Wising Up To Character Disturbances . . . And My Own Struggles

Some of you may have read my posts that speak of facing up to the giants in my life. I have a distinct and strong belief that we must face all the little nudges of our hearts . . . all the question marks. Whenever I react strongly, I ask myself “why?” and then take steps to remedy the issue. I am 100 percent FOR change and healing. I want to be restored and I will do my part. I am grateful for a brother or sister who will lovingly point out an old habit, a lie I may believe about myself or others, or perhaps a reason for why a dark shadow is still hanging out in my heart and mind. This week, my “aha! moment” came through reading Dr. George Simon’s book, Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of Our Age [Affiliate link].

Dr. Simon lays a hefty foundation straightaway regarding the differences between a neurotic person and a character-disturbed person. A neurotic person is marked by anxiety, worry, fear and (often) has abandonment issues. There is a lot of insecurity in a person who struggles with neurosis. And, usually, the deeply-imbedded insecurity is largely unknown to a person who is neurotic. A disturbed character, on quite the other hand, does not seem to even have much of a conscience. He just takes what he wants and has no qualms about stepping all over others. Anxiety is absent all together. Writes Simon:

Character-disordered individuals are notoriously nonchalant about the things that upset most other people. . . . They don’t get apprehensive enough about their circumstances or their conduct. They’re not unnerved enough at the prospect of conflict, and they readily leap into risky situations when others would hesitate. (Loc 247)

Can you imagine? It seems Character-disordered individuals see . . . and conquer. They must have the upper-hand. Ironically, if they are called out on their behavior, they play a “pity card”. I thought for YEARS that my ex husband’s behavior was due to his own abusive upbringing . . . that he was just hurting over his father-issues . . . perhaps, he was just THAT insecure that he needed to bully others. He loved when I bought into that baloney.

It is common for a neurotic person to ask themselves, “Why do I feel this way? Why am I so afraid?” Conversely, the disordered person is “fully conscious of his problem behaviors. He not only knows exactly what he’s doing, but also is fully aware of his motivations for doing it.” (Loc 316)

When I took the leap from the page over into my own heart, what I found was disturbing. Although the neurotic person is rare these days (due to a general cultural attitude of entitlement), I fall directly into that category. Or, at least, I used to. I still have tendencies of being easily discouraged, a bit anxious and over-conscientious. However, two years ago, I was a full-blown, purebred neurotic. (sniff) And my ex was (is still?) a disordered character. It was a perfect storm. And he knew it. Read this:

They [character-disordered individuals] know very well how neurotics tend to think. 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. (Loc. 340)

That scared me. This was the scenario in which I found myself.

The abuse was his fault. However, I recognize that every relationship I had was unhealthy because every relationship was driven by my fear:  Fear of failure; fear of abandonment; fear of rejection; fear of repercussion. That was me. And the ongoing emotional manipulation took a 20-something, somewhat insecure girl who had just experienced loss . . . and plunged her down, feeding on her neurosis . . . until she was a complete wreck. Sometimes I wonder if he thought I would ever escape. Surely, he didn’t.

According to Dr. Simon (and common wisdom), the best way to overcome a fear is to face it. If one is afraid of snakes, go check them out at a local petting zoo. Fear of the dark? Plant yourself in a dark room every night until you recognize that nothing is going to happen to you. Fear of abandonment . . . that was my greatest neuroticizing, paralyzing fear. My parents died when I was too young. My family controlled me with their disdain or jealousy or hatred or whatever it was. I was never good enough for my ex and his family. And, when I left . . . guess what happened? I was completely abandoned by all of them. Crazy thing is . . . I survived it.

I asked Jeff Crippen once, how you get thick-skinned. I desperately did not want to freak out when someone was rejecting me . . . which happened for a good 18 months after I left my ex. Jeff said, “God just does it.” And, it is true. I survived rejection from 80% of those in my circles. And . .. I’m still living. In fact, I’m thriving. A chunk of that neurosis just recently fell off.

Like so many of our readers, I am still on the path to healing and understanding. Reading this book has brought a great deal of awareness to why I have allowed myself to be in positions of subservience. . . why I have allowed myself to be pushed down . . . or held back. There is simply no reason for it. There really isn’t. God has given me and you and all of us the tools and characteristics that help make a Body strong. Saying it is easy; learning to bloom is not. I wonder how many of our readers might find themselves in the pages of George Simon’s book. Or in the descriptions above. Hopefully, I am not alone. ‘Cause I don’t want to feel abandoned here.

Just kidding. 🙂

21 thoughts on “Wising Up To Character Disturbances . . . And My Own Struggles”

  1. ah yes all the paranoia and fear, I still struggle with it on a daily basis. I had huge fear of abandonment, and looking back I can see why that was his favorite tactic with me. Every time I was pregnant he would threaten to walk out the door and never come back, til I was literally groveling on the floor. 😦
    It’s really mind-blowing. He had me figured it out…but the truth is that underneath all of the fear and terror I am actually a very confident person. As the huge chunks of fear fall off of me I get more and more assertive…. I’ve noticed over the the last 3 years in this engineering job, I went from being totally submissive and scared of my boss to … well yesterday he demanded something very unreasonable of me, in front of others in a meeting. And I stood up for myself forcefully… I ended up giving him a bit of a tongue lashing and later I felt so RELIEVED. I am not afraid of losing my job anymore, I’m not afraid of the disapproval of others, and I’m no longer a crying mess when someone challenges me or yells at me in a meeting.
    This is really big progress and I didn’t even recognize it til recently. So even though most days I hate my job I see how God has used it to bring about big changes in me.

