BOOK REVIEW: Character Disturbance

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.

Character disturbance

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

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56 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: Character Disturbance"

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I may have made a typo, I DO equate P-P-D with NPD but not anything else. So while people on the autistic scale do not have “normal” empathy (as per Dr. Baron-Cohen’s studies of empathy in both Autistic and Personality disordered people) the difference is that the autistic person does not ENJOY and PLAN to hurt others, where as the Personality disordered person does both plan to hurt others and ENJOY hurting others.

So if you misunderstood or if I made a typo, please forgive me, but I do NOT equate people with pervasive development disorder or autism of any level with PSYCHOPATHIC PERSONALITY DISORDER PPD.


I think I am the one who owes you an apology. I did misunderstand.

I have not seen the acronym PPD used for psychopathic personality disorder but I frequently hear people mistakenly call PDD “PPD”. My son who has a PDD, is verbal and also explosive. Because of his being verbal and looking “normal” many people assume that he is doing what he is doing on purpose when in fact he is not.

I just had a very hard week dealing with something concerning him in which the police did not understand and charged him for something that is part of his disability which was provoked by behavior of others not understanding.

I don’t know if the above made sense…Anyway I am really sorry for jumping to conclusions and taking my distress out on you.

No problem Philomela, I figured that you had misunderstood the PPD for the PDD. I am sorry about your son’s problem, and the explosiveness is a big problem I am sure.

I am learning a great deal about autism and all it’s forms from reading Dr. Baron-Cohen’s research, plus a friend of mine is engaged to someone with Aspergers syndrome. Her family and I sort of are “watching” the situation, but at the same time, are not totally against the match. I’ve had some exposure to the autism spectrum, but am interested in learning more since autism also shares a lack of empathy with psychopathy. Of course it is all on a “Scale” and it isn’t a case of all out one way or the other. Dr. Baron-Cohen’s research shows that empathy is like IQ it is on a (bell curve) scale with zero at one end and very high at the other end, but the vast majority of people are somewhere in the middle, with only a few at either end of the scale. He says that people in the very very low end, people with autism and psychopaths are different though because the autistic person doesn’t deliberately want to hurt someone, but the psychopath enjoys the GLEE of hurting someone. He calls the autistic person “Zero-positive” for empathy, and the psychopathic person is “Zero-negative.”

God bless you as you cope with your son’s problems and the lack of understanding from the public and the police. (((hugs)))

Hello antipsycho people! 😀 Hello skylar, Oxy, one step, Hens, etcetc.

I’m Eva (yeah the spanish one). I’t’s some days i’m gossiping the blog again and I see you’ve raised the subject of the scapegoating of René Girard; it’s an interesting subject I a little bit learnt about through this psychologist who studies narcissits, paranoids and psychopaths especially in the context of mobbing at work and also bullying at schools.

I leave the videos because I know some of you understand spanish language.!

Hi Eva,
Glad to see you!
I tried to hear the links but my spanish is poor. I got the gist of it, that it was some scandal regarding bullying in the workplace.

I know some spanish speakers who might be interested, so thanks!

Hi skylar. Welcome. He explains things very well. He’s interesting because he explains the whole picture, and the whole picture includes more tipes of personalities than the psychopathic one. Psychopaths, regrettably do no operate in a vacuum.

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