One night a few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to stay in and watch a movie. I suggested The Hunger Games since he hadn’t seen it and the new one is coming out soon. He seemed less than thrilled with the suggestion, but I pushed, saying it was on Netflix instant streaming, so we wouldn’t even have to go to the video store. Eventually he agreed. We were only fifteen minutes into the movie when he said, “I don’t think I can watch this.”
“The camera is jumping around too much. It’s making me sick.” Paul gets motion sick easily. He can’t ride backwards on the subway or watch I-Max movies. He had to leave the movie theater during Inception, and The Blair Witch Project would probably make him puke his guts out.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you want to watch something else?”
“No, it’s OK. You can keep watching. I’ll just close my eyes.”
“I feel bad,” I said.
“It’s OK.” Paul laid down on the couch, and I kept watching the movie. “What’s happening?” he’d ask every now and again, and I would tell him.
“This movie is weird,” he said. “Is it really about kids killing kids?”
“Well…yeah. But it’s also a commentary on modern media and reality TV.”
“I don’t know if I can watch this,” he said for the second time. “There are enough upsetting things in the world. I don’t want to think about kids killing kids.”
“Oh.” I reached over and turned off the movie. “I’m sorry.”
I felt guilty. After all, I had suggested The Hunger Games and pushed for it even though Paul had seemed hesitant. I felt as if I were to blame for the entire Hunger Games movie, from the disturbing (and stolen) plot to the overly-dramatic dialogue to the camera work that had made Paul sick.
“This is all my fault,” I said. I had ruined the evening.
At my friend Nikki’s suggestion, I’m reading the classic psychotherapy book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck. So far it seems to be mostly common sense, but I was interested in the section on “Neuroses and Character Disorder.” Dr. Peck says that most people who see a psychiatrist are suffering from one or the other.
When neurotics have a conflict with the world, they automatically assume everything is their fault, whereas a person with a character disorder assumes that the world is at fault. People with character disorders avoid responsibility. They blame their parents, children, bosses, the government, or “society” for their problems and end up feeling angry or cheated. Neurotics, on the other hand, assume too much responsibility and end up feeling guilty and overwhelmed.
Dr. Peck says that most of us have at least some neurotic or character disorder tendencies, and we may have both at different times in our lives, or in different situations. I certainly know which side I lean towards. I should have a swear jar, except instead of putting money in for saying cuss words, I have to put a quarter in every time I say “I’m sorry” or “I feel bad.” Oh, that’s another thing about neurotics: we’re always using the phrase “I should.”
Of course, I don’t think it’s that easy to divide people up into two clear categories: the neurotics and the character disordered, however, it’s fun to think about your family and friends and ex-boyfriends – which camp do they belong in? I even started psychoanalyzing fictional characters. Sal Paradise from On the Road and Holden from The Catcher in the Rye have character disorders. Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen (speaking of the Hunger Games) are neurotics.
It’s also interesting to think along these lines when creating characters. In the novel I’m now brainstorming for, do my main characters have neuroses or character disorders? How does this impact the conflict among them?
And what about you? Which side do you lean towards? Can you think of any great examples of neurotics or disordered-characters from history or literature or movies?