Character & Personal Responsibility

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-27-2004
Character & Personal Responsibility
Sun, 10-31-2004 - 12:55pm
Hi, I pasted up a few sections of the article I wrote entitled: Character, Sociopathy and Homeland Security. It's long (about 20 pages) and tedious. (I also wrote a shorter form (about 8 pages) that I could post, but I don't want to derail the discussion.)


As a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of Character Disorders, I see many patients who are recovering from Substance Abuse and Dependency Disorders in my practice. A Character or Personality Disorder is, in fact, a common underlying diagnosis found in patients who are "recovering" from Substance Abuse or Dependency Disorders. It is only after the patient stops abusing substances that a clinician can tend to the core character issues that afflict the substance abuser. Sobriety is in no way the cure for the disorder-- it is just the beginning of a long recovery process.

The character defects in patients with personality disorders are difficult to treat: One's basic character style is established and "cemented" at a very early age, and the patterned behaviors, emotions and thoughts associated with a character disorder are woven into the fabric of a developing child's personality. While we all struggle, from time to time, with managing our character styles and how they impact our relationships with others, persons with significant character disturbance struggle on a more core level of functioning and are not likely to make major changes in their basic character style without undergoing a very intensive type of psychotherapy treatment.

I also hold an additional degree in theology and treat a number of patients of faith, including patients with strong Christian commitments. In spite of their conversion experiences, patients of faith with personality disorders continue to struggle with the same core character issues as non-faith patients, even after they undergo a meaningful religious conversion. While patients of faith may view their growth through psychotherapy as a form of spiritual healing, they usually recognize that they need professional help to make the transition into healthier, responsibility-based living.

Facing one's "demons" is the very first step in recovering from a character disorder. And the ability to face one's "demons" requires a very safe, non-judging environment of acceptance and forgiveness. If you are shamed or "demonized" for the presence of your "demons", then you will not feel safe enough to acknowledge your flaws. In addition to needing a safe environment, characterologically-flawed individuals need to develop an appreciation for the pain that drives their "flawed" existence. Forgiving yourself for your "demons" requires an understanding of your early experiences in life and how they helped to shape your feelings, thoughts and patterned behaviors in the present. This step is not about making excuses or blaming your parents, but is about understanding the "why" behind the way your mind works and the pattern of poor

choices you have made. After these two elements are in place, persons with character disorders can take responsibility for their demons and can go on to develop a healthy, mature character.


Individuals with character disorders are not bad people, but they often engage in bad behavior. And, on a deep level, they often fear that they are bad people. As a defense against this fear of being deemed bad, they often tend to externalize blame for the bad things that they do. When such a person feels vulnerable to being demonized by a scrutinizer, s/he will push the bad traits or actions away from the self and onto a safer target, hoping to re-focus the blame to someone else. By doing so, the person is able to preserve a sense of goodness and avoid the painful experience of being devalued or demonized for their bad behavior. Unfortunately, this process of displacing blame for their behavior or judgment errors, often sets up a cycle for more bad behavior.

Characterologically-impaired individuals also tend to use simplistic models for understanding "good"and "evil" in the world (and in themselves), creating what psychologists often call "poison containers" for displacing their blame and rage, when "bad" things happen". The phenomenon of creating a "poison container" enables a person to safely store uncomfortable feelings, and provides a sense of powerfulness: If all the "bad" is stored neatly in a single container, then destroying that bad object will help the individual to feel safe again. Without neat containers for these feelings, a character-disordered person would be left holding very uncomfortable feelings of shame, insecurity and powerlessness. (Also known as scape-goating, an entire group can focus blame on another group for "bad" actions or traits, in an effort to soothe themselves that the "bad" is fully contained elsewhere, and can be controlled.)

Individuals who need a poison container to take the blame are persons who are afraid, on a very core level, of being psychologically (or politically) destroyed for possessing bad traits or for behaving badly, with no confidence that they can do bad things without being deemed a "bad person". Historically, these individuals have received very severe and overly harsh punishments for the bad things that they did as children and were "demonized" by parents with shaming punishments.


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Sun, 10-31-2004 - 1:25pm
So now you're going to blame Kerry's character flaws on his childhood?
Avatar for mommiemel
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Sun, 10-31-2004 - 7:49pm

I don't think she was aiming for Kerry.

snowy.gif picture by mommiemel
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Sun, 10-31-2004 - 8:06pm

Naw, ya think?

Can't imagine George Sr. or Barbara being a bad mommy and daddy.

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-27-2004
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 11:47am
Re: Bush's youth... not the model childhood you might expect. There are several very sad and telling red flags that are described in a bio piece that suggest that his childhood does fits the etiologic profile for sociopathy.

The kinds of sad events I'm talking about include the fact that when George W. Bush was seven, his parents never told him his little almost 4-year-old sister was dying until she had alredy died. They showed up at the school to announce it... as an adult, he has confided in friends that he had nightmares for years about his sister dying... and that he found his parents insensitivitly to his need to say good bye to his sister before she died "incomprehensible". And after his sister died, his dad was away quite a bit, so George was in the role of comforting his mother-- there was no room for his grief and in fact, no room for his anger, that his parents hadn't told him she was dying.

