Thinking Before Acting
Thinking before acting is a good thing. It’s the mark of a more mature character. Character-impaired folks are often like walking impulses. They act first, then maybe – and I do mean maybe – think later. But merely taking the time to think about things is not enough. You see, what we think, and how we think matters, too. In fact, it matters a lot. And if there’s anything that distinguishes disturbed characters it’s their erroneous ways of thinking about things.
In 12-Step programs, alcoholics often talk about “stinking thinking.” By that they mean the kind of twisted, distorted thinking that accompanies being under the influence. And long ago researchers into character disturbances realized that certain “thinking errors” were also common to all folks who tended to behave irresponsibly. And I talk about the more common thinking errors in my books, especially Character Disturbance. You can also find a series of articles on the topic here on the blog.
Both personality and character have a lot to do with how folks perceive life and the world. They also have a lot to do with the ways a person prefers to deal with life and the world. The attitudes folks hold (i.e. their habitual, ingrained ways of thinking about things) have a lot to do with all these things. Generally speaking, the way folks interpret things will predispose how they will likely conduct themselves.
We human beings are almost always thinking. Sometimes it seems like the disturbed characters we know are thoughtless. But that’s not because they’re not thinking. Most of the time trouble stems from what they’re thinking and how they’re thinking about things. Their thoughtlessness stems from their lack of caring (or capacity to care). For example, if one spouse believes that it’s their partner’s duty to endorse everything they do or say and that no criticism is allowed, they may lash out when confronted on a misbehavior. They may even think they’re above the general rules or above reproach.
Right Thinking Follows Right Acting
We’ve long known that wrong-heading thinking leads to wrong acting. Accordingly, many therapists and relationship partners have wasted considerable time and energy trying to get disturbed characters to see things differently. But thinking generally doesn’t change that way very effectively. Our thinking is mostly shaped by how we’ve approached life and the consequences that have followed. And right thinking generally follows right acting just as often if not more often than vice-versa.
The Character Disturbance Dilemma
Right thinking truly does generally follow right acting (and vice-versa). But something really unusual goes on with disturbed characters to interfere with this whole process. As I mention in many articles and in all my books, there’s a couple of particularly insidious reason why disturbed characters don’t change their ways despite the lessons experience tries to teach them. The reasons are simply: too much pride (to admit error) and too much stubbornness (a pathological detesting of the subordination and submission to undertake the work of change. This is especially true for the disturbed characters I prefer to call the “aggressive personalities.”
I discuss the importance of right thinking and acting further on the latest Character Matters episode.