Understanding Personality and Character Disorders

Personality and Character Disorders: An Introduction

Personality and Character Disorders are as difficult to understand as they are to deal with. And many misconceptions exist about them both. Truly, if you ask someone what a personality or character disorder is you’re likely to get some vastly different answers. That’s sometimes sadly even true when you ask a mental health professional.  And the whole issue is being further complicated by the fact that the very ways we’ve defined these things in the past has recently come into question. No wonder there’s such misunderstanding!

To really understand personality and character disorders you first have to understand the difference between personality and character. I go into some depth about this in all four of my books as well as in my professional training workshops. Then, you have to know what constitutes a psychological disorder. Understanding that can help you get your bearings when you’re trying to assess the chances for meaningful change or successful professional intervention.

Personality vs. Character

What is personality?  These days, we define at as an individual’s unique and preferred style of relating. It’s how someone habitually sees things and does things. It’s the way they prefer to operate in life. Personality is not merely the collection of their various traits or distinguishing characteristics. And it’s not merely the person’s temperament.  Some people are by nature more laid-back or pacific in temperament. Others are more high-strung, and quick to become unnerved. Temperament is an important aspect of personality. But it doesn’t define one’s personality.  Most importantly, personality is not just the result of biology. Nor is it merely the product of someone’s formative experiences. A lot of things go into making up someone’s personality: biological predispositions, temperament, environment, trauma, etc. But in the end, all these things contribute to the distinctive manner in which folks tend to both view and interact with the world.

Character is the moral side of personality. Everyone has their unique way of seeing and doing things, and especially, relating to others. However, sometimes a person’s style of relating can run afoul of standards of decency. That’s what character disturbance is all about. And when someone’s habitual and preferred way of seeing and doing things significantly interferes with healthy relations, that disturbance can rise to the level of a disorder.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking a lot a bout personality and character disorders. And I’ll be explaining how to spot them, the issues they raise for relationships, and the challenges they pose for intervention.

Upcoming Announcements

At this writing, the Spanish language edition of In Sheep’s Clothing is in production and will soon be available for wide distribution.

The new studio for Character Matters podcasting is close to finished.

The 2020 workshop schedule, which begins in July, will be posted within the next few weeks.

Please take the time to peruse the vast library of informational articles on this blog. You might just find the very answers you’ve been looking for.

27 thoughts on “Understanding Personality and Character Disorders

  1. I am wondering if my daughter is truly a narcissist. She always seems to try to have the upper hand, does not let her guard down. She says things to intentionally hurt me. At times we can have a conversation that does not involve her taking a jab at me. When we talk (over the phone-she is out of state), she is not interested in much that I say about what I am doing, it is mostly about her and what she is doing. Much of the time when I say something about my own activities she just gives me a disinterested reply. That’s when I know to switch over to asking about her or something that involves her. I don’t tell her certain personal things because she will most likely use them to make fun of. As long as I stay on the subject of her the conversation continues.
    Her Dad was a narcissist, but he was a lot worse, plotting and scheming all the time. I had no idea, came from a alcoholic family and basically did not have value of myself and thought I didn’t matter at the time and so did not recognize it and his blaming of me is something I just took in.
    I keep wondering if she is a true narcissist and where she would be on the spectrum if so.

    1. Kat,
      I think I have a lot of Narcissistic people in my life that do just that you described. I’m not trying to label your daughter but it seems that the world we live in today narcissism is on the rise.
      My family members only want the best for themselves and really hate to see me succeed in ANYTHING. If it’s NOT about them then they’re ganging up on me like a bunch of twits on the playground. I have no contact with them. My one sibling recently contacted me saying she misses me terribly. Haven’t seen each other since 2013. Thought we had this “close” relationship, but got slapped in the face when her husband died. Only sibling in her life out of 5 others her whole life.
      But she finally let the cat out of the bag and she and 4 kids let me know what they were thinking of me and my family “having it all”. Helped her financially for just about 28 yrs. Resented pretty much I ever GAVE her that whole time????
      I decided it was best to “take a break” from them all. She quickly started trying to abuse me with her new man texting me threats and stalking me on FB when I wouldn’t speak to her. Had to block her and all in her clan.
      Now all of a sudden she’s missing me and family? Well, it just so happens that once again I did her a favor. Gave my DNA to Ancestry about 2011 or so and her son she gave up in the 80’s found me and wanted to contact her. I don’t think she wants to meet him at the place her new man has her in, ancient run down motel. She’d rather meet him at my home????
      Once again, I’m GOOD FOR SOMETHING?
      Not willing to do that, not bringing her kids back into my life after what they did and said to me and my family. Definitely not willing to bring her criminal man into my home. Just so no one thinks I’m unforgiving and unreasonable…he has 28 arrests ranging from traffic violations, drug, human trafficking, squatting in a $700,000 home all over the news on that one, theft, destruction of government property, domestic violence and the list goes on. It seems his whole family has issues with the law and they think it’s funny.