My heart breaks for the seven year old part of the President that didn't get to be with his sister the day she died... and who didn't even know he was about to lose her. And I'm glad that my heart is soft enough to care about that kind of suffering... that doesn't make me a sad person, it makes me a WHOLE person.

I know you operate with the belief that you "choose" your feelings, not understanding that you can push your feelings down to an unconscious level where you don't realize that they exist anymore, but that doesn't make them disappear... in fact, that's what makes your feelings the most dangerous to yourself and to other people. For example, repeatedly research has shown us harsh, corporal punishment of children increases the likelihood of aggressive, violent and sociopathic behavior in adulthood.,

These kids that are being beaten start out scared, but eventually, they learn to push that feeling down so successfully that they see no signs of it-- instead, they feel aggressive, a compensating feeling that helps them to feel powerful in the world and less vulnerable.

And today, many people are so utterly terrified of terrorists, but they can't feel their terror because it's been suppressed or repressed-- all they can feel is the aggressive impulses that make them feel powerful in the face of our enemy... aggressive impulses that make them want to strike, even if there's no just cause for striking... even if we're striking out at the wrong people. They can't even listen to logic, because the unconscious fear is so gripping and their aggressive compensation is ruling their minds, preventing any logic from registering.

Repressing feelings can also make you more vulnerable to cancer and several other diseases. My research specialty is psychoneuroimmunology-- which is the science that has demonstrated that repressing feelings causes stress which eventually can weaken the immune system. Here's a link to an article written by a physician that spells it out very simply: "Patterns of excessive denial, avoidance, repression, regression, defensiveness and rigidity of beliefs are associated with compromised immunity."

Many scientific studies, for example, show that repressed anger is a precursor to breast cancer in women, for example. And while you may be tempted to argue with science, it does not make the findings less true.

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-09-2004
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 11:51am
Its true. Good people can do (and say) bad things. And have bad thoughts.

Nobody is all good, or all bad.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-01-2004
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 12:14pm
This speaks to that popular bandwagon that everything that is wrong with you is your parent's fault. At some point you have to say, hey, my childhood wasn't perfect but I can choose to let that ruin my life or move on. If you want to psychcoanalyze every person running for political office before voting for them, good luck! I base my opinions on the character of Kerry and Bush based on what they have done during their political careers. Kerry doesn't stand for anything without consulting the public opinion. I want somebody who has convictions and knows why they believe it.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 12:16pm

While I do respect your opinion, I don't believe that incident would turn one into a sociopath.

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-27-2004
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 12:17pm
This small part of my article is about character disorders in general-- the information can apply to anyone, including our President and his contender, if their profile fits the picture. Unfortunately, many politicians are challenged with character disorders... Clinton has major sociopathic & narcissistic tendencies. Kerry may also have the same combo, but to a much lesser degree.

Sadly, Bush's historic record and his current actions in Iraq point clearly to a

sociopathic character structure. Inability to show remorse, patterned use of deception,

and operating outside of the law are three key diagnostic criteria for sociopathy.

Focusing on this is not meant to bash him for his weaknesses, but is meant to help us understand how his vulnerabilities get in the way of being a good leader. Some of us are able to say we are sorry when we offend... some of us can say we are sorry when we invade a country for reasons that don't exist. Those are good skills to have in a leader. And people who can say they're sorry can also be tough and use force against terrorists when it's justified. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

Those who argue the most adamently about the need to invade Iraq simply refuse to acknowledge these facts:

1) As it turns out, our intelligence evidence did not show that Iraq collaborated with al Qaeda... suggesting that Iraq's threat to us was "imminent", based upon these claims, when the evidence did not support such a claim is a clear violation of International law.

2) The Bush Administration exaggerated the threat intentionally... read Collin Powell's words, read how Rumsfeld provided analysis of intelligence data that was in direct conflict with the CIA's own analysis in in U.S. News and World Report, June 9, 2003

3) The President refuses to admit any mistakes and refuses to say he is sorry... in other words, he in incapable of showing remorse. (Lbmlbmlb... I realize that this is a tough one for you, personally. When people say your words feel attacking, you justify your attacks by telling them that they choose to be offended, never taking personal responsibility for how how hostile and aggressive your tone may be. So, it's likely that you may not value the ability to apologize for aggression... but that doesn't make it less important.)

You can justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq all day long, but if you won't deal with these three issues, then you are operating without the benefit of rational thought.

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-27-2004
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 12:30pm
mom2three-- I absolutely do not condone blaming parents for your actions as an adult... it's essential that we all take personal responsibility for how we behave now, regardless of how much crap was dished out to us as kids. But, for many people, without the understanding of their past, they have a hard time behaving at their best as adults. That's the reason why understanding character and how it develops is important. THe goal is to improve your character, not lay blame on the past.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-28-2003
Mon, 11-01-2004 - 12:32pm
Wholeheartedly agree. Let us stand against the trend of labeling ourselves and others as perpetual victims (of our parents, society as a whole, whomever is in teh White House, etc) and take responsibility for our OWN choices and actions.