The Egomaniacal Thinking of the Disturbed Character

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.

2 thoughts on “The Egomaniacal Thinking of the Disturbed Character

  1. First of all, I want to tell you that I think your book may be saving my sanity. I’ve been separated from my husband of 21 years for about 7 months– and they have been the seven most wonderful months for both me and our teenagers. Three weeks before Christmas, he declared that he “couldn’t live like this anymore,” because co-dependency therapy had taught me to distance myself from him enough that I wouldn’t allow his behavior to have the same effect on me, I was attempting to hold him responsible for his own choices– and after about six months of this, he left. Three hours later he texted me to say whenever I wanted to talk about reconciling, he was ready. Three days later he wanted to move back in.

    Even the move was a manipulation, which he later admitted. After a few months of demonstrating my commitment if he was willing to change, I quit that and said I would no longer engage until after a very long time his actions had demonstrated he had changed. Mostly I identified the problems as ongoing deception and lying as well as disregarding boundaries, and just for good measure, he’d have to stop drinking–even though it was never “The” problem, just a problem.

    Here’s my question– as I’m still trying to understand this from the real perspective. I see real signs of ego-maniacal thinking — our teenagers stopped seeing him because he wouldn’t stop talking about me when they were with him. After a month of silence, they agreed to see him again, he started talking about me again, they stopped seeing him again… so after this second round, it appears he’s adjusted his behavior for the time being. Meanwhile, the friends he’s living with say that he gets into rants about how if he were legally divorced he’d have more parental rights– these kids are 16 and 14, not 6 and 4, and he refuses to acknowledge that the way he behaves is what causes the problems. Then someone ‘talks him down’ to reality, he acknowledges they are right… but that’s a pattern that has happened with me before, so I don’t buy it except as a temporary method to get what he wants, or to hide what he really thinks. One of my ongoing frustrations trying to run a household with him is that he would “agree” to something, but then later go behind my back and do something different, or bring it up for discussion again– finally saying he really didn’t agree the first time. I see now that the whole process was a way of manipulating me… and I see that happening with counselors, friends, children, etc. He deserves it, he’s entitled, and he’ll agree with your assessment for a time if he thinks it will get him something.

    But meanwhile, he’s on and off depressive/suicidal–and has made attempts and been hospitalized. “I’m hopeless, I’m just a big sinner, I’ll never change, I have so many problems…” Yet I’m starting to wonder if that in itself is a lie about what he really believes. Because he’d stay in bed for days except to go to work or play video games, disengaged from everyone in the house, but if you gave him attention and ‘love’, he’d perk up. If you confronted him on his behavior, he’d attack you for being insensitive. (OMG, if I had a nickel for every time I was told how insensitive I was!)

    Of course, he was horribly abused and neglected as a child–but at this point, I’m beyond caring about the reasons he’s like this, because it’s been so destructive to my family and my kids–and myself.

    I have no plans on re-engaging with him at all until I see something hugely different (he says of course that there’s no way I can see that without interacting with him… which just feels like another tactic to get what he wants, which has now become just me and his life back the way he had it. The life he couldn’t stand to live in anymore…argh. No wonder we’re crazy when we’re with people like this!) Currently, I don’t email him without copying our church leaders into our conversations for accountability… but he recently chose to also copy our prior marriage counselors when he told me he felt I was moving towards divorce– which in a church environment would vilify me quite well (this was in response to me asking him to start paying his own insurance bills). I said I felt like he was manipulating me by accusing me of that and copying the counselors. He responds like this:

    “I apologize for any appearance that I am being manipulative. It is understandable why you would feel that way. Maybe I should not have included other people in the middle of our conversation. I do not want to manipulate, I was concerned to let people know what is going on between us and I want there to be accountability for our communication.”

    So it sounds good. Except he never says he *was* being manipulative, he never says he’s responsible, and frankly the whole statement sounds like more manipulation to me. He apologizes for the ‘appearance’ of it, understands why I might feel that way– says maybe he shouldn’t have done it, but offers a seemingly valid excuse of why he did– except these were not the people we had agreed to include…they were new people he randomly brought in.

    Then I think I’m just hypersensitive and read manipulation into everything. People think he’s being very careful in these emails, and so do I– careful to say exactly what he means. Which is not I’m sorry, I was wrong, I will never do this again. (And then never doing it again!)

    I guess I’m wondering –and maybe it’s obvious– will people who’ve been called out on their manipulation then use acknowledging it as a method of persuading you that they’re really trying to change?

    And I know the answer to this– who cares? Time and actions will tell, right? Meanwhile the house is calm and peaceful. And I’ve ordered both books to keep for my very own. I think I’m going to have the kids read them too. And possibly our former marriage counselor, who was always trying to help him ‘see’.

    Thanks again, sorry such a long comment. I’m really trying to sort this out.

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