    1. Katy . . . That makes me rather sick to think about because we are so very vulnerable when we are pregnant. Talk about exploiting your vulnerability . . . I hate that you dealt with that. No WONDER you struggle with fear. 😦 But, I, too, see that Katy that is growing stronger and more assertive. I admire that so much!

  2. Megan – One of the signs of being controlled by the character disturbed abuser is that we make excuses for them, as you have noted that you did for awhile with your ex. I guess it is because we are afraid they will leave us? That we will be alone? So even if we are Christians, and people around us — including our abuser — are habitually doing all kinds of sinful things, we make excuses for them. As a pastor, I have done waaayyy too much of this over the years for fear someone will leave the church and reject me and lead others to follow them, etc. In the end they do it anyway, and I must say that myself and our elders have taken many stands with the wicked in spite of the cost. However, the mind games these false sheep/wolves play do cause us for some time to make excuses for them. “Well, you know, that’s just Fred. We will just love him anyway.” But all the while, as we try to avoid the inevitable, Fred is working his evil on people, including upon us.

    1. Jeff — That is very insightful. I definitely was afraid to be alone. I was also afraid that the “ideal-fantasy-godly-marriage-bubble” would pop and I needed that to stay intact. I was afraid to admit how bad things were . . . too afraid to admit them to myself because then I would have to look at the mess in which I found myself and I didn’t want to do that. I read a lot about this today in Leslie Vernick’s new book (“The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”) and I think that I covered more to protect my psyche because I was having a difficult time digesting the fact that I was being abused. She writes: “It is not your husband’s lies that will do the most damage to you. It’s the lies you tell yourself” (p. 107). My craving for a good husband drove me to covering up his actions as I lied to myself. My fear of abandonment from him, his family and mine sealed the deal.

      1. “I was also afraid that the “ideal-fantasy-godly-marriage-bubble” would pop and I needed that to stay intact. I was afraid to admit how bad things were . . . too afraid to admit them to myself because then I would have to look at the mess in which I found myself and I didn’t want to do that.”

        AND, for me, then this strong, perfect, godly family would have to be revealed for what it was: a castle of lifelong abuse, and I was afraid it would ruin the witness of those of us in the home that were true Christians, who wanted more than anything to glorify God. Living in abuse it seems often messes with what that picture of glorifying God really looks like. As Ps. Crippen has mentioned before, there are some good times even in abusive homes, even though ours were not very often, and it leaves not only the victims confused, but when the can of worms opens, it leaves the neighbors and everyone else around confused as well. In my mind, it was just better to keep that all neatly tucked away. It was at least one less thing to have to deal with, if no one else knew. Besides, I had been taught by the camp we were in, that good, submissive wives, hide and cover their husband’s relentless sin against his family, so that he can always look good and be respected by others, at least according to the patriarch’s interpretation of Scripture. The wife’s godly duty is to make him look good. It is her ongoing job, even when there is abuse, sexual immorality and abandonment.

      2. Anon,
        ” Besides, I had been taught by the camp we were in, that good, submissive wives, hide and cover their husband’s relentless sin against his family, so that he can always look good and be respected by others”

        Ah, yes! (Tongue in cheek) “love covers a multitude of sin” Right?

        Any of you scholars want to expound on this? Or was I the only one quoted this verse as a mandate to allow her husband’s sinful behavior to go unchecked?

  3. Oh Megan, I am that neurotic woman with huge abandonment issues. My wonderful present husband is a big help to me. Sometimes my adult children think I should just move forward. They do not understand what drives me, the triggers, the pain, the fears. I am so afraid of losing them for good so I keep more quiet than I ought to.

    I resized today that I really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being true to myself, regardless of the outcome. So I will no longer hide.

    Thank you, Megan. You a are dear heart!

  4. Megan, that was a great post and I can assure you that YOU ARE INDEED NOT ALONE IN THIS. I know it was a joke, but I also know that even in healing , that fear of abandonment creeps back in from time to time. What you’ve shared so closely parallels my story, its remarkable. Abandonment is also my biggest fear, or more accurately, WAS, and for the same reason of loosing my parents very young. I’m very much a recovering neurotic 🙂
    God has very much been healing me in this fear however and I live today knowing And trusting that no matter what happens, God will never leave me or forsake me. I’m learning what it means to live in the freedom of this.
    I have also read this particular George Simon book and found it incredibly fascinating, helpful, clarifying and very scary. I see character disturbance everywhere now….. And at times am overwhelmed by how to keep living with it surrounding me. Fight it or walk away…. Constantly my question particularly with the church. All I can do Is lean heavily on God and beg Him to lead and direct me in each situation. Blessings to you as you continue to heal and grow and share with us all you learn and discover!!!
    CFJ is a place of such comfort and when I fight feeling scared and confused it brings clarity and really reminds me I am not alone.
    Thank you is not adequate for all you guys do !! But THANK YOU !!!

