This shows that we all have a core character or our basic personality. Based on that we have a whole range of other thoughts, feelings and behaviours which are more peripheral and not so much a reflection of our basic character.
In Transactional Analysis it is said that in the first years of life we all develop a basic life position. We make a decision that either we are OK or Not OK and we also make a decision if others in the world are OK or Not OK. This will form part of our basic character.
As we go through life of course we will operate and behave and feel in a whole range of ways. However if one looks at one’s overall direction in life then one can define a theme. Everybody is on a particular life path and more often than not will end up at the end point of that path on the day they die. There are a number of ways of determining this life path with a few questions:
What will they write about you on your tombstone?
If you had to write a sweatshirt message on your T-shirt what would it be?
If you keep going the same way you are now what will you be like in 20 years?
You are on your death bed. Who is there and what are they saying?
The answer to these questions will start to indicate your character or as it is sometimes called your life script theme. Of course along the way you may do a whole number of things that seem not to be following that life script but over 10 or 20 years one will see that they are following that life script. And thus we have the difference between character and the more peripheral behaviours. Over time the peripheral behaviours will fulfil or demonstrate the character.
Some times clients present a problem that seems to be very resilient. It will be very resistant to change. At other times they present problems that are quite amenable to change. One explanation for the very resilient problems is that it is what is called a characterological problem. That is, the problem has strong links or ties to the persons basic character. Of course whilst peripheral behaviours can change relatively easily our character is much more stable and takes much longer to change. With character problems one has to change their character (in part) to change the problem. Hence the problem being very resistant to change.
Sexual orientation is part of our basic character, thus behaviours reflective of that will be very persistent
Consider the smoking of cigarettes. I smoked from about age 15 to 25 and have not smoked since. Originally I smoked from a rebellious position. I was told that I was not allowed to smoke cigarettes and should not smoke because it was bad for me, which meant of course that I did smoke. Over time as I grew I stopped smoking from the Rebellious Child ego state but kept smoking because it was a habit. I was smoking purely out of habit.
Eventually I gave up a few times by simply going cold turkey for a couple of weeks. This broke the nicotine addiction and it also broke the actual habit of smoking. Since that time I have not smoked again and have no desire or urge to smoke.
For others this is not the case and they will try many times and ways to stop smoking but all to no avail. When this happens one gets the sense of a very resilient piece of behaviour that is very resistant to change. Thus it may reflect a character problem. That is, the behaviour of smoking cigarettes is closely linked or tied to their sense of character.
The most obvious explanation for this is what is called the oral character. This person did not successfully complete the oral stage of development (0 to 18 months of age) and thus they remain fixated in part at that stage. Many people of an oral character fixation can smoke cigarettes because it is constantly stimulating the mouth or oral zone as it is called.
This person does not smoke cigarettes for the peripheral reasons of rebellion or habit. They are smoking because they have an oral character and thus to stop smoking permanently they have to alter their character, not just the piece of behaviour. Hence the act of smoking is a very resilient piece of behaviour. One forgets about contracts to stop smoking, nicotine patch's and so forth and works on the character through the transference relationship and the relational.
Interestingly these people can sometimes stop smoking but their problem is not to get off the drug but to stay off the drug. Because I don’t have such oral character issues the urge for me to smoke when I stopped was insignificant. For the oral character, when she stops smoking, she will have a persistent and strong desire to take up smoking again because the basic character remains as it is. Hence the smoking of cigarettes is a characterological problem in this case.
A good example of this is provided by fellow blogger, Kahless who makes the comment:
“I guess my smoking is a character problem. Funnily I have given up a number of times - gone cold turkey - but its the staying stopped that is the problem. I just constantly have a voice in my head saying, just have one, just have one, its no big deal! You can control it.
The longest time I stayed quit for was for a year; at age 30.”(end quote)