Well, okay, since I posted the "Masochistic Character Structure" a couple of days ago, I guess I shouldn't hold back any longer with everyone's favorite in the series.
So... how about the "Psychopathic Character Structure," a real favorite of students, patients and practitioners alike, although very few therapists are willing to work with this personality. In fact, there is a lot of thought in the field that someone with this character structure is untreatable through psychotherapy. I disagree. It's just that the challenge for a therapist in working with this person is that the level of manipulation, seductiveness and distrust in this patient is so great that the practitioner has to really roll up their sleeves and get involved. Most therapists would rather not.
Just to clarify, "psychopathic" is not synonymous with "sociopathic." While all sociopaths are psychopaths, not all psychopaths are sociopaths. In fact, many "heroes" - cops, soldiers, politicians, CEO's and Captain Kirk-types - are psychopaths, in terms of their basic defensive structure.
Again, the description below is from a 6-hour class I taught on the Psychopathic Character Structure - the fourth of five classes on character structures, which are sets of defenses that we create in early childhood and affect us deeply for the rest of our lives. Every aspect of a person's being is affected by character structures - mind, body and emotions. We create them to survive the slings and arrows of our imperfect childhoods with imperfect parents, but like the cocoon of a caterpillar, when we are ready to become self-actualized adults, we must shed them, "break through" our character structures. Not easy. It requires help. But there's no end run around it. The good news is, as you'll see in the last small but significant section below, that underneath it all is a Higher Self with great capacities and gifts to give to life.
PSYCHOPATHIC CHARACTER STRUCTURE
PRESENTING PROBLEMS (when first arriving to therapy)
- Intense fears of being defeated, humiliated, controlled, or used;
- Feelings of falseness, insincerity, and a lack of integrity;
- Feelings of emptiness and boredom, counteracted by episodes of recklessness, risk-taking and thrill-seeking behavior;
- addiction to intensity;
- Conflicts with authority (including employers, institutions and the legal system);
- Impulsive sexual acting out, promiscuity, many shallow relationships, but no real intimacy or trusting friendships;
- Criminal, sociopathic behavior; antisocial personality disorder;
- Primary falling fear: falling down;
- Primary holding pattern: holding up;
- Primary longing: to have integrity;
- Primary survival struggle: the right to trust.
EARLY ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
(Developmental Period – Birth to 4 Years)
- One or both parents manipulated, seduced, sexualized, or otherwise used child (covertly or directly) for their own narcissistic purposes; parents instilled in the child an image of how they wanted the child to be in order for the adults to feel good about themselves;
- The parents used the child as a buffer or weapon against each other; the child was overly involved in the marital relationship;
- There was a role reversal in which the child was maneuvered, often with sexual overtones and promises of love that were never delivered, into being the pseudo-spouse or pseudo-parent to a parent (frequently of the opposite sex); the child was expected to be more than he or she was to that parent (“Mommy’s little man”; “Daddy’s little princess”);
- One or both parents invested child with feelings of specialness and importance and then rejected or ignored child, or otherwise became unavailable (frequently the parent of the opposite sex);
- One or both parents competed with the child, feeling threatened by the child’s real or imagined accomplishments, and sadistically exploited the child’s weaknesses to humiliate, control and diminish the child’s self-confidence;
- Child experienced horror from witnessing events that could not be understood or integrated, such as verbal or physical abuse (either of a violent or sexual nature); a major trauma occurred in the child’s life, usually after the second year, that could not be understood intellectually by the child and was experienced as a betrayal; (i.e. – hospitalization and surgery, exposure to sex acts by adults, witnessing extreme violence, etc., while being told that all was well by the adults, or blaming the child for the trauma);
- Parent of the same sex was significantly absent from child’s early life (due to work, illness, death or divorce, etc.).
