Real Character: Relating in Civil, Genuine, Generous Ways

For the past several weeks we’ve been discussing the “10 commandments” of sound character development – the life lessons a person must master if they’re to forge a character of strength and integrity.  This week’s post wraps up the series that began with Building Character:  The “10 Commandments” of Socialization and focuses on two essential aspects of relating to others:  treating everyone with civility and generosity and being sincere and genuine in your encounters.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to be generous and civil to someone, especially if you believe that person has behaved in a less than civil or generous manner toward you.  But there’s no merit in treating someone well just because you like them or because they’ve treated you well. Rather, the real test of character , as the “golden rule” has long espoused, is to treat others in the manner you would have them treat you.  Now, I’m not at all suggesting that in following this axiom you must allow yourself to endure mistreatment and/or abuse by others.  Far from it.  You have not only the right but also the inescapable duty to both set and enforce the limits and boundaries necessary to keep yourself safe.  But when you behave in a civil way (while firmly enforcing any necessary limits and boundaries), even in your dealings with impaired characters, that person’s character defects become inescapably illuminated and glaringly self-evident.

As big a challenge as it is to be civil and generous, even when we don’t feel like it, it’s a much bigger challenge to remain sincere and genuine in our encounters with others.  The socio-cultural climate in which most of us live is replete with superficiality.  We’re bombarded with “reality” shows that showcase audacious personas possessing about as much substance as air.  And whether the superficial personas we encounter in our daily lives are constructed unconsciously to avoid emotional pain (as in the case of “neurotic” personalities), or they’re constructed knowingly, deliberately, and for the purposes of deception, manipulation, and impression-management (as in the case of disturbed and disordered characters, the result is the same:  we rarely know who the people we deal with really are.  But each one of us can make a difference in this regard.  We have the power to be real in our encounters.  People can then know us for the genuinely good person we might be.  And while this genuineness definitely puts us at risk (as I point out in In Sheep’s Clothing, certain nefarious characters are notorious for exploiting and abusing the good nature of a decent, sincere person), we get our best and most reliable warnings about the true nature of others and their potential danger to us in a relationship when they disrespect, disregard, or take unfair advantage of our genuineness.

In Character Disturbance, I advise:

Be honest with yourself about whatever you do and the reasons you’re doing it.  And be straightforward with others.  let your intentions be noble and transparent.  Harbor no hidden agendas.  Avoid hypocrisy and the tendency to cast yourself as someone or something you’re not.  Although you need not broadcast your every desire, sincerity is a prerequisite for developing integrity of character.  (pp. 144-145)

It’s worth reiterating a very important rule to follow whenever you take seriously and do your best to observe any of the “commandments” of sound character development:  recognize the value of and reinforce yourself for the effort.  Developing strength and integrity of character takes time and a whole lot of behavioral “rehearsal.”  And no learning fully takes root in the absence of reinforcement.  When we’re in our formative years, we’re dependent on wise parents to recognize and reinforce their children for every small effort they see them make to observe the “commandments” of character.  But as we get older, the burden for self-recognition and reinforcement falls increasingly on us.  And it’s particularly unhealthy (i.e. it fosters emotional “dependency”) to enter adulthood with a retained tendency to look toward external sources of recognition, approval, and reinforcement.  So, if I may, let me introduce “commandment” number 11:  Do your best to observe the other ” 10 commandments” and when you do, remember to recognize and reinforce yourself for the effort.  You will be a better person for it.

21 thoughts on “Real Character: Relating in Civil, Genuine, Generous Ways

  1. Dear Dr. Simon,

    I am a professional English to Spanish translator from Spain and a great admirer of your work. I´ve read your books in English and love them, but there is no translation into Spanish of any of them so far. I hope they are translated some time in the near future…
    Anyway, I liked this article so much I am going to translate it and, if you give me permission for it, I would post it on my Facebook page giving you credit for it and recommending your work to my English-speaking friends. Please let me know if that´s fine with you. Otherwise I would keep it only for personal use.
    Also, if you want to have the translation into Spanish for you and post it here or anywhere else, please let me know.

  2. Oh this is such a tough post! Really? Do I have to be that nice to to the CA’s? Just as I thought I was doing so well with regards to how I handle myself!

    Ok, Ok I’ll keep trying. I got the civil and genuine parts down with regard to the CA’s. These come pretty naturally to me. Will work on generous (I am gritting my teeth as I write that). Thanks Dr. Simon. I hope you keep pushing me/us with posts like this even though it made me squirm a little:)

    1. You know what Linda, I have a hard hard time with this period. Maybe I’m misunderstanding things. How do you treat a monster with civility? A fellow human being deserves respect up to the point that they stop acting like a human being.