      1. Priscilla,

        Who cares if anyone thinks you are “unforgiving and unreasonable”? You aren’t. And even if the criminal lacked 28 arrests, you still are very reasonable in looking after yourself and protecting yourself.

        That being said, poverty and marginalized lives force many women into ‘relationships’ with criminal men, abusers, etc. so I feel for your sister. Do I care about her criminal man? Not a bit.

        Perhaps you can help her, because if she had options, I’d bet she’d not be with this guy.

        And it happens when someone is in tremendous need, living horrible lives with incredible trauma, they present to others as being needy and some people with privileged, lucky lives then are led to believe themselves as having made better choices, done well in life due to innate characteristics, hard work, etc. and if those needy, traumatized individuals would just do …..

        Try not to look down on her or resent her neediness. It could have been you. Perhaps you are married and your husband’s income provides you with financial stability, a sheltered life, etc. But you could be hit by a car tomorrow, become bed-ridden, have your husband decide he doesn’t want a disabled wife, ditches you, and now you’re suddenly bed-bound, disabled, and dependent on the mercies of others to help you survive.

        I don’t know your story, but so many people in positions of comfort, financial security, etc. look down on those who are impoverished, homeless, traumatized, disabled, and desperate. They assume the marginalized have all sorts of choices, options, and opportunities that really don’t exist.

        She gave up a child for adoption. She clearly felt she could not properly care for the child and wanted the child to have a good life. Presumably, she is embarassed about being in some dive motel, and doesn’t want her first contact with a baby she gave up to take place in such a setting. Or, better yet, her criminal man is an abuser and controls her and wouldn’t allow such a meeting and contact to happen if he knew about it. Or she is protecting the son from having to meet the criminal boyfriend/abuser.

        Also, she probably wants your support and help in managing such a momentous occassion such as meeting a son she gave up for adoption.

        If I was her sister, I’d want to help her get away from the criminal boyfriend. Perhaps you can encourage and facilitate her departure and entry into a shelter for abused women, as she is probably being abused and is a battered woman. Abusers never change. Her new guy is likely beating on her and terrorizing her and controlling her and running her self-esteem into the gutter.

        1. Well said, Annie! The world can be a better place had more people in privileged position been more empathetic, understanding and supportive to their less fortunate abused relatives for them to have more options to make better choices in their lives

      2. Priscilla,

        Good for you! Enough is enough. I have siblings like that too. (My adult daughter too) They only come around when they want something (and they expect a yes, so it’s really a demand in disguise), then they have the gall to tear me down afterwards. I’ve come to realize (it took WAY too long) they are envious rivals.
        I got severely burned by them a couple of years ago when I stepped in for us as a group in a legal matter and helped y sister who was not willing/able to do her formal role. At first they were on board, then, as per their usual, they started undermining and attacking. Apparently, I’ve been assigned the role of scapegoat. I’m done. I went full no contact. Would prefer to have a “normal”, healthy family, but I don’t. They’re a bunch of conniving, deceitful sharks. Good riddance!

      3. I would not be interested either. I’m sorry your sister is doing these things. Its not your responsibility to provide a place for them to meet, that is her responsibility. You have done a lot for her and she has not appreciated it. The way she has chosen to live and who she has chosen to live with is scary and I would want nothing to do with it, she has not shown she has changed.