- Body is “designed” to serve the purposes of dominating or seducing and can take almost any form, following whatever main image the person is primarily attached to (i.e.- athletic and powerful, youthful and innocent, sexual and alluring); generally, however, there are two types of body formations typical of this character structure:
1. The “overpowering type” which is inflated on top, “blown-up” looking, with a barreled chest, broad shoulders, and large head, while rigid and small in the pelvis, with small buttocks and thin legs, particularly the calves; or 2. The “seductive type” which is inflated in the pelvis (but numb to feelings there), with broad hips and hyperflexibility in the back, while deflated and immature in the chest area;
- Armoring is particularly marked in the chest, diaphragm, legs and shoulders;
- Eyes are highly charged, often large, and frequently gleaming or sparkling; in the dominating type, the eyes are penetrating and compelling; in the seductive type, they are soft and intriguing, cunning, dreamy or sleepy looking (“Bette Davis eyes”);
- Often, there is a pronounced split (correlates to a lack of integrity in the personality) between the head and the body (mature body, with a small child-like face and head, or visa versa); this split is facilitated by severe tension at the base of the skull and in the shoulder girdle, which holds the head tightly in place (“I must never lose my head.”);
- Arms tend to be immobilized and away from the body (due to the inflated chest and severe shoulder girdle tensions);
- Feet tend to be “pulled off the ground” and may be small; calves and thighs may be short and thin, even when the torso is heavy;
- Physical illnesses are often not felt or manifested until late in life due to extreme willfulness and numbness (later life problems may be in the hips, prostate, pelvis in general, or the heart);
- Spine may be twisted or fused and immobile;
- Chronic areas of tension: base of the skull, shoulder girdle, chest and rib cage, including the diaphragm, waist and abdominal muscles (which are often hard and clenched to pull sexual energy away from genitals), pelvic area in general, genitals specifically.
- Highly charged, with energy displaced and pulled upwards into the top half of the body and away from the pelvis;
- Eyes are particularly highly charged, used to penetrate, intimidate and/or seduce;
- Energy is directed outwardly to control, hook and dominate others, and directed inwardly to deny feelings in the self by contracting all feeling centers;
- Energy is not allowed to flow downwards, cut off by severe tensions in the pelvis, waist, diaphragm, shoulders and base of skull;
- Chakras (energy centers): Will Centers – (in the back of the body) are open; Crown - (spiritual connection) can be open and lopsided; can be collapsed; Third Eye - (intuitive abilities) open, but exaggerated; Throat - (self-expression) contracted; Heart - (love feelings) contracted; Solar Plexus - (universal wisdom) partially contracted; Sexual - (pleasure and creativity) severely contracted; Base – (grounding and connection to physical life) contracted.
OPERATING MODES OF THE MIND, EMOTIONS AND WILL
- The will is powerfully exerted to control others and to control feelings; feelings are alive in the body, however, but denied recognition by the mind;
- Feelings and the body are denigrated and not trusted, so neither are the external senses; therefore only what’s in one’s head, only one’s own ideas in the moment, are treated as valid and real;
- Power rather than pleasure is sought from life;
- The mind is the servant of the will in this structure, so reasoning can be dramatically inconsistent, though capable of brilliance; arguing both sides of a situation or mixing lies with truth is common if it suits a manipulative purpose to gain power or be “right”; one’s own lies are often believed; there is also a tendency to poor judgement and an inability to learn from mistakes;
- Pain is numbed, and genuine feelings are denied, but dramatic emotionality and false feelings are acted out to achieve some purpose, like intimidation or seduction;
- Fear of being wrong or of submitting to the will of others is extreme and is powerfully denied;
- Intuitive capacities of the mind are formidable, with very strong abilities to read what is going on inside of other people, although the understanding of the meaning of what is going on is often very distorted.
- An inadequate sense of self due to a lack of integrity and treating the self and others as objects for manipulation and control;
- Lack of empathy or compassion and a lack of conscious feelings of remorse or guilt due to numbness defense (numbness is often augmented by alcohol and drug abuse);
- Craving for intensity and excessive stimulation to counteract numbness;
- Poor impulse control and an intolerance of boundaries and structure;
- Paranoia about being controlled or humiliated underlying an extreme need to be in control of feelings, others and all situations; intense fears of losing power, being defeated or helpless, and collapsing into desperate neediness (orality);
- Aggression is used as a defense against surrender to feelings (which are equated with weakness) or to the will of others;
- Powerful investment in and identification with idealized self-images; desperate need to be special and important;
- Main defenses: displacement, numbing, denial, acting out, rationalization, confusion;
- Typical masks: grandiosity, self-dramatization, outlandishness (“I am the one and only of my kind, the greatest, the best, the most, the first, the worst, the baddest”. “There’s nobody like me.”), exaggerated false sincerity (“I would never lie to you.”), the hero (“Only I have the power to save you.”), the guru (“Only I can take you to the light.”), the great promise giver (“I know what you want and I can give it to you.”), the courtesan (“I will control you by letting you use me…on my terms.”), the chameleon (“I can be whatever the situation calls for in order to get my way.”); Idealized Self-images: “Don Juan” or “Venus” (the God or Goddess of Eros), “the Godfather” or “Black Widow” (“I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.” “I always get what I want.”), the “blowfish/monster” (“I am a very scary, dangerous person, so be afraid of me.”);
- Childhood history may include: restlessness and hyperactivity, dangerous behavior (i.e. - fire-setting), severe tantrums, spectacular achievements (in school, sports or the arts) coupled with spectacular self-sabotage or delinquency, cruelty to animals or other children, premature sexual behavior, “troublemaker” persona, inappropriate lack of fear and a lack of crying when hurt.
