Green abstract

“Mixtures of archetypal reality and personal history, numinous energy and early personal wounds are met with defenses employed by the psyche in an attempt to create safety, cohesion, and consistency. The interactions of these factors evolve into identifiable character structures. Thus, one’s character structure is an individual portrait that embodies archetypal themes and personal wounds, as well as achievements and developmental defenses.”

The Matrix and Meaning of Character, P2


Authors Nancy J. Dougherty, M.S.W. and Jacqueline J. West, PhD.

As clinicians, we have learned a vocabulary for describing patterns of character structures.  This diagnostic language is a highly developed and remarkably rich resource. Yet, when it is used routinely and inattentively, it loses meaning and value.  In the field, concretized and reduced, it can be used in ways that are neither respectful to patients nor conducive to creative treatment. Many therapists are therefore reluctant to use this vocabulary.

The myths and stories that underlie character can awaken meaning and inspirit the therapeutic relationship. Enlivened diagnostic language can then be used to sharpen and simultaneously deepen and even direct clinical work. Here are some brief examples…

“Borderline Character Structure:  The Agony and the Ecstasy”
“The call of Dionysus rings in [the borderline person’s] ears; she is summoned towards connection, passion and ecstatic release – and towards the possibility of dismemberment… She may be overwhelmed by the wildness of Dionysus and she may turn on her own body.  Or this dismembering process may be concentrated intrapsychically; she may repetitively “tear into’ herself, shredding her very own soul.” P129

“Hysteric Character Structure: The Golden Promise”
“’I’m late, I’m late!’ cries the White Rabbit, and Alice follows him into a wonderland of exaggeration, animation, hilarity, and impotent rage: a world beriddled by the dynamics of disbelief.  Intense but shallow affect, a quickly changing, seductive emotional tenor, and the shimmer of archetypal affect announce the presence of the hysteric.” P157

Origins of Psychopathy in the Antagonistic Relational Pattern
“Without an environment in place that would attract a developing infant’s consciousness towards seeking or withdrawing styles of relating, all relating both inner and outer, is guarded against.  For the child in the antagonistic pattern, survival, integration, and meaning are maintained by acts of domination, manipulation, and control and the archetype of the predator can be activated.”