• Dr. Keisha

The Role of Character…


In my profession, people often ask for my assistance with solving their problems.  Of course, most of these problems have to do with various relationships (family, friends, romantic, etc).  When assisting them in resolving these issues, one of the first things I ask is “Is the behavior that’s causing the problem ‘in character’ or ‘out of character’”.  Now most people may wonder what does that mean or have to do with anything.  Rather or not a behavior is ‘in character’ or ‘out of character’ allows us to process (figure out) three things  1) how likely is it this behavior will change, 2) how aware the person is of this problematic behavior and 3) something about the meaning of the behavior.   All of these factors collectively determine our next steps in responding to the behavior.

Let me try to clarify my ‘character’ approach to problem solving in order to make this more understandable and applicable.  If your partner leaves their shoes in the middle of the floor one day (which annoys you) – but they are ordinarily fairly neat an organized; then you may place this in the ‘out of character’ category.  You may 1) figure this behavior is likely to change 2) figure the person is aware of this problem since it is ‘out of character’ and will likely not do it again (or rarely) and 3) figure they must have been tire or just got distracted/busy and that’s why the shoes are in the floor.   However, if leaving shoes or clothes lying around is more ‘in character’ then you may figure 1) this is unlikely or will be difficult to change 2) they must not view this behavior as a problem (making it more difficult to change) and 3) they must not care about how this behavior impacts me or not willing to do anything different.

Some things to consider about ‘out of character’ behaviors is that they are random, situational, or otherwise not part of the persons daily experiences. This usually makes them a little easier to cope with and resolve.   Behaviors that are more ‘in character’ are things that are a more consistent part of a person’s being.  These may be verbally or physically present and are things that have been addressed usually on more than one occasion or at other points of time within the relationship.  They are usually more challenging to resolve (but not impossible).

So if in you are facing a problem with someone involving dishonesty, organization, cleanliness, trust, infidelity, timeliness, drugs, responsibility, etc. then try processing if these behaviors are ‘in character’ or ‘out of character’.  When you decide, use that insight to respond accordingly.  Hopefully, the benefit will be an increase in effectiveness in addressing the problem and less frustration/stressed experienced by the problem.

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