INTERPERSONAL AND SEXUAL FUNCTIONING
- People are primarily related to as objects, as sources of “narcissistic supply” to support images of power and specialness; since others are objectified, anything can be said or done to get what is wanted from another without concern for the other’s feelings or well-being;
- A “divide and conquer” approach is often taken to gain control of others, individually and in groups, pitting people against each other, then sometimes taking the role of mediator or peacemaker;
- Eccentric, radical, dramatic, unpredictable or extreme behavior and appearance are often used to gain attention and/or to keep others off balance;
- The need to have “followers” is felt as an essential reason to engage with others; it is through the “needing to be needed” that the person with this character structure maintains his or her feeling of power, while denying the inherent dependency (orality) of the dynamic at the same time;
- Antisocial behavior may be engaged in with very little provocation, though it may be seen as justified by the person in the moment; these actions are not followed by feelings of remorse afterwards; only getting caught or confined is of concern, not hurting others or the self;
- This person looks directly at others, but doesn’t really see them as real (whereas the schizoid character sees but doesn’t look!);
- Sex is seen as a means to an end, or a contest, often used to gain power, not pleasure, or to express revenge feelings; sex is related to as a conquest of the other person and as further proof of one’s prowess;
- In men, maintaining an erection is more important than having an orgasm, and extreme pride is taken in the penis; in women, likewise, being seen as sexually powerful and technically skilled is more important than sensual or orgasmic pleasure; feelings in the genitals are greatly diminished, so performances of great endurance are possible, but genuine surrender to sexual feelings and orgasm is experienced as humiliating or terrifying.
PREDOMINANT NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS
- “I must never surrender.” “If I surrender, I will be helpless.”
- “Everything is a lie, including love, including me.” “Whatever I believe in the moment is the truth.”
- “I must never be wrong.” “If I am wrong, I will be humiliated.”
- “I must get others to need me, so I can control them, in order to get what I need.”
- “If I acknowledge my feelings, I will be weak and get abused.” “The world is an abusive place.”
HIGHER SELF ASPECTS
- Great leadership and executive qualities and capacities to bring people with differences together in a harmonious effort;
- Strong abilities to guide and inspire others to accomplish their chosen tasks in life and see their own specialness without competitiveness or separation;
- True innovators and adventurers able to travel “the road not taken”, or “to boldly go where no one has gone before”, without recklessness or excess;
- A genuine seeker of truth, with genuine humility, honesty, loyalty and unwavering integrity;
- A truly big heart full of love and fearlessness to surrender to the flow of feelings, life and the Higher Self.
Develop the capacity for empathy and compassion by reversing the numbing of pain in the body and the denial of feelings in general;
Deflate the grandiose self-images by facing their falseness and discovering the longing for truth, sincerity and integrity in the self;
Deflate the overcharged upper half of the body and become grounded and energized in the lower half of the body, allowing for the experience of real pleasure and safety;
Release the tensions at the base of the skull and shoulders, and in the diaphragm and abdomen, allowing for the flow of energy between the mind, heart and genitals;
Become aware of the feelings of emptiness from trying to “win”, “be right”, “be on top”, “get revenge”, “have it my way”, etc., when the real desire is to be able to trust;
Face the horror and confusion in childhood that came from being lied to, used and manipulated by the parents that the child was dependent on and helpless to defend against; confront the illusions that the abuse by the parents meant the child was special, powerful or bad;
Express and release the feelings of hurt and rage at the betrayal by the parents that are hidden by the mask of pride and grandiosity and the fear of humiliation, and discover that those feelings are not devastating to the self now;
Acknowledge, feel and release the early dependency feelings and neediness underneath the fear of collapsing and falling down;
Release the addiction to intensity, overstimulation and exaggerated expansiveness by experiencing the true aliveness of surrendering to feelings;
Acknowledge and experience the different aspects of the personality (child, adult, higher self), opening the lines of communication between them, while establishing an identification with the adult self;
Become aware of the erroneous conclusions, images and beliefs of the mask/false self, and the limitations and unreality of the idealized self image;
Experience pleasure and expansion and recognize and express one’s higher self aspects with less fear of being humiliated;
Primary negative expression that needs release: “My way!”
