I’ve been posting a series of articles on the types of distorted thinking patterns or “thinking errors” individuals who have significant disturbances of character often exhibit. We’re nearing the conclusion of this series, which has featured a fair number of the more common problematic thinking patterns including: unreasonable thinking, egocentric thinking, external thinking, hard-luck thinking, egomaniacal thinking, hedonistic thinking, and impulsive thinking. The main purpose of this series of articles is to help you get better acquainted with the typical and problematic ways persons with disturbed characters tend to think. I first wrote about these in my first book In Sheep’s Clothing, a newly revised version of which is to be released by Parkhurst Brothers Publisher’s in March. I give the subject even more in-depth treatment in my upcoming book tentatively titled Disturbances of Character, also to be published by Parkhurst.
Persons with disturbed characters are unique individuals who are often quite difficult to live or work with. Some prior posts have explored just what a disturbed character is and how these folks differ from most, especially those commonly thought of as “neurotic” to some degree. Knowing how such individuals tend to think can help anyone understand them better because how we think about things in large measure determines how we will act, and disturbed characters often act in ways that create big problems for relationships and for society in general.
Because an immature or impaired conscience is a hallmark feature of the disturbed character, such characters have a diminished capacity to experience genuine guilt over actions or intended actions that injure others. So when they’re thinking about doing something, disordered characters rarely think about how their actions might affect others or possibly transgress ethical or moral boundaries. To the degree that they might have at least some rudimentary conscience, they’re able to quickly and effectively block out thoughts of right and wrong when they’re seriously contemplating how to get something they want. Not caring enough about how their behavior might impact someone else, they simply give the rightness or wrongness of their plans no serious consideration. They might very well know that others would view their behavior as wrong, but they can still make excuses and “justify” their wrongful acts with ease. Over time, this guiltless way of thinking promotes a pervasive attitude of irresponsibility.
Disordered characters also have a deficient sense of shame. They almost never think of how some action of theirs might negatively reflect the kind of person they are. This is such an important point because it could easily be said that a key feature of the most disordered individuals is that they neither care enough nor think enough about how their patterns of behavior reflect on their character. What’s more, when disturbed characters do perceive that someone is judging them in a negative manner, they easily think that it’s the other person who has the problem. Some of the most severely disturbed characters might even count it as a badge of honor that they are not affected by the opinions of others and hold onto their grandiose and unrealistic self-images despite a track record of wreaking havoc in the lives of those they work or live with. Over time, their shameless thinking fosters the development of quite a brazen attitude.
Guilt is the bad feeling most of us have when we think we’ve done something wrong. Shame is all about our feelings about ourselves as persons of worth. When our patterns of behavior habitually cause problems and pain for others, most of us reflect upon or think about those behaviors with a sense of both shame and guilt. We feel bad for doing wrong and strive not to do similar things again. And, we feel ashamed of ourselves and vow to be better persons. Disturbed and disordered characters don’t engage in this kind of thinking. Lacking an appropriate sense of guilt, and without a sufficient sense of shame, they don’t engage in the same kind of reflective thinking that enables most of us to grow, change, and improve ourselves.