      4. Priscilla,

        I must have missed this line of yours:

        “She quickly started trying to abuse me with her new man texting me threats and stalking me on FB when I wouldn’t speak to her. Had to block her and all in her clan.”

        That changes everything. Disregard all that I said above.

        Wow, that was an important sentence and yet I missed it somehow.

        1. Wonder if Priscilla’s sister was knowledgeable and willingly aids in her boyfriend’s subsequent abusive action against Priscilla. Hmm…

      5. Priscilla,
        Looks to me like you’ve got a firm grip on the whole situation. You recognize what their intentions are, what letting them back in would do to your life, you’ve got boundaries and most of all you are over their abusive ways of treating you and want no part of it. You recognize their game. And you’ve stepped away from them and continue to do so to protect yourself, your life, that you’ve created without them in it.
        Isn’t it nice to be drama-free, CDN-free, living life like we should and can live?

    2. Kat,

      I understand that struggle. You have described my daughter. Unfortunately, she has gotten worse since she moved out of state and now is just like her dad. It was such a painful thing to accept. Trust your judgement.

      I know my daughter competes with me, which makes no sense. I personally think it has everything to do with the messages she has received throughout her life from her father and from my not pushing back even harder than I did when she was young. She sees my kindness and restraint as weakness to be contemptuous of and to exploit. She does not respect me or my limits, because she thinks I’m weak. They see the kind person getting beaten down and the unkind person being rewarded by society and they side with the “winner”. Survival of the fittest.

      I do wonder if there is a chemical imbalance that contributes as well. I have been researching mental health issues related to nutritional imbalances due to my system being completely thrown out of wack by a medication. My body wasn’t able to utilize/release minerals. It had a profound effect on my physical and mental health! My organs were shutting down and I was anxious, agitated, couldn’t sleep, and more. It turns out that if you have too much histamine, and too much copper in relation to zinc, and not enough b-6, it can cause those symptoms as well as depression and more.

      As it relates to my daughter, this book states that other disorders can also be contributed to chemical imbalances. If you think about it, it makes sense, that why allopathic medicine uses SSRI’s and such…to balance out the chemicals. And these imbalances can be inherited. It’s my understanding that NAC works well for alcoholics, for example.

      This method instead focuses on metals and other nutrients. In my case, I was deficient in B-6 and zinc and had too much copper. My body started healing and my symptoms quickly resolved after supplementation. My doctors were uneducated about this stuff (they are not taught about nutrition in med school). I had to ask them to run the tests and then educate myself on appropriate levels which was fairly easy to find (internet/functional medicine).

      If you or anyone else is interested in this for yourself, it also helps pinpoint chemical imbalances for various types of depression and other mental health problems, including ODD, OCD, IED. It’s called Nutrient Power by Dr. Walsh. It’s been life changing information for me.

      It’s such a difficult, painful place for a parent.

      1. I caution people to not accept the “chemical imbalances” theory. It is widely known to be false. The medical profession uses the ‘chemical imbalance’ myth to get patients to buy into the idea, to take medications, and to not stop taking various medications. It’s a nice concept to use when wanting patients to take mind-altering drugs, which may or may not damage their brains.

        And in case you trust doctors, especially psychiatrists, please think again. Mental health professionals, that is, doctors and psychiatrists, used to pitch lobotomies as being efficacious treatment, too. You can read such glowing reports in the medical establishment’s peer-reviewed journals.

        When thinking about psychotropics, please use extreme caution. Once you start messing with your brain, there is no going back. And doctors do not know what they are doing. They are merely guessing. And you are the lab rat. Moreover, any clinical trials most likely were very, very small, and involved almost exclusively men. So, if you are a woman, the dosing, etc. is even more untested. You, the general public, are the experimental test subjects.

        And in case you say, ‘but the drugs are FDA approved!’ Well, so were a lot of other horrific things that turned out to be dangerous, harmful, and eventually pulled off the market, due to too many deaths, etc.