      I guess the bottom line is that no mater how someone treats you, you should still maintain a grip and turn the other cheek yet keep your self safe.
      What about “a woman scorned”? I’ve had the misfortune to run into him once over the last half a year and I was NOT pleasant. If he wouldn’t have spoken to me I would have kept right on walking, which I did anyhow, but I sure did have a few unpleasant words to say to him. How dare he speak to me like everything is just going to be something we laugh about someday down the road. I can guarantee my words towards him were sincere and genuine!
      And what about the people suffering through PTSD and all that implies? I still don’t feel even close to having my feet back under me.
      If I had done to someone what this POS did to me? I’d expect someone to have harsh feelings and words towards me. Of course I would be ashamed if I ever treated someone the way he treated me.
      It just seems like a pretty tall order Dr. Simon…..I don’t care if I ever speak to him again and would prefer not to.

      1. I think one of my earlier replies to someone else on this subject is worth repeating: There’s nothing more powerful than behavior that’s FIRM yet civil. And with some folks, the boundaries and limits you set and enforce must necessarily be strict. Still, when you take care of yourself in a firm yet benign way, the disturbed character’s truest and most unnerving qualities become ever so hard to conceal or deny.

    2. There’s nothing more powerful than behavior that’s FIRM yet civil. And with some folks, the boundaries and limits you set and enforce must necessarily be strict. Still, when you take care of yourself in a firm yet benign way, the disturbed character’s truest and most unnerving qualities become ever so hard to conceal or deny.

    3. No you do not have to be nice, you only have to be civil.

      “Now, I’m not at all suggesting that in following this axiom you must allow yourself to endure mistreatment and/or abuse by others. Far from it. You have not only the right but also the inescapable duty to both set and enforce the limits and boundaries necessary to keep yourself safe. ”

      I agree it’s tough, and I had to re-read the post many times before seeing the sentence above.

      I have my own rules for my own conduct: no name-calling, no raising my voice, no hitting or slapping (though in everyone’s fantasy we have the dramatic film-noir face-slap with our CA.) I no longer wish my CA mother Happy Mother’s Day, and it’s one I wrestle with every year at that time.

      1. Claire, When I had the misfortune of running into him a month or so ago, he spoke to me. What came out of my mouth in response was not civil…..not even close. It was brief, clear, genuine and it met him on his low level. I do not feel one ounce of remorse for what I said, however…..I would not say it again if I were to run into him in the future. Absolutely nothing is what I would say. Nope, I don’t feel one bit bad about what I said to him…..a 48 year old man boy who had a choice to do what he chose to do…..he lifted his leg on an opportunity to be an honorable man. for almost two years he chose to deceive me and manipulate me and in my opinion and other’s, repeatedly rape me on many levels. Disrespected my nature, my home, my body, heart and mind…….has cost me thousands of dollars in therapy and will continue to for some time to come I’m sure……… Somehow I just can’t feel bad for the six words I responded to him with and never will. He is far and away the lowest piece of garbage I have ever come across in 54+ years and I have certainly been exposed to many contenders. NO one even comes close. Honestly….my brother is in second place but in a completely different way, certainly in his younger years. He doesn’t even come close to the low level of Spathx.
        I’m not saying that what I said or the way I said it was the best thing I could have done. I’m aslo not saying that it was “right”. WHat I am saying is that I do not regret saying it because I feel like I defended my honor and dignity in that moment. I feel like I championed myself and I don’t feel like I over indulged myself. I didn’t kill a fly with a sledge hammer in other words.
        This whole situation is so grossly an exception to how most people in my life are it’s indescribable. The whole thing has been so disorienting because of that. mind boggling. He didn’t abuse me…..he violated me…..on every conceivable level with one well placed shot after another after another only I didn’t understand that we were in a fight! I didn’t understand any of it clearly until long after it was over. Lie after lie after lie after lie. Every “I love you”, and there were thousands, a lie. I literally could not conceive of someone telling another human being that they loved them…..making such a constant point of saying those words and more, and meaning none of it. quite honestly I STILL can’t wrap my head around it. This whole thing has ushered me into a reality check that I seemingly can’t grasp or process. I literally feel like I’m not even in the same life anymore. Like I’m in some nightmare/ dream that won’t end. I struggle for words that do justice to what this has done to me and continues to do.
        So, Maybe I would be a better person if I would have just looked him in the eye as I walked past him in dead silence and ignored his “civil” greeting as if nothing had ever happened or that it was just something that we would both have a good laugh over someday down the road. Really?? His “civil” greeting was a covert slap in the face and I responded accordingly. Maybe someday I will be stronger or fast enough on my mental feet to make a better decision.

        1. Puddle,

          Sounds like you got locked in a cage with a narcissist, or someone dangerously close to the bad end of the screwed-up spectrum. I know what that kind of trauma can do to a person. Took me years to get back on my feet.

