The Character Disorder Spectrum
This article begins a series on the character disorder spectrum. I think this mportant because there’s such widespread misunderstanding about character disorders. Some might this assertion odd in view of the plethora of information out there. But, unfortunately, far too much of that information is incomplete, factually in error, or misleading. So I hope the ensuing series will clear the air a bit.
Professionals have come to realize that many conditions we once categorized as singular, distinct entities are really individual manifestations of a broader spectrum. A good example of this comes from our new understanding of autism. Realizing it as a spectrum phenomenon has greatly improved our ability to detect the various and often subtle manifestations of all sorts of developmental delays. And as a result of this, we’re better able to discern and provide the most appropriate early interventions.
Unfortunately, we’ve been much slower to recognize the broad spectrum of character dysfunction. And we’ve been slower still to appreciate the many and varied ways such dysfunction can espress itself. And as a result, there has been a lot of confusion in people’s minds about how to properly label, understand, and deal with the folks in their lives who seem to behave so problematically.
Several years back, a deluge of books and articles on Narcissistic Personality Disorder appeared. And many folks found the overly simplistic descriptions the authors gave to perfectly fit a dysfunctional person in their life. As a result, Narcissistic Personality Disorders were everywhere, it seemed. Then came all the books and articles on psychopathy and sociopathy. Next thing you know, the internet blogs were full of stories of psychopathic ex-spouses and the “sociopath next door.”
When the American Psychiatric Association seriously considered removing Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a official classification in its Diagnostic Manual, many scratched their heads. Others were up in arms. (It’s noteworthy that for years psychopathy has not been listed as an official condition.) The public had come to realize that narcissism was widespread. So why were any professionals in their right mind thinking Narcissistic Personality Disorder might not even exist? The answer to that is a bit stranger than you might think (see below).
The concept of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a useful construct in some ways. But it’s nonetheless a flawed one. Why? For several reasons. One reason is that we now recognize there are two very distinctly different major types of narcissism. (There are sub-varieties of each main type, too!) This is something I suspected years ago and first discussed in my book Character Disturbance. (See also: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) Another reason is that some degree of narcissism appears an aspect of a wide variety of character disturbances. So, merely labeling someone a narcissist most often fails to capture all that’s unhealthy about them. This is especially true when it comes to the aggressive varieties of narcissists that I refer to as the aggressive personalities. (See: Aggressive Personalities: Pt. One.)
Understanding and Dealing with the Problem Person in Your Life
Given the nature of our times, it’s a safe bet that the person causing you grief in your life has a character impairment to some degree and of one type or another. The problem comes in correctly discerning just what’s disordered about them and what the genuine prospects are that anything can change. The character disorder spectrum is vast. And it has multiple dimensions, too. Character dysfunction is a phenomenon of both type and degree. Sadly, there’s little accurate information out there about it. And there’s also a shortage of helping professionals who are suffciently informed and trained to deal with it appropriately or help you deal with it effectively.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about the character disorder spectrum. There’s a lot of disturbed and disordered characters out there. And knowledge about them is power. You can get advice from survivors willing to share what they’ve learned from their own research and experience. But such advice necessarily carries bias. Hopefully, between the information I provide, valid information and critique offerred by the commentators, and the illustrative examples I plan on offering, you can come to a better understanding of the phenomenon of our age. And with that understanding you’ll be better able to cope with the impaired characters in your life and empower yourself.