        Profits are king. And the medical establishment is highly suspect. Look at how handsomely your particular doctor is financially rewarded by the pharmeceuticals before blindly taking whatever latest drug is being touted as ‘necessary’ and ‘helpful’. Doctors get paid by drug companies to prescribe their latest product and again, you are the uncompensated lab rat.

        Just my thoughts. Take them or leave them.

        1. I agree with much of what you stated. I would also not take prescription SSRI’s and the like.

          From my personal experience, I had much better results testing my blood levels of various compounds our bodies require for effective functioning (biochemistry)- zinc, copper, GABA, B-6, calcium, magnesium to name a few. It helped immensely.

          Look up methylation – it’s an essential process and if it’s not functioning properly, you will feel it. You may have associated it with something else as I did.

          I do not trust the medical establishment. Period. I stay away from them as much as possible As a former cancer patient, I can tell you they will and do whatever they do for the money and if you have a problem with it, you are the problem. They know the treatments do not work and are often more dangerous than the cancer. (They spell it out in studies – mos patients understandably, have not read them.) Chemo is only effective for a few specific types of cancer, everybody else it destroys the immune system (that you need to fight the cancer) is toxic to the organs ,and is a carcinogen. But! It’s a money maker (between $10k and 200K). I have been threatened (and gaslit) repeatedly for not cowing. Sickening propaganda.

          1. Mindful,

            So, did you go to a boutique clinic and order yourself some blood panels or what? Are there testing centers? Walgreens doing blood draws?

            And as for the biochemistry, are you talking about taking a multi-vitamin and supplements? Or following a particular diet? Or ?

            One thing that happens with PTSD is hippocampal volume goes down and I recently read that Paxil and Zoloft had shown to increase the hippocampal volume, the gray matter in those with PTSD. Having read that, I might be interested in those SSRIs for that purpose.

            I’m actually surpised that anyone talks about mental health and depression apart from the environmental factors, because when one lives with a batterer, for example, it’s very reasonable and understandable that the wife is going to become increasingly depressed and anxious.

            And yet such is done on the regular. Doctors and psychiatrists will compile a checklist of symptoms, count the number of times the patient checks a box, compares the sum of boxes checked with a severity scale/’diagnostic’ tool and ‘diagnose’ the disorder.

            It’s ridiculous. It’s done in workplaces, too, where the company contracted psychologist will label/’diagnose’ the bullied/mobbed in any given toxic workplace, so as to make the victim out to be the problem, possessing an organic mental health disorder of the victim’s own doing/faulty ‘chemical imbalances’, not a psychiatric injury caused by a toxic, hostile workplace with mobbing, sexism, etc. being condoned, if not encouraged and supported.

            If you feel like detailing out your health regimen, please do, as I’m interested and probably other women are too.

      2. Mindful,
        My daughter also competes with me and with her brother. I agree that they despise kindness. Also I am a Christian so that really gets to her. She pits me against others to try and make me feel bad about myself, of course I know what shes doing. I would never tolerate this from anyone else.
        Regardless of what I think about Dr. Phil – I agree and disagree with him at times – but he brings up chemical imbalances quite often, or things like a metal toxicity.
        Her Dad basically groomed her without me knowing-everything was covert and I was absolutely clueless at the time.
        I think she does see her behavior as powerful and “winning”. Little does she know.
        Thanks for your response.

    3. Hi Kat,
      I have been a long time lurker here and have read many views of narcissists and how to manage them. I am currently married to a covert narcissist husband. We have an only daughter. She is granduated, out of state, and working. She has only recently stopped talking to either one of us. She, too, treats me the same way, but I have come to the conclusion that she was alienated. I currently read a blog by Karen Woodall. She does not deal with the possibility that the child could be a narcissist, but the alignment of a child with a narcissist would result in precisely this behavior. Most of what eventually lead me was the odd things she would occasionally say to me, and his gaslighting attempts. He has over the years said things like “Marriage is a competition.” or “I don’t deserve her respect”.

      My daughters comments were much more vague and off, and troubled me for a long time. Things like, “I was always afraid something worse would happen, but it never did.” She has also attempted suicide once, and the remark of her counselor during her treatment that she did share with me was “Your relationship with your father is unhealthy.”

      But I am mostly left in the dark wondering what is going on, which would suit a narcissist just fine.