          You’re still processing the trauma, so civility isn’t in your vocabulary right now, but don’t underestimate the power of being able to take pride in the way you handled a difficult situation. Nothing you say to the jerk – ever – is going to phase him, so there’s no advantage to be had there. Just take it on faith that anything and everything you do that makes you feel proud of you again, is one step closer to over it.

          I’m sorry you’re going through this. Be diligent about staying true to your values, and don’t let the pain he’s put you through compromise what you expect of yourself. When all is said and done, that will (believe me) be your biggest regret.

          1. Einstine…..BRILLIANT! Seriously……….thank you for that validation. Saying what I said to him in the way I said it did make me feel “proud” of myself, not only for saying what i said to him but for not saying more and creating a huge scene in public. It was brief, to the point and said loud enough that a couple people heard it. Essentially I turned his covert slap in the face around and back on him without touching him.
            I think the thing that people underestimate in a situation like mine is how mush like rape this is…..not like it….it IS rape. It’s date rape within a relationship. And it goes on and on and on. It’s not like it happens once…..this happened who knows how many times. every ounce of sexual pleasure i gave him I did more than willingly because I did love him and thought he loved me. I WANTED to make him happy in every way possible and did so to the best of my ability given how confusing the whole thing was and how little he seemed to be able to please me. It seemed like a chore to him….everything. I thought it was because he was from a dysfunctional family or because he just had never been in a good relationship,,,,,So many things I thought were the problem and I wanted to be understanding. The problem? I didn’t understand that what I was trying to be understanding about wasn’t the problem. I 100% did not really really understand what the problem was until long after we had broken up.
            I still longed for things to work out and hoped they would till at least 5 months after we broke up and almost got back with him twice during that time.

            Thank you Einstein and I’m sorry that you have been through what you have been through too, I truly am.

    4. Hi Linda,
      IMO it is not necessary to be nice to the CAs. I think that the thing to strive for is to have some degree of control under those episodes of distress that our CAs instigate. One reason is that CAs are good at keeping us off balance emotionally and this is one way they manipulate us. An uncontrolled reaction by us is not likely to change their behavior, anyway. To the contrary, my sense is that they feed on our emotional turmoil. Second, for our own integrity, we need to keep putting our boundaries out there in a clear, firm way (as Dr. Simon suggests). I think this is mainly for our own mental health and is unlikely to change our persecutor. Unfortunately, in my experience, this will also cause the aggressive/CA to escalate things to restore their domination. It takes a lot of character, with heart beating loud and fast, to “keep the rudder steady” under such conditions. But every time I firmly stated my truth or boundary I felt like a trowel-full of mortar being slapped into the brickwork of my integrity. Now that my son continues to have to deal with his aggressive/CA mother I give him this same advice, and he is getting pretty good at it. I also tell him that he doesn’t need to CONSTANTLY put out his truth–just often enough to bolster his identity, confidence, and sense of safety. It sucks that a 13 yo kid has to act like an adult with his mom, but that’s the situation. Still, he can get carried away at times. It’s tough.

      My daughter has taken after her mom, and at age 12 already seems very resistant to training. Yet, if I have any hope of educating her at all, I must be firm but also not unkind. I increasingly use the idea with her: “no good parent would permit the kind of behavior I have just seen from you.” I encourage myself that my main virtues have to be courage and persistence to keep putting those boundaries out there for my daughter. Even if I have to say the same thing to her 1000 times, it is all I can do. To compromise on kindness or compassion (being emotionally out of control is certainly no way to live a healthy, happy life) would certainly be the same as giving up on being her parent.

  3. IT is soul murder. If your CA was a parent, you need time away no contact to get a sense of what the real world is like and to just register your protest both to yourself and to the CA that you have worth in the eyes of God.

    CA parents NPDs, secretly wish to outlive their adult children. They never allow the children, adult children, to individuate. They attempt to break up every marriage. CA parents see any sense of self-confidence in their adult children as a threat to the CA parent.

  4. A parent has to do a lot to get their child, adult child, to no longer want to talk to them.

    Fellow neurotics, don’t worry too much about whether you’re being nice enough. Just worry about your own conduct, are you acting civil? Are you degrading your own dignity when interacting with the CA? Worry about how it makes you look. You do NOT have to be nice.

    It is bad for your health to remain in the presence of a CA and turn the other cheek past the point of no return.

    The only way I could get my family of origin to treat me with dignity and respect, which they are just beginning to do now, was to disappear for five years. Before that, they would hang up on me while I was talking, give me nine-month silent treatments by pretending not to get my phone messages or emails — at a time I was trying to date in time to get married and have a child before turning 40 — play mind games, plan family vacations all together, tell me the location and dates, and the day of tell me I was not invited. They did this years in a row.

