disturbances. And over the next couple of weeks, the articles I’ll be posting will present some vignettes designed to illustrate how character disturbances of various of types and degrees can be better detected and dealt with. As always, the sharing of personal experiences by the commentators should lend much to the discussion.
Character Matters will be a live broadcast this Sunday evening (6 pm CST) with no pre-recorded portions, so there’s plenty of time to take your phone calls.