Primary positive self-affirmation that needs assertion: “I have the right to trust.”
Establish an honest and sincere environment being clear and direct about the nature and boundaries of the therapeutic relationship, understanding that this person will test them to discover where the hidden agendas and lies are; do not make promises about the outcome of therapy;
Engage playfully with this person’s challenging manner to begin confronting his or her efforts to be in control of the therapy and the therapist; it is important to establish a balance in which control feels and is shared, but not at the expense of the therapy; allowing acting out against the therapy or therapist will undermine the person’s feelings of trust and safety, which are minimal to begin with;
Encourage the person to talk about the betrayals he or she has experienced, and the desire for revenge, beginning with current circumstances, then tracing back to related childhood experiences; help the person face the reality that the desire for revenge is a cover for the feelings of helplessness and impotent fury he or she felt in childhood when they were being used by parents;
Use rolling to begin softening up the rigidity in the chest and to open up to feelings; use kicking, including on the roller, to begin opening up the pelvis; use massage of the neck, shoulders and chest to soften up the armoring there and to begin establishing contact with the person, providing an experience that is physically intimate, but not sexualized or abusive; use hitting and vocalization to access the real rage underneath the “blowfish” mask; use grounding and vibrating to get energy moving downwards, reversing the upward displacement; generally, a person employing this character structure will resist the bodywork early on, and maybe for a long time, experiencing it as “embarrassing”, “silly”, “not what I need”, etc., and when the feelings do start to come they may feel humiliated afterwards; acknowledge those feelings and explain the reasons for the body work, but let the person know that it’s his or her decision whether or not to do it;
In group, this person will want to “take over”, one way or the other, by challenging the therapist’s role or approach, by trying to be the smartest, funniest, most advanced, most dramatic member, etc., or by being disruptive; it is risky to directly deflate this mask with confrontation publicly, because it will feel like a re-creation of the intense feelings of humiliation from childhood, but it may be necessary to maintain the integrity of the person and the group; as an alternative to confrontation, openly support the genuine special qualities of the person and his or her genuine importance to the group; remember that this person carries a deep longing to be genuine and to constructively bring people together;
Tell this person the truth to counteract the belief that everyone lies; with the highly developed intuitive capacities that this person has, he or she will readily sense things going on inside of the therapist, but often misinterpret their meaning; within the boundaries established, it’s helpful to answer personal questions, especially about how the therapist is feeling in the moment; it is also helpful to this person to hear about the reasons for what the therapist is choosing to do, and to have diagnostic updates, encouraging the person to join with the therapist in assessing their progress;
When the underlying feelings of helplessness, dependency and abandonment first begin to surface in this person, it will be a very tenuous moment; even after a long-standing positive relationship, a person using this defensive structure can “turn on you”; impulses to quit therapy or attack the therapist may be acted out; acknowledge that the person always has the power to leave therapy, but that acting out against the therapist is not allowed; give a clear and compassionate diagnostic understanding of what is going on, and “leave the door open” for this person to come back if they want to;
When this person’s powerful feelings of rage have been released, and the body has become more supple, deep grieving may emerge, along with the true courage this person has, as well as a deep capacity to give and receive love;
Help the person recognize their Higher Self aspects, especially their integrity, to see that their gifts are there even when hidden behind the mask, and that although they have a wounded aspect in their personality, they need not identify with that aspect in order for it to get the help it needs;
In the later stages of therapy, as the person drops the mask and releases the raw negative feelings, fear of pleasure and expansion must be addressed as it comes up with reassurance, based on their own new experiences, that they can tolerate the energy now and that the fear is not a regression or a setback.
Acting Out: a discharge of tension, impulses or feelings through action that attempts to alter or control the environment as if that environment and those in it were part of a transferential (from childhood) conflict or threat.
Denial: a primitive defense consisting of an attempt to disavow the existence of unpleasant reality.
Confusion: a defense that creates a disturbance of consciousness in which awareness of time, place, or person is unclear; this also serves the purpose of keeping others, perceived as a threat, off balance;
Displacement: the process by which energy, feelings or impulses are transferred from one idea, experience, place in the body or object to another; the substitution of one object for another as the target of feeling.
Numbing: a defense mechanism that causes insensitivity to feelings and sensations in general, and in particular, pain.
Rationalization: making a thing appear reasonable, when otherwise its irrationality would be evident; meant to act as a screen, to cover up ideas or actions intended to gratify an unconscious need.