    They did not act with dignity, but because I was the youngest, they made it appear I was the undignified one. I allowed myself to have hurt feelings in reaction to this – what a fool I was to not be cold-hearted. I left. For years at a time they said “that was years ago, can’t you just get over it?” They never apologized at all. So I left again.

    My biggest flaw in life is I have been entirely too patient with people. I have put up with bad treatment for far too long before doing something about it. A waste of a life. A waste of a capable, good person with something to offer the world.

    The psychology profession needs to shape up. They need to educate their patients and clients — heck, they should teach this in public school — that individuation and enmeshment is a major life stage. They need to teach kids there are pragmatic benefits to getting married. They need to teach kids how to not be manipulated and why not to manipulate. The psychology profession is still rife with creepy free-love baby boomers still hoping to get laid, no accountability, all too eager and willing to betray their clients.

    Psychotherapists who ARE honest and wanting to be ethical owe it to themselves to urge their professional associations to crack down on therapists who take off on a whim with no backup therapists, who abandon clients on the year anniversary of a spouse’s death with no referral therapists to call, it’s disgusting. Just disgusting. Start self-policing NOW or go broke resisting this.

    1. Claire, I totally understand your disgust and frustration with therapists…..and I, once again,,,,,,can’t wrap my head around waht these CA parents, yours and others, do to their own children. No parent is perfect of course. No human is perfect of course……but the depth of imperfection the CA parents, spouses, lovers, friends go to is beyond my ability to comprehend.
      I compare trying to understand this behavior with trying to grasp the infinite vastness of the universe or even the distances between planets and stars……it’s like me mind just can’t comprehend it. like it’s in a different world or ………….just can’t.

      1. Puddle, Claire

        Trying to comprehend it? Yeah….you just can’t. Years after, and I still can’t find the words to adequately convey what I had experienced. I always considered myself an empathetic person, and I had NO idea that people like that really walked the earth. It was difficult being in a club with so few members. Nobody, but your fellow victims, get it.

        I always likened it to having seen a real, live, vampire. You know it’s impossible — but you saw it! And nobody believes you, and you know nobody is ever going to believe you. You wouldn’t have believed you. You get the real sense that God really didn’t mean for us to actually SEE a vampire….but hey, somebody has to know, right?

        There was a time I thought I would never be okay again, but I am. Just takes a long time.

          1. I had to get completely new friends, Claire, so I know what you mean.

            My ex was just so persuasive and charming outside the household. (I’m fairly reserved socially.) I don’t understand how someone’s brain could be split in such a way: There’s the public, charming persona alongside the explosive, cunning manipulator that comes out only in private. The only up-side to it, for me, was that my wife’s control over our social life included selecting most of our friends, so letting go of some of them wasn’t really that hard.

        1. Einstein, How long has it been for you and was your situation a romantic involvement? Thank you so much for your posts……I sense you are a kindred victim!

  5. I have bee watching these shows on…….I can’t think of the channel. “Evil Kin”, “Deadly Women”(?), If I get a more solid name base going on I will post. Anyhow,,,,,,It’s almost an addiction for me at this point to watch these shows because they are just SO unreal………but they are real. They are dramatizations based on real stories but the actually investigators and judges and siblings and parents and, well it depends on the show…….they are also on the show commenting on the past event. They really drive home the point that these people are real and they do walk amongst us……UNDETECTED!!!!! Some of the stories are pretty in your face that yeah, I can see that this guy had some serious signs of being a suspect. But others???? Not at all.
    Claire, this one,,,,the sone killed both of his parents, was his sister’s best friend and NO one would have ever believed that he would have done what he did. His poor sister,,,,,,talk about traumatized… could see it in her face. She will NEVER EVER EVER be the same. And at the end of the show,,,,,I came away wondering if indeed he did it or not. The defense argued that he did not do it and that it was a professional hit gone to the wrong address because a neighbor had been receiving threats. But who does a professional “hit” using a 22 caliber rifle? I don’t know…………….
    its all unreal…..
    So Einstein, and background to your story that you feel comfortable sharing?

  6. With some CAs, you cannot even be firm and civil without enduring financial abuse.

    They will triangulate and rope you into financial obligations and the only way out is to either pay or endure hardship on your reputation or that of your CA’s. If you impose a reputation injury on a CA, the CA will smear your reputation with a whole new set of contacts.

    You just have to get away, usually.

  7. Civility and firmness are complementary and reinforce each other. As long as we are civil & check our impulsive emotive reaction, we will be better able to enforce the boundaries without stepping on CA’s rights. Similarly, showing firmness without much emotion will clearly show that one is fully self-controlled.
    Leaving either out will simply mean we are playing in character disturbed person’s turf. Something that should be avoided!
    Agree, civility can be difficult especially when we are still processing past abuse. I guess we just need to treat it as one more character building exercise as we age.

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