      I hope this helps, it could be either way, Good Luck.

      1. Hi Awakenow,
        My daughter is covert as well, she says things in a way that if you confronted her directly she could deny it. And if you do confront its no use, they never stop, you never change their behavior. I go back and forth regarding whether or not I should continue on with her, but I just can’t break away from her, but I know that we will never have the relationship I desire and so I know not to be disappointed that it won’t ever happen, unless of course God changes her. When I get really angry with her I tell her I have to go and get off the phone. I believe she has tried to make me look bad to others by their behavior towards me. They don’t even know me and act like I am a bad person-her Dad used to do the same but way worse. She is a much milder version than her Dad though. They say to cut contact but I have just not been able to do that. At this time I prefer to talk to her but that can always change.

      2. I’m not picking up on what behaviour you’re daughter has done that is narcissistic. Generally when a child stops talking to both parents it’s the parents fault. Have you been truly brutally honest with yourself?

  2. Mindful,
    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree that they believe they are powerful and winners. Her Dad was grooming her covertly and I had no clue until long after I left him. She also pits me against others to try and make me feel inferior. I am aware of her tactics now and would never socialize with anyone else with those behaviors. She competes with me and her brother, and even her poor daughter. She is not as bad as others I have heard described on here but it is disturbing none the less.
    I watch Dr. Phil-I disagree with him at times but he does bring up chemical imbalances and metal toxicity and has people checked out who he suspects of behavior that may be related to those issues.

    1. kat,

      Your opinions are your own. However, when I read your line about Dr. Phil and his talk of chemical imbalances and metal toxicxity…. please, think again. There was this episode where the guy was pretty regularly strangling his girlfriend/fiance/wife (i forget which one) and mother of his young child (possibly young children) and he was strangling her until she lost consciousness.

      There was a whole series of things he did, he was a poster boy for a batterer and was an abuser, through and through. And that woman was being absolutely ruined by him and needed truth from Dr. Phil – not some advertisement for his buddy’s boutique clinic. And instead of saying, listen here, we are dealing with evil, this guy will kill you, he is already inflicting brain damage each time he strangles you unconscious, and he is destroying you in all sorts of other ways, too. Dr. Phil is all about, ‘hmm, you seem nice enough, there must be some problem with heavy metals in your brain, did I tell you about my buddy’s fabulous clinic with all of it’s fancy testing? We need to get you checked out, because there must be a problem there.

      The problem is evil. The problem is the abuser was going to kill her because he was evil, wicked, and a predator. The problem is misogyny. The problem is sexism. The problem is male domination of women. The problem is men’s violence against women. The problem is woman abuse. The problem is wife-beating.

      But did Dr. Phil say that? Of course not. Instead he spent minutes pitching the gloriousness of his buddy’s clinic and talking about there must be a problem with heavy metals, let’s get you checked out.

      He is not even current in his licensing. Dr. Phil’s show is to be seen as entertainment only. It’s a running ad for his wife’s skin care line, his buddy’s clinic, any other treatment facility he routinely pitches, etc. Oh, and then there are his kids’ businesses, like the publishing house, as well as it being a running ad for all his various books he has authored.

      1. Lilly,
        I was commenting only on the mention of chemical imbalances and heavy metals and how it would relate to behaviors. I don’t know anything about it. I always take Dr. Phil with many grains of salt, and I don’t approve of his hawking his wife’s skin care line or his son’s business on air. But I find his show interesting because of his guests. Lots of enabling going on and drug issues. The treatment centers sound top notch, far above what most people could manage, so I don’t mind that. I do think the enablers and codependent people could be directed to the al-anon program and the 12 steps which are so beneficial to so many. I appreciate your response, I agree there are many snake oil salesmen and one has to be so careful.

        1. kat,

          Of course.

          In case my prior comment was unclear, Dr. Phil referred the batterer to the clinic, and instead of talking about the batterer as being a criminal making choices, he made the wife-beater into some sort of ‘victim’ of ‘heavy metals’ that would be better addressed when the wife-beater was evaluated by so-and-so’s boutique clinic.

