Problem Neighbors: Animal Cruelty, Manipulation and More

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Reader’s Question

My next door neighbors have been driving us crazy with their horrendously irresponsible behavior. Here are some things they’ve done which are actually just the tip of the iceberg:

  • They’ve been cruel to animals by locking a young dog in a kitchen day after day with perpetual whining until its distress caused it to attempt to escape by chewing and pawing through the door, then cutting its paws to the point it caused a bloodbath, and eventually trying to coerce others into taking the dog into their care.
  • The male neighbour is an alcoholic with a chaotic personality. He persistently drinks and drives. He also drives under the influence of marijuana. He gambles and has affairs. He urinates openly against the fence while trying to converse with me. He crashed his van into the boundary fence because he was drunk and although he apologized so that he wouldn’t be reported and lose his license, he never made restitution for the damage like he promised. We finally had it fixed ourselves, but he won’t pay the bill because he insists we’re trying to overcharge him. We are taking him to court.
  • The neighbors have abused our common kindness since they moved in. They’re always borrowing things at the last minute, and if they return them, they are in poor condition. Once, they borrowed a lawnmower to cut their overgrown lawn and brought it back covered in feces.
  • The wife and husband have volatile arguments and fight all the time. The wife seems to be a cold, manipulative, verbally abusive character who feeds off her husband’s weakness for pleasure. They have two children who have to live in their chaotic household. The children receive no discipline but aren’t shown any love, either. The parents don’t get along with anyone else, and the husband frequently gets into fights and gets beaten up.

I just don’t understand people like this. It’s like they don’t have any control over their impulses. And if you try to point out their problem behavior, they somehow make you out to have the problem.

What’s wrong with these people?

Psychologist’s Reply

From all you’re saying, it sure sounds like your neighbors are exhibiting the very phenomenon I describe in my upcoming book, namely character disturbance. Unfortunately, problems like this are becoming more prevalent, and I’ve spent a professional lifetime studying and writing about them. It also appears that at least one of your neighbors has a significant substance abuse problem. Such problems often accompany character disturbance.

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Folks with disturbed characters don’t think about things the way most of us do, and they don’t behave in ways that foster responsibility. Instead, the ways they think prompt them to behave irresponsibly, and the fairly automatic ways that they tend to respond to those who confront them only fuels their irresponsibility. They respond by trying to manipulate and engineer a favorable impression, while still resisting any meaningful change.

Because you haven’t the power to change their behavior, you must set and enforce firm limits and remain steadfastly unshaken by their manipulations. Engaging with folks while they remain totally unwilling to modify their behavior only enables the destructive pattern to continue.

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