Shameless and Guiltless Thinking

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.

4 thoughts on “Shameless and Guiltless Thinking

  1. Hello Dr. Simon
    I have to say I love your work, however I have to disagree with you about “shame” when it comes to disturbed characters. If they felt no shame why would they disguise their real personality to others and played the game of pretending to be “WONDERFUL”.
    After living with a D/C for 22 years and catching him out on his behaviour and exposing him for it he became more aggressive, viscous and vindictive against me. To the point where he brainwashed our two teenage children and had me arrested (yes, he almost drove me to psychosis).
    If anyone criticized him he would brush them out of his life. You were not allowed to shame him in any way!!!
    I worked in a prison for 15 yrs and this one prisoner always stated he would not be here if it wasn’t for the police. Of course he was the idiot of all inmates, there is a difference between claiming innocence and plain outright stupidity. The fact that he performed armed robbery in a store was not even an issue in his mind. And that’s who my husband was. The only thing that mattered to him was so he does not get caught!!!
    Furthermore, not only was I the one he kept robbing, I was the one to catch him and sentence him to his “prison” by taking my self out of his comfortable life. I stopped providing!!!
    He tried all tactics out of your book and even though I can recognise all them I can not fight him face on (his game just increases every time I expose it), hence I had no choice but to leave simply to save my life.

    1. Anita,

      You ask a great question, and it’s one that apparently I haven’t answered well enough just yet, so let me try. First, it’s important to remember that character disturbance is a dimension of personality and exists along a continuum. So, the extent to which someone is shame-deficient varies from those with little of it to those who totally lack the capacity for it. But the answer to your question is most important. There are literally HUNDREDS of reasons why someone would disguise their real personality or intentions other than the fact that they’re ashamed of who they are. And the fact that people who actually have the capacity for shame and guilt have a hard time imagining what those hundreds of other possibilities are is a testament to their good character. It is, however, the SINGULAR REASON they sometimes get taken in. Let me illustrate with just one example: Let’s say some personal finance manipulator wants you to contribute to his Ponzi scheme. The reason he will come across as caring about your welfare and appear genteel or promote the notion that others view him as “wonderful” or trustworthy is not because he’s ashamed of who he really is (THAT would actually stop him from going after you) but because he wants you to drop any possible resistance or hesitancy you have and help him further his scheme. I could give more examples, but I hope this one suffices. Just remember, it’s bad enough that after-the-fact we sometimes realize that people aren’t who they claim to be, but it’s even more insidious that so many of us have bought into these traditional notions about why people do the things they do. It’s these very notions that set us up to be victimized.

      Once again, I’m not saying all disturbed characters are shameless and heartless. There’s a continuum. But I am saying they’re all shame and guilt-deficient to some degree (that’s exactly what distinguishes them from “neurotics”) and that it’s very dangerous to entertain the kinds of assumptions we’ve commonly held why they sometimes engage in pretense. Playing the game of “impression management” for self-serving and exploitative purposes is not the same as trying to cover up one’s sense of shame. Even embarrassment (or disgust) upon being exposed is not the same as shame (I explain this in Character Disturbance). Shame is the “I just couldn’t live with myself” kind of sentiment that keeps a person from deliberately doing the unthinkable. The most revealing sign of a decent character is a person’s difficulty even imagining how someone could not experience the same shame or guilt they know that they themselves would in doing certain things. But the inability to accept the fact that different personalities are very different from one another, especially on key dimensions and attributes of character, is the main reason good folks get taken in and ill-intended folks are emboldened and enabled in their dysfunctional styles.

      I appreciate your question very much, and I hope I’ve done a better job explaining things.

      By the way, I too have a good deal of experience working within prisons. And it’s there that I learned the difference between upset upon exposure and genuine shame. And I came to my opinions about the wrongness of the research on shame (ALL the research says that shame is bad, period. Teach folks only to feel bad about the acts they’ve done, i.e., to have guilt, and never let them experience shame, i.e., feeling bad about who they are, because that’s detrimental to their self-esteem – at least that’s what the research says). But TO A PERSON those prisoners who truly turned their lives around (and there were only a few) did so NOT because they felt badly about what they did (they felt badly almost every time but kept doing it) but rather came to a point where they couldn’t stand the person they’d become. Shame, not guilt saved them. So, no matter what the research says, I remain a big fan of healthy shame. Too bad so many disturbed characters have so little of it.

  2. It would be pretty peculiar if someone suffered from toxic, though conscious, shame about him/herself yet had no guilt or shame about abuse of power, manipulation, bullying, emotional abuse, undermining relationships, defamation, you name it and no problem to continue such behavior.

  3. I am 55 years old and still dealing with the effects of emotional and mental abuse , as well as neglect from my parents, particularly my mother.
    She is an untreated Orthorexic. Many Doctors are not aware of this disease that is similar to Anorexia. My Mother has destroyed our family, alienated friends and members of the community. She has extorted me as well as herself in the newpapers. She has is guilty of mental and emotional incest. She has raised me on a bland diet since childhood, not giving me the chance to experience pleasure or success of any kind. Anything I say or feel, even after struggling through graduate school is completely discounted. All conventional forms of healthcare are rejected. She believes when for example when one has a bladder infection, it will be cured with food supplements only, defying the doctor’s prescription to take antibiotics. Today she told me to go to a Chiropractor for my Hiatal Hernia.. I believe there is a balance or moderation to resolving health care issues as well as prevention. This has been so destructive to me that I am now manifesting a barrage of healthcare issues that started before I ever reached the age of 10. Have you ever seen the movie” Carrie” ? I hope Dr. Simon is aware of this disease…Thank you for listening.

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