My recent posts have addressed several of the erroneous or distorted ways that disordered characters tend to think. The “thinking errors” disturbed characters engage in lead to the formation of irresponsible and antisocial attitudes which in turn lead to behaviors that cause problems in relationships with others. Some of the topics we’ve already discussed in this series of posts include the tendency of disordered characters to think solely of themselves without sufficient regard for others (see: Egocentric Thinking), to pay attention to only what they want to (see: The Inattentive Thinking of the Disturbed Character), and to engage in an unfortunate degree of self-deceit (see: Seeing the World as They Want to See It).
Disordered characters also often think far too much of themselves. They might even think that they’re so smart, so clever, or so “special” that they can do what most others wouldn’t dream of trying and somehow get away with it. They tend to think of themselves as so important or superior that they deserve things others don’t deserve. Their tendency to over-rate their abilities and their value led Stanton Samenow to describe them as “legends in their own minds.” In prior posts, I’ve written about the inflated self-image of disordered characters and how it contrasts with the self-esteem problems usually experienced by neurotics. And, I’ve also pointed out that whereas a neurotic individual might “compensate” for feelings of inadequacy by putting on a boastful front, disordered characters actually think of themselves as superior. It’s not a pretense, it’s a dysfunctional but actual core belief. Disturbed characters also often regard it a testament to their greatness if they can use their wits or manipulative skill to take things as opposed to really earning them. In those cases, their egomaniacal thinking combines with other erroneous thinking patterns and attitudes that predispose them to behaviors that exploit and victimize others.
Their habitually erroneous ways of thinking about themselves and their pathologically grandiose sense of self-importance inevitably leads disturbed characters to develop attitudes of arrogance, superiority, and most especially, entitlement. In all my years working with character-disordered individuals, by far the most challenging issue needing focus in therapy involves their sense of entitlement. But this sense of entitlement cannot develop in the first place without a consistent, pervasive sense of superiority to “justify” such an attitude. Some disordered characters think they’re above the rules, and “deserve” special consideration. So, when they want something, they feel entititle to have it or to take it without reservation and with complete indifference about whether their actions might negatively affect someone else.
A big change in cultural norms has contributed in recent years to the reinforcement of egomaniacal thinking. It’s not uncommon for young persons to be bombarded with messages that they’re “special” simply because they have a heartbeat. That’s because well-meaning individuals, steeped in old-school psychology, thought it wasn’t possible for a person to have too much self-esteem and that everyone would be emotionally healthier if they got frequent messages of validation. But what these well-intentioned folks probably haven’t considered is that when we heap praises upon people for what they are as opposed to what they do, we do them a great disservice insofar as developing a healthy sense of self-worth is concerned. The quickest way to set a young person on the wrong path as far as self-appraisal is concerned is to overly recognize, praise, or otherwise reinforce the fact that he has talents, abilities, or other natural, appealing, endowments (e.g., good looks, intelligence, charm, etc.) and to fail to afford a higher degree of recognition for how he might have used those natural gifts for the betterment of all.