We all have distinctive, preferred ways of relating to others. And those distinctive “styles” of relating define our personalities. But when our very manner of relating is in itself the source of problems, we call it a personality disturbance. A style of relating to others so rigid, so ingrained, so extreme in its manifestation, and so deviant from the norm of a culture that it severely and negatively impacts a person’s ability to function well has traditionally qualified as a disorder.
Everyone has a distinctive way of seeing things and doing things. And we develop unique “styles” of relating to others. That’s what defines our personality. But sometimes a person’s style of relating is in itself problematic. Character disorders always present problems for relationships.
Narcissism is more than just self-centeredness (i.e. egocentricity). And it’s more than just super self-confidence. It’s pathological self-love – a self-love that always poses problems for relationships.
The most severely disordered characters among us are not the “hot-headed” types who sometimes let their passions get the better of them and do things they might sometimes later regret but rather the “cold-hearted” sorts who chronically and ruthelessly try to get the better of others.
There’s more information than ever out there about personality and character disorders. Still, many misconceptions still exist because professionals have largely failed to succinctly and uniformly define key concepts and because there’s such a high degree of variance of opinion about the nature of personality disturbances and what can be done about them.
The most disastrous relationships I’ve witnessed over the years all began with a “con” of some sort. Sometimes the deception was both knowing and deliberate but other times the wool was not so calculatingly pulled over the eventual victim’s eyes. There are times in all of our lives when we simply don’t trust our better judgment – when we won’t let ourselves see what we’re afraid to see – or when we simply can’t accept what seems too unsettling or unimaginable to believe.
It can be particularly difficult to tell just where someone lies on the character disturbance spectrum. All too often in troubled relationships the extent of a person’s character disturbance only becomes evident long after much damage has already been done.
Knowing where someone truly lies on the character disturbance spectrum is not only important for professionals engaged in assessment and treatment but also for individuals trying to make sound judgments about a potential relationship partner. Without a good sense of what to look for and how to evaluate what you find, you run the risk of learning far too late and after much unnecessary heartache how character impaired a partner might be.
Perhaps no two concepts in psychology are as confusing at times as personality and character. That’s in part because the definitions of both terms have evolved over time. But it’s also because certain misconceptions about the terms have persisted over the years not just in the minds of the general public but also in among professionals.
Perceiving the nature of a problem accurately and labeling the psychological realities underlying it correctly are of paramount importance when providing or seeking help. The current series of articles will address some popular misconceptions and the principal reasons important psychological principles and terms are often misused or misunderstood.