Monday, August 4, 2014

A review of George K. Simon's Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of Our Age

A few years ago, I read and reviewed George K. Simon's excellent book, In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.   George K. Simon is a psychologist with many years of experience dealing with manipulative people and his first book was truly outstanding.  That's why I was excited when I found out he'd written a follow up in Character Disturbance.  Though this book was written in 2011, I just finished reading it in the wee hours of this morning.

Character Disturbance is about people with character or personality disorders, particularly those on the "Cluster B" spectrum-- that is, narcissists, borderlines, and histrionics.  There are a lot of folks out there who have character disorders.  Dr. Simon writes that for too long, these people have been treated as wounded souls who need to be coddled due to their issues.  Dr. Simon argues that people who are manipulative and aggressive should actually be called out for their bad behaviors.  He correctly explains that people who have character disorders take advantage of people who are neurotic.  Neurotic people generally have a healthy sense of guilt which keeps them in check.  Character disordered people, by contrast, know how people are commonly expected to behave and take advantage of that.  They employ manipulative measures to get what they want.

To be very honest, while Dr. Simon's book is conversational, I did find it a bit on the academic side and some laypeople may not enjoy reading it.  On the other hand, as someone who has studied personality disorders, I find Simon's book very refreshing.  He advocates forcing manipulators to take responsibility for the way they behave and clearly outlines the tactics they use to get their way.  If you've ever had dealings with a truly manipulative person, you will probably recognize some of the things they do... or you may even see some of your own behaviors in Dr. Simon's list.

One thing that may turn off some readers is that sometimes Simon can come off as a bit heavy-handed at times.  He also writes about God, which will probably not appeal to readers who aren't believers in God or "higher powers".

I don't think I liked Character Disturbance quite as much as I did In Sheep's Clothing.  Some of what is in Character Disturbance is also in Simon's first book.  Also, I found this book a bit hard to get through and, in fact, actually read it last night in an attempt to fall asleep.  That being said, I do think Character Disturbance is worthwhile reading because Dr. Simon really does understand the phenomenon of character disorders and his approach is different than that of many other therapists who simply treat character disordered people as damaged goods.  Simon's focus is on innocent people protecting themselves from the manipulative bullshit that can arise when one is dealing with a person who has a character disorder.  Having been exposed to my share of those types of people, I thought both of Simon's books were worth reading, with In Sheep's Clothing moreso.

Here is my review of In Sheep's Clothing.      

A useful guide to understanding and coping with manipulative behavior

 Dec 22, 2008
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Insightful book for people who deal with manipulators.


    Cons:Dry, academic writing style. 

    The Bottom Line:In Sheep's Clothing is worthwhile reading for those who need help dealing with manipulative people.

    Manipulative people are everywhere and I would venture to guess that most of us have at least one or two chronically manipulative people in our lives. These people have the maddening ability to "push your buttons" and can get you to say or do things that undermine your authority and self-confidence. Even as manipulators are making you boiling mad, they claim to have your best interests at heart and only want to be helpful. For awhile, you might actually believe they're being sincere about wanting to help you, until you realize they always benefit from their brand of "help". Manipulators are masters at winning and looking good in the process. Too often, their victims never know what's hit them.

    I decided to read George K. Simon, Jr.'s 1996 book, In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People after I created a page on my Web site about manipulative people. Unfortunately, there are several manipulators in my life and it's only been recently that I've had the skills and the courage to deal with them appropriately. My husband, Bill, also used to be married to a very manipulative person who preyed on his weaknesses to get what she wanted. Looking at the search strings for my Web site, I noticed that an awful lot of people had found my site looking for ways to deal with manipulators. It's obviously a widespread problem.

    George K. Simon, Jr., Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who has extensively studied manipulators and their victims for years. According to the brief bio on the back cover of his book, Dr. Simon has led workshops and seminars about manipulators and has been featured on several radio and national television programs about manipulative behavior. After reading his book, I am convinced that Dr. Simon knows the subject matter well, even if In Sheep's Clothing has kind of a self-published feel to it. Dr. Simon's writing style is very scholarly and professional, with plenty of quoted literature to back up his points.

    In Sheep's Clothing explores the many tactics manipulative people use when they are trying to get one over on their victims. But before Dr. Simon gets into the tactics, he defines and describes covert and passive aggressive behavior. These two types of psychological aggression sound like they're the same thing, but they're not. Next, he explains the difference between neurotic and character disordered people. Simon explains why neurotic people are so often likely to fall victim to character disordered people.

    I particularly liked Simon's discussion of the difference between self-respect and self-esteem. He illustrates that difference by using an anecdote about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. The mother had come to him at her wit's end, trying to deal with her troubled young daughter who used threats and emotional outbursts to get her way. She told Dr. Simon that she thought perhaps her daughter had low self-esteem. Dr. Simon explains why the young girl's self-esteem was just fine... it was her self-respect that needed a lift. He also effectively illustrates why the mother needed help much more urgently than her daughter did. As I read this section, I felt a lightbulb go off in my head. Dr. Simon presented an explanation of the situation that had never occurred to me.

    I also liked the fact that Dr. Simon used a variety of situations and anecdotes that show that anyone can be manipulative. He doesn't just paint men or women as manipulative; his examples include representatives of both genders. Frustrated parents may be relieved that Simon shows how children can manipulate, too.

    I really think In Sheep's Clothing may be useful reading to anyone who wants to understand what makes manipulators tick. With that said, however, I will note that this book really has a polished, formal feel to it. Some readers may find Dr. Simon's writing style to be too dry and academic. It's not quite as dry as a scholarly paper for a professional journal, but it's far from the type of writing one might find in a best selling book by a pop psychologist. On the other hand, this book is relatively short and is printed in a large, easy to read font that's easy on the eyes. Even if some readers find this book to be too dry and academic, it's still fairly easy to finish in a reasonable amount of time.

    Another potential weakness for some readers is that Simon doesn't try to explain why manipulative people act the way they do. Personally, I think it was good that Simon didn't try to explain why manipulators are the way they are. There are many reasons for manipulative behavior and I think explaining those reasons would have been beyond the scope of the book. This book is intended for people who want help in recognizing and dealing with manipulative behavior. It's not really for those who are trying to understand what makes manipulators act the way they do.

    In Sheep's Clothing looks as if it might have been self-published or was at least published by a small outfit. Nevertheless, it's been on the market since 1996 and was highly recommended by a number of readers on That's what made me decide to purchase it and I'm glad I did.

    Dr. George K. Simon's Web site:

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