          Not sure if you implied this or not, but battered women are not codependent. They don’t need to go to al-anon. Battered women need real options, which are largely absent in this society.

          People say, ‘just leave’ and yet leaving doesn’t stop the violence, abuse, domination, harassment, control, etc. And a lot of battered women are killed because they tried to leave.

          They are not codependent, but rather entrapped and captives. Most are without financial means to escape. Most will become homeless. Most rightfully fear that attempting to leave, to stand up for themselves will end up with them suffering greater violence, greater injuries and potentially being murdered.

          Then there are considerations about custody battles and some women fear it would be worse to leave their children unattended and totally at the mercy of an abuser father 50 percent of the time (or whatever the courts dictate custody to be) than to stay, and at least feel better able to protect and shield them. There are no good options. Most batterers, something like 70 percent or more, get custody when they seek it. Full custody. So, many women realize such and don’t want to risk not ever being able to shield their kids, having full custody go to the batterer dad.

          The there’s the damages. By the time a woman is enslaved, entrapped, and captive of some wife-beater abuser, she is beaten down, damaged, injured, and her self-esteem is non-existent. She is perpetually controlled. She is very likely suicidal. There are lots of things to consider and realize. Many factors. Very complex. And who caused it all? The evil, wife-beater abuser. The wives are codependent. They are captives.

          You’re right, kat, about there being so many snake oil salesmen and that one has to be so careful.

          It’s exhausting. It’s also overwhelming because a person can only research so much, know so much, and nobody knows everything, and vulnerability, ignorance, desperation, etc. all factor in. Makes me loathe predatory, dishonest, manipulative people all the more.

      2. I take huge issue with your comments about ‘men’s domination over women’ domestic violence is not a gendered issue and is 50:50 both sexes. Women are just as violent as men. Source; a meta analysis of over a 1000 studies concludes this. The feminist narrative of Male perpetrators is a myth designed to keep their false narrative going to keep their sexist refuges afloat and their patriarchy theory alive. http://Www.Honest-ribbon.org

        1. This is patently false. Just look at the ridiculousness of your claim. A perfect 50:50 split. Obviously you are male and are invested in spreading false narratives.

          On average, three women a day, in the United States, are murdered by their partners, be it husband/boyfriend/ex-husband/ex-boyfriend. In Russia, the average number of women murdered, per day, is 40.

          Your stats are but a lie and you know it.

          Any woman alive who has lived enough has either experienced abuse and domestic violence at the hands of her male boyfriend/husband or she knows other women who have.

          Go away with your lies. You know it is men committing nearly 100 percent of the domestic violence. The whole culture is built on male supremacy and men’s oppression of women.

          Women live in fear. Most men are abusers. And you are either deluded, or most likely an abuser yourself. Abusers love to reverse victim and offender, falsely claiming that they, the men, are but victims.

          Stop telling lies.

  3. Lilly,
    I didn’t respond regarding the abusive man. I was talking about the enablers Dr. Phil has on. Usually its parents enabling their grown children. Those are the people who could benefit from a 12 step program. Of course in the case of a battered woman the number one concern is her safety. Too bad they don’t do follow ups on some of these cases to see what the results are. I’m sure Dr. Phil realizes that the woman needs to be separated from the abusive husband. He was only offering a resolution so perhaps the man could be helped by medical intervention. The only alternative I see is medical help and a possibility for change, or he continues his abuse. I think its worth a shot, who knows, it could change the outcome of the scenario you are describing.

    1. kat,

      I misunderstood. Sorry about that. Thanks for setting me straight.

      Indeed, there are a variety of guests, including those who are in needlessly enmeshed relationships.

      I, too, wonder what happens to guests. What was the fallout of appearing on national television? Are there lives better having appeared on the show? Was the help offered actually beneficial and substantial enough to truly help them?

      I worry about the abused women. How many abusers are watching that show? Abused women are so vulnerable and thus susceptible to another abusive relationship as abusers hone in on the already wounded.

      1. Kat brings up many important points and lets not forget that men are also victims of abuse. Abuse of men by women is under reported due to shame and the stereotypical stats that it is the woman who is the victim of abuse.

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