Character Disturbance—The Phenomenon of Our Age, the new book by George K. Simon, Ph.D., does two things really well: It paints a no-nonsense picture of how people with personality disorders, including sociopaths, behave. And it explains why traditional psychotherapy, in attempting to understand these individuals, gets it so wrong.
The basic problem, Simon explains, is that classic concepts in psychotherapy, like those advanced by Sigmund Freud, propose that people develop defensive strategies against a cruel, heartless world in order to protect their deep, authentic selves. This results in “neurosis,” defined in Wikipedia as “a variety of mental disorders in which emotional distress or unconscious conflict is expressed through various physical, physiological and mental disturbances, which may include physical symptoms.”
Many, many therapists follow the classic psychotherapeutic paradigm, which Simon neatly summarized. He wrote:
Let’s boil down traditional schools’ underlying assumptions about how people become disturbed, and how you help them heal: People are inherently good and geared towards health. They become unhealthy because bad or “traumatic” things happen to them. They develop fears and insecurities in response to their traumas. They learn to protect themselves, cope with stress or “defend” themselves against emotional pain in less than optimal ways. With unconditional positive regard, empathy and support they can heal their wounds, lower their defenses, overcome their fears, and become naturally inclined once again to lead healthy, loving, compassionate lives.
These ideas have been around for so long that they are ingrained in our culture and accepted as “truth.” It’s gotten to the point that everyone believes the concepts apply to all people. And that’s how we get into trouble.
Sociopaths don’t act the way they do to compensate for some deep internal pain. They are deceitful, manipulative and aggressive because that’s who they are.
Simon describes disordered individuals, including those with sociopathy, psychopathy and antipersonality disorder, as having a “character disturbance.” He defines them as:
individuals whose problems are related to their dysfunctional attitudes and thinking patterns, their shallow, self-centered relationships, their moral immaturity and social irresponsibility, and their habitual dysfunctional behavior patterns.
Simon spends much of the book laying out exactly how character-disturbed individuals think, behave and view the world. Their characteristics include disregard for the truth, impaired capacity for empathy and contrition, deficient impulse control, impaired conscience, and more. The traits are all familiar to Lovefraud readers who have lived in close proximity to them.
A really important insight is this: Simon says that “the primary interpersonal agenda for aggressive and other character-disordered personalities is position, position, position.” In other words, these individuals always want to be dominant—an idea that’s hard for the rest of us to accept. Simon writes:
It’s incomprehensible for most of us to conceive that in every situation, every encounter, every engagement, the aggressive personality is predisposed to jockey with us for the superior position, even in situations with no recognizable need to do so. The failure to understand and accept this, however, is how aggressive personalities so often succeed in their quest to gain advantage over others.
Why we don’t get it
Those of us who are fairly normal, although perhaps at times unsure of ourselves, and those of us who are neurotic, are at a severe disadvantage when dealing with character-disturbed individuals. Why? Because we don’t understand the extent to which they are different from us.
Simon made several points that I thought clearly described how our lack of awareness gets us into trouble:
- He explains that we are concerned about how our character-disordered partners are feeling, and why they seem angry all the time, without realizing that anger is not a true emotion, but a tactic to manipulate and control us.
- He explains that the true reason predators are successful manipulators is not so much that they are good at it, although they are, but that the rest of us are reluctant to judge others harshly.
- He explains that people who intuitively sense aggression, but can’t objectively verify it, are prone to being manipulated and controlled.
The problem is, we don’t know how the character-disturbed people think and act, but they know how we think and act. Simon writes:
They know the attitudes neurotics hold, and the naiveties that make them vulnerable to tactics of manipulation and impression management. They often know the neurotics in their lives better than those neurotics know themselves.
This book can help you level the playing field. It can help you understand the tactics and games that sociopaths and other people with character disturbances use to manipulate you. It also explains why adherents to traditional psychotherapy concepts don’t understand sociopaths, and why their attempts at treatment are useless.
Character Disturbance—The Phenomenon of Our Age is available on Amazon.com.