When I worked as a medical transcriptionist, I often checked myself for the symptomatology presented in the dictation. I was armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous. I could convince myself I had all sorts of disease processes going on.
I no longer work as a transcriptionist, but I still have a bad habit of self-diagnosing. In the middle of reading George Simon’s book Character Disturbance, I am certain I’m neurotic and have OCD.
For most of my life, my brother mocked me and told me I was obsessive-compulsive. I just thought he was being a judgmental jerk and trying to compensate for his own lack of cleanliness or orderliness. His statements, in my mind, were nothing more than a poor attempt to normalize sloven behavior.
Recently I’ve come to embrace and appreciate any of those OCD characteristics that may exist in my psyche. They are the driving force behind the love I have for my little business. I want the world to have clean floors! So, off I march with my vacuum and mops to earn money helping others obtain that noble goal!
And, as I am finally getting to know my uncle, I’m appreciating those characteristics in him. More than once, I’ve walked away from a visit with him thinking that perhaps it is just in my DNA. Perhaps I can’t help some of my little quirks–they just run in the family.
Since beginning this book, though, I’ve developed a thorough sense of RELIEF over the realization that I probably would be classified as genuinely neurotic.
Mr. Simon explains that anxiety plays a key role in neurosis. Hello! If you could use only one word to describe me, I think anxious would be it.
On page 33 of the book, he explains, “The neurotic individual is basically a person with a very well-developed conscience or superego. Sometimes that conscience can be overly active to the point of being oppressive. Neurotics have a huge sense of right and wrong, and always want to do what they think is the most correct. They can sometimes set impossibly high standards, engendering a significant amount of stress. Neurotics are also prone to judge themselves overly harshly when they fail to meet their own expectations……..When something goes wrong, they quickly ask themselves what more they can do to make the situation better.”
Well, I certainly feel exposed! I’ve always known that everything is my responsibility, but I’ve always felt comfortable blaming my parents for that. My mother always said that everything wrong in her life was my fault. I was responsible for her misery. My dad always said that I was responsible for my brother. I had to make sure that no one picked on him, that he was taken care of, that his needs were met. Certainly they created this overwhelming sense of being responsible for things I have no control over!
Shame and guilt also characterize the emotional state of a neurotic. Mr. Simon says (Hee hee, Simon Says!), “Because they are persons of conscience, neurotics can experience high (and sometimes toxic) levels of both shame and guilt. Shame is the emotional state we experience when we feel badly about who we are. Guilt is the emotional state we experience when we feel badly about what we’ve done. Neurotics tend to judge themselves harshly, so they’re quick to feel ashamed when they fail to measure up to their own high standards and the self-image they try to maintain.”
My shame and guilt have nearly consumed me since I “came out of the closet” and let the world in on my dirty little secrets. My self-image has been torn to shreds. In my neurotic state I have never been able to separate what was done to me and who I am. I feel shame because I am violence. I am attempted murder. I am neglect. I am rape. I am dirty, ugly, and used because those things were done to me, and I absorbed them into my spirit. I feel guilt because I didn’t or couldn’t stop the abuser from attacking my children. So, I feel shame and guilt because I am not the quintessential home schooling mother. I feel shame and guilt because I have two failed marriages behind me; I must have been a very bad wife to have two men cheat on me, use me, and abandon me.
I take full responsibility for what was done to me by others.
I should have taken care of my man-child brother and made him happy. I should have maintained a joyful marriage. I should have successfully home schooled my children into perfect Christians who are perfectly successful at everything they do. I should have some sort of a ministry. I should be debt-free, managing a family entrepreneurial venture, and growing and canning all of our own organic food.
Instead, everyone is miserable and wounded. The marriages are over. Some of my kids aren’t walking with Christ. My big venture is scrubbing toilets, and I’m doing good just to get meals planned and a shopping list written. And, it’s all my fault, and everyone knows it!
How’s that for not measuring up to high standards and your own self-image? When my abuser told me that I’m a “shitty mother” I readily accepted that guilt and blame because I carried that shame already, knowing that a “good mother” would have somehow stopped him from damaging and wounding her babies.
Here’s the upshot though. Mr. Simon states in the introduction to his book, “Freud used to say that civilization is the cause of neurosis, and given the climate of his time, it’s easy to see how he came to that conclusion. In a sense, he had a point; but his observation was more than a bit narrow-sighted. True, the prohibitions any society imposes on the unrestrained expression of primal urges can give rise to a fair degree of anxiety in some of us. And, a brutally oppressive culture can breed excessive degrees of neurosis. But in large measure, it’s most people’s capacity to become unnerved when contemplating acting like an animal (i.e. their capacity to be “neurotic” to some degree) that makes civilization itself possible.”
He almost makes neurosis sound positive!
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those character disturbed individuals: the narcissists and the psychopaths.
Mr. Simon explains the role of anxiety in those individual’s lives on page 32, “Anxiety is minimally present or plays a negligible role in the disturbed character’s problems. In some cases, it’s absent altogether. Character-disordered individuals are notoriously nonchalant about the things that upset most other people. Some, especially the aggressive personalities (more about them later) appear to lack adaptive levels of fearfulness. 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. For the most part, disordered characters don’t do dysfunctional things because some past trauma has them too “hung up” to do otherwise. Instead, they do them because, unlike neurotics, they lack the capacity to get hung-up enough to think twice about their behavior, inhibit their impulses, or restrain their conduct A little of the neurotic’s typical apprehension would go a long way toward helping the disturbed character be more cautious or hesitant when it comes to frequently doing the things that cause problems.” [That last emphasis is mine.]
Again, neurosis sounds positive in that light.
Regarding the conscience, he shares that it is “remarkably under-developed and impaired” in those with a character disorder. He says they “don’t hear that little voice that urges most of us to do right, or admonishes us when we’re contemplating doing wrong…………As opposed to persons with a sound conscience, they don’t push themselves to take on unattractive burdens and responsibilities; and they don’t hold themselves back when they want something they really shouldn’t have.” He goes on to say that in the most disturbed characters the conscience may be completely absent. I wonder if those are the ones whom the Bible refers to as being turned over to a reprobate mind.
As for any shame or guilt that a character disordered individual may experience, Mr. Simon states, “Disturbed characters lack sufficient pangs of guilt or shame when they do things that are harmful or hurtful. Such feelings can only emanate from a well-developed conscience, which, as we discussed earlier, they lack. So, shamelessness and guiltlessness are two of the disturbed character’s most distinguishing features. They don’t feel badly enough about the kind of person they are when they repeatedly do things that negatively affect or injure others. They also don’t feel badly enough about the harmful things they do, at least not badly enough to keep from doing them over and over again. If they were able to experience enough guilt or shame, they might refrain from doing socially harmful things in the first place, or from doing the same wrongful acts repeatedly.”
The question goes, “So, how’s that workin’ for ya?” Well, no, the anxiety, guilt, and shame that characterize my life have not worked for me. However, I am striving very hard to find a more neutral place to live on that psychological spectrum.
BUT, I am glad that I care enough to not want to hurt another person. I am glad that I have a sense of responsibility, and that sense of responsibility drives me to want to be a better mother, a better Christian, a better person. It drives me to pick myself up off the floor and keep trying. I am glad that my conscience is not only intact but that it works a little overtime.
And, I’m glad that my clients have clean floors.