Disordered characters are very unrealistic in their thinking about life and the world around them. They also tend to harbor excessive expectations. But their expectations are usually very one-sided. They tend to set virtually unattainable standards for everyone else, while feeling no concomitant sense of obligation to meet the expectations most of us would like them to accept.
Disturbed characters expect a whole lot from their government, their bosses, their spouses and children, and anyone else who has any kind of relationship with them. And those expectations are most always unreasonable. They expect others to trust them long before they’ve established a track record that proves they truly deserve any trust. They expect others to be attentive to their wants and needs and to cater to their whims. They expect things to go their way — all the time. They expect a lot of everyone, usually putting considerable stress on a relationship.
If disordered characters expected themselves to measure up to the same standards they set for everyone else, they wouldn’t be nearly as difficult to live with or work with. What’s more, if they imposed the kinds of standards on themselves that they try to impose on others, they wouldn’t engage in so many of the antisocial and other problem behaviors they so frequently display.
Disturbed characters have no sense of balance, fairness or compromise, however. Thinking so unreasonably over time eventually leads and them to develop a rigidly demanding attitude. The demandingness they bring to a relationship is a most frequent source of conflict and relationship distress. A partner might try to reason with them to no avail. Their thinking is too focused on their own expectations of others to be refocused on what they might do differently to get their wants and needs met.
Therapeutic interventions with disordered characters can be a real challenge, especially when inordinate expectations are placed on the counselor. Many counselors are intimidated by the subtle challenge to their capabilities that such a stance presents. Others, especially those who see their role as one of “helper,” can unconsciously feel obligated to try and meet unreasonable demands. In my work over the years, one thing I know is important to establish from the earliest moments of the therapeutic encounter is to make it absolutely clear that the burden for change rests squarely and solely on the disordered character. All the expectations are on him. I also know that I’ll have to confront his unreasonable thinking many times during the course of treatment. But each time I encounter it, I’m careful to confront it directly and put the burden for change back squarely where it belongs. In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I make a point of saying that when it comes to the aggressive personalities and their problem behaviors, it’s always important that the proverbial “ball” be kept in their “court” no matter how many times they might attempt to throw it to you. In my soon to be released book (anticipated release date: Oct. 15, 2009) Disturbances of Character, I provide even more insights on how to deal with the unreasonable thinking of disturbed characters.