    1. Big hugs, dear friend! I treasure that sense that others have walked this same road as I. It means so much to me!

  5. Thank you for posting this! I am working through these very issues and healing slowly. As I read the description of neurotic behavior, wow – did it ever ring a bell – my bell. What you wrote gave me encouragement that this too shall pass and that God can and will work through all this. Thank you for being here!

  6. Megan,

    I’d ask if everyone else abandons you can I have you, but with this board I expect that would never happen and I’d just have to share. 😉

  7. “Crazy thing is . . . I survived it.”

    So many of the things I feared the most have happened and I made it! I didn’t die! I didn’t collapse. I become some ball of anger or a drunk. I like the person I am now so much better then the old me.

    I was in a parenting class with some other moms who are survivors. A couple of them expressed how embarrassed they were when their kids throw fits at the store. They are particularly sensitive when they feel that others are looking at them. I remarked that I have simply lost too much to care what anyone at the grocery store thinks of me. If I get a funny look while the little one is carrying on, I might tell the stranger, “He’s training for the olympics. He qualified for the tantrum competition last time, but he really has his eye on the gold medal this time.”

    I have lost almost everything. But I am better off without those things. Noticing God’s provision and realizing the value of a life lived in peace without constant fear of being abused in some way is worth so much more than all that I have lost.

    Reading Dr. Simon has been enlightening. I know that the guilt thing makes me easily manipulated. I can run things by my pastor and he throws the “neurotic” flag when he sees that I’m buying into false guilt. It’s such a blessing to have a pastor who won’t tolerate false guilt! I am blessed.

    1. Ellie,
      I have found the same thing true in my life… God has taken what the enemy meant for my destruction and has used it to strengthen and refine me. I never knew the grip the opinions of man had on me until I had to stand in opposition to them to stand for righteousness. He truly works ALL things for our good! Oh Love!

    2. Ellie . . . This is beautiful right here:

      “I have lost almost everything. But I am better off without those things. Noticing God’s provision and realizing the value of a life lived in peace without constant fear of being abused in some way is worth so much more than all that I have lost.”

      You are right. I am oft tempted to mourn the things that I lost but you have reminded me that I am better off without those things. xo

    3. Really like this comment, Ellie. I am just now learning how to deal with all the fear, which is so overwhelming to me. I have some good tips now on how to do that, from my counselor and my reading and it is much like what you have shared here. Step back, ask yourself if there is anything you can do at the moment or should do at the moment (ie call the police) and then go from there. What is so hard, is that we all have had plenty of reason to be desperately afraid and it can be hard to know when to act and when you just have to wait.It is like having to retrain your whole life. I love your attitude. It seems peaceful and I pray that one day that will be mine too. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. “One of the signs of being controlled by the character disturbed abuser is that we make excuses for them…”

    At one point I was considering reconciliation and a friend who is a trained mental health pro, asked, ” What’s wrong with you? Are you co-dependent or something?” I responded that there must be something! I looked up co-dependency and saw so many red flags in myself. I especially noticed myself making excuses for him.

  9. Fear of abandonment… sounds pretty common here. While my parents did not pass away, I lost them at a young age to divorce. When they divorced my world crumbled and was pretty much left to fend for myself. It wasn’t till I got married that I felt “secure” while he was wretched and hateful and tore my insides to shreds, I knew he would never leave nor stop pretending to have the perfect family. I clung to that and to a bunch of lies about spousal redemptive love and the fear of my children experiencing what I had. It is only by God’s immeasurable grace and mercy that I am on my exodus journey. He put everything in place, built up my faith in Him and is leading me safely through this desert, which with Him, minus the abuse often feels like the promise land!
    It is a beautiful thing to experience truly living for an audience of One. I thought I was there before… but I’ve never felt so free and safe as I do with my eyes fixed on His gaze!
    But I still “felt” your last comment… as much as we are prepared to walk completely alone, it really does feel good to know we are not alone, that another human gets it, doesn’t think we’re banannas and won’t judge, condemn and twist what we feel to falsely accuse us.

    1. KD — I know what you mean. I think I married quickly (after my parents’ death) because I was so insecure. I could not have articulated it but, I felt the mistake I had made keenly. I went from insecure to ultra-insecure in an abusive marriage with not chance (so I thought) of ever experiencing security in this lifetime. What a horrible feeling. I suspect you experienced this, as well. I, too, am grateful to feel the freedom of only needing to please One. I still struggle . . . but it is better and I am working on re-wiring old habits in my brain.

  10. When I feel sick or abandoned, I go and find somebody who is sicker and abandoned. I’ll wait untill the Lord points out a person to me. Love on them untill they hurt no more, my daughter is in on it, we enjoy this. Then I forget my own misery. Hope to find a nice loving woman 1 day. Anyway don’t feel alone all of us are here waiting to listen to your story, to place a friendly comment.
    The treatment and PTSS treatment I absorb it and await it’s positive effects.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.