The Inattentive Thinking of the Disturbed Character

This post is another in a series on the erroneous thinking patterns common to persons of disturbed or disordered character.  Persons with character disorders tend to think in ways that lead to problem social behaviors. Some of the thinking errors I’ve already posted on include possessive thinking (see: The Possessive Thinking of the Disturbed Character), egocentric thinking (see: Egocentric Thinking) and extreme thinking (see: The Extreme Thinking of the Disturbed Character).

Another problematic pattern of thinking common to disturbed characters is Inattentive Thinking.  One of the early researchers on character disturbance, Stanton Samenow, described the phenomenon I call inattentive thinking as a “mental filter” because he observed problem characters to selectively “filter” what goes on around them, paying attention and heed primarily to the things they’re concerned about and disregarding just about everything else.

Disordered characters hear what they want to hear, remember what they want to remember, and learn what they want to learn. They invest themselves intensely in the things that interest them but actively disregard the things they find dull, mundane, or boring. Most especially, they frequently pay little attention to the things that others desperately want them to be more concerned about.

Inattentive thinking frequently accompanies the responsibility-avoidance tactic of “selective attention” (to be discussed in a future series of posts). Although it is sometimes mistaken for biological attention deficiency, this tactic is a more of a deliberate attempt to “tune-out” someone who is trying to make a point, teach a lesson, or get the person to consider something most people regard as important. Disturbed characters will frequently only half-listen or not pay attention at all whenever they hear something they don’t like. Most of the time, the things they find themselves not wanting to hear involve other people’s efforts to get them to submit themselves to pro-social values and standards of conduct. That’s why this erroneous way of thinking is a major reason disordered characters develop a lackadaisical attitude toward accepting social obligations as well as other antisocial attitudes.

People in relationships with disordered characters often wonder how they can be so unthoughtful. The main reason they’re thoughtless is because they simply don’t concern themselves with the kinds of things most of us want them to be concerned about. At other times, people feel like they’re talking to a brick wall whenever they try to make important points or ask for something they need. The reason for this is that the disturbed character doesn’t want to submit himself to the societal expectations most of us obey and therefore tunes-out any perceived requests to do otherwise. In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Barnes & Noble], I give some direct advice on how to deal with a person who thinks inattentively and who uses the tactic of selective inattention. As a therapist, I use the techniques I advocate in all my work with disordered characters. The techniques can empower anyone in a relationship with a problem character and are absolutely essential to a therapist or counselor who wants to have the leverage to promote genuine change in their character-disordered clients.

4 thoughts on “The Inattentive Thinking of the Disturbed Character

  1. This explains my 21 year old son’s obtuseness, forgetfulness, and
    just not listening. I always wondered about this. He’s extremely
    smart, but just doesn’t “seem” to understand “some” things. He has caused an immense amount of chaos and shredded my nerves. I thought
    maybe he was actually was ignorant and naive. He has done some things
    that I now believe that he knows are wrong and has been using tactics
    to run and ruin our family. He started seeing a girl with quite a past. She has a tumultuous and criminal past. Of course, she is the
    victim. Our son has seemed quite manipulated and manipulating. He leftin the middle of the night, in our car, to go to the police dept.
    in another city, where she was being “held?”. Then he brought her to
    our home and stayed with her in his room all night. Then when Dad
    is @ work, he springs her on me saying she’s homeless. I didn’t fall
    for this. Then they both wanted me to hide this incident from my husband. I didn’t and it hit the fan. He is an A/B college student
    in his 3rd year this fall. I know that our son knows what he is doing-including making me a panic ridden wreck. Any suggestions?

  2. Dawn L,

    I wonder if the whole selective attention is on a continuum with attention deficit disorder too. Case in point; I became sick with auto-immune problem decades ago. During this time I was also in a car accident and knocked unconscious for 10 minutes. It took me a month to be able to think straight, at all, post accident. I’d always been absent minded but it went to a whole new level and I found that things I needed to learn, I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. I eventually ended up on disability–and mainly for acquired learning disability, zero short term memory and horrid procedural memory. I can’t drive a car. That is how bad it is. And yet…I can remember and learn things that absolutely intrigue me, and I think that has to do with the fact that when something is intensely interesting and you already know a little bit about it, the brain works around the short term memory deficits and fast tracks it to long term memory.

    That being said…I manage somehow to retain a mental map of my friends and associates and am a loyal and good friend, listen to them and act on my concern to help them when I can. I am sure I fail on occasion. But my strong concern helps my brain leapfrog over damage. I employ all kinds of strategies to deal with my deficits. Most people don’t know what I have been dealing with.

    To get to my main point though. My bro, for whatever reason, has similar deficits. No short term memory etc… And yet he has nowhere near my degree of illness. I think that he has a general lack of concern for others, in the interpersonal sphere, unless he is trying to create a good impression for a select few. I used to view his problems as predominantly organic, in nature, but am seeing more examples of his deficits being a combination of an organic predisposition, working within the constraints of a ‘don’t give a darn’ personality. Really tragic. These are your absent minded profs, your creative geniuses, those who apply themselves to the minutiae of their fascinations while ignoring the very basic demands of the mundane world. Just not exciting enough!! Great article by the good doctor!

    1. Selective attention as a tactic, is a deliberate, conscious tuning out of the undesired. It’s not on a continuum with any attentional problems rooted in neurobiology or any other cause. I’m actually going to be posting on this very soon.

  3. Hi Dawn L, I am glad you found Dr. Simons site. I would encourage you to keep reading all the posts especially the topic of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. . Just my input, if its possible for you to find a good therapist perhaps recommended by your primary care physician or someone you know whose judgment you can trust. In seeing a therapist you will hopefully, get the support you need and find out what you are really dealing with here.
    Please feel free to come here anytime you need support, it would be nice to hear how things are with you. I wish you